Monday, October 8, 2012
Insights from BehavioristThe funeral for 3-week old Tarilyn Luciana Bowles, mauled to death by a family pit bull while strapped into a child safety seat, is scheduled for Wednesday. DogsBite.org along with commenters have been repelled by the statement by the owner of the dog blaming the deadly attack on the animal smelling "baby formula on the infant's clothes." The endless denialism by the owners of these dogs after a violent or fatal attack, as in the case of Tarilyn, is reprehensible.
DogsBite.org reaches out to animal behaviorist Alexandra Semyonova to learn more:
Alexandra SemyonovaAlexandra Semyonova is an internationally acclaimed animal behaviorist, behavioral biologist, anthropologist and author. View additional posts by Alexandra Semyonova.
The idea that a normal domestic dog will attack a human because that human smells of food is utterly ridiculous. If this were the case, shelter workers, dog trainers and dog behavior therapists would be taking their life in their hands every time they interacted with a dog while carrying treats in their pockets. If you have food and a dog wants it, the dog will try various begging behaviors. They won't attack you to take the food. If you have food on your clothing, a dog might lick the spot on your clothes where the food was spilled. A normal dog will not therefore suddenly confuse you with kibble in its bowl and try to eat your face. Even a pit bull doesn't attack a human because it's hungry.As I pointed out here only a week ago, the pit bull type dog has a highly breed-specific behavior pattern, created by more than four hundred years of intensive human selection. This genetically determined, breed-specific behavior pattern is inherent in the pit bull. It feels good to the pit bull when this pattern is set in motion. Because it feels good to do what it was bred for, the pit bull doesn't need much stimulus to start executing its innate behavior program. In fact, any excuse will do. In this sense, the pit bull is no different from any other working breed. If a pointer had suddenly seen the baby on the floor, it likely would have pointed at the baby (feels good to point to the thing the human should be attending to). If a border collie had come into the room, it likely would have circled and stared at the baby, trying to 'eye' it back close to the mother where babies belong (feels good to keep the herd together by circling and eyeing). The pit bull is different from other working breeds only in that it's inbred behavior pattern isn't harmless.However, the issue raised here with the 'formula' theory isn't only the issue of a working breed doing what it was bred for. It's also the issue of how even highly educated dog 'experts' acknowledge that working behavior is inherent in every working breed dog, but deny that this is also true of the pit bull. It's the issue of these dog 'experts' trying to redefine the domestic dog in such a way that the genetically engineered attack behavior of the pit bull becomes a normal trait in the domestic dog. It's the issue of various dog 'experts' now even starting to mouth some of the myths and lies that were originally thought up by uneducated pit-bull fans: when a pit bull suddenly kills, it’s predatory behavior; the pit bull is, of all breeds, especially good with children; if a pit bull kills a child, it’s due to egregious parental incompetence and negligence; since parents also kill children, we needn’t be alarmed that pit bulls do; socialization and training can get rid of genetically determined pit bull behavior.In the face of this in fact egregious 'expert' behavior, I'd like to repeat the biological and ethological facts here. The domestic dog is not a hunting species. Even if it were a hunter, it would only kill when hungry and it wouldn't confuse social partners with food. (Please note that the pit bull that killed this baby had just been fed.) The domestic dog prefers to avoid conflict and danger. Pit bulls had to be specially selected and bred, because a normal dog will flee if it sees a threat (such as a bull or a bear), and because a normal dog won't attack unless it is cornered and fearing for its life. Even then, the normal dog will use exactly as much aggression as it needs to open up a flight route (not a bit more). A full-fledged attack is extremely rare in the normal domestic dog. This normal behavior is what has always kept us safe with dogs. Children and dogs wandered villages and neighborhoods together for thousands of years without children being routinely killed by the dogs. The types of dogs that routinely kill children do this not because they are dogs, but because they have been highly bred to be different from all other dogs.The 'formula' theory is only one in a long series of inane fictions people are inventing to excuse a pit bull when it does what it was bred to do. The inanity becomes clear if you look at the list of excuses: stormy weather, calm hot weather, calm icy weather, not being neutered, being neutered, being fed, not being fed, and now the very smell of food. You have to admit, the 'formula' theory does open up great possibilities for also excusing pit bull attacks on adults. 'I got some spaghetti sauce on my shirt at dinner, so the pit bull must've thought it was attacking a plate of spaghetti.'The only valid explanation for the attack on this child is: the dog was a pit bull. If your pit bull kills your child, it's not because it confused your child with a bottle of formula. It's because it's a pit bull, because the pit bull is a working breed, and because killing is what the pit bull has been genetically engineered to do.This is just one example of a highly educated dog guru letting the pit fans instruct him rather than the other way round.1
10/04/12: Pit Bull Kills Child
Detroit, MI - In an unmatched fatal dog attack streak since 2005 -- and possibly in all modern times -- a dog has killed a human being again in the past 4.5 weeks. Detroit police say a 3-week old girl was mauled to death by a pit bull Thursday afternoon. Sgt. Eren Stephens said the child's mother took her inside a home on Staheilin Avenue in a car seat. Not knowing there was a dog in the home, the mother placed the infant on the floor still strapped in and briefly stepped away.
That was the last time this mother saw her baby "unmauled to death."The Detroit News adds that a "phalanx of officers" removed the pit bull from the home as neighbors stood by. Some neighbors were angry and shouted that they would have stabbed the dog if they had witnessed the attack. Predictably the dog's owner, who has allegedly owned the animal for several years, quickly shut the door after police removed the dog. Neighbors also said the 24-year old mother of the baby had been living temporarily with a friend at the home.
Related video 1 | Related video 22
National Killing Streak
Nine U.S. citizens have been killed by canines in the past 34 days.3 Given that on average since 2005 there are 30.4 fatal dog attacks annually, this 34-day period (essentially the month of September) has racked up nearly a third of this annual amount and there are still three months to go before the end of the year. Traditionally, November and December are often high fatal dog attack months. The U.S. is on track to surpass 40 fatal dog attacks for the year of 2012.
10/02/12: 2012 Dog Bite Fatality: Pembroke 'Dog Rescuer' Killed by Own Dogs
09/26/12: 2012 Dog Bite Fatality: Oklahoma Woman Killed by Pit Bull in Her Home
09/24/12: 2012 Dog Bite Fatality: Domestic Dispute Call Ends in Fatal Dog Mauling of Baby
09/20/12: 2012 Dog Bite Fatality: Man Mauled to Death by Rottweilers in Leeds, Alabama
09/11/12: 2012 Dog Bite Fatality: 10-Month Old Hertford Boy Killed by Pit Bull
09/07/12: 2012 Dog Bite Fatality: Jefferson County Woman Attacked by Own Pit Bulls Dies
09/05/12: 2012 Dog Bite Fatality: Missing Georgia Child Killed by Dog
09/01/12: 2012 Dog Bite Fatality: Trotwood Senior Citizen Killed by Own Dogs
2Testicals do not appear to be present on this dog.
3Dates represent the date of death, not the date of the published post.
Photo: Detroit Free Press
| 10/05/2012 2:32 AM |
Hey Look everyone!...
Detroit has it's own Pit Bull DBRF Report detailing 6 deaths between 1987 and 2005.
*Found in the extensive DBO bibliography section, Does not include the 2008 Robert Howard DBRF or this latest Nannicide.
Happy Pit Bull Awareness Month!
| 10/05/2012 9:16 AM |
I actually refreshed the page twice this morning as I honestly could not believe it happened again....
If this blog was not already close to a full time endeavor it certainly is now.
| 10/06/2012 11:22 AM |
Some family members are now saying the dog smelled formula on the baby's clothes and that's the "WHY" HE DID IT ???? SO IT DIDN'T CRUNCH ITS FACE AND HEAD --IT LICKED THE BABY TO DEATH???!!! DO YOU THINK?
| 10/08/2012 1:33 PM |
Mother of child, Marciella Ramirez, said the pit bull was a "big baby." Looks like they are trying to blame the ambulance in this case too: Mother speaks out after baby killed by pit bull
| 10/08/2012 2:31 PM |
I felt silly not realizing that Alexandra, in her well written piece, was referring to the baby formula excuse. But I think I uncovered a useful pun.
I took formula theory to refer to the framework pit bull apologists use to explain attacks as not being related to pit bull genetics. They just need to find the correct formula to explain the attack, here formula referring to the logical/mathematical kind. What is any particular maulings formula? It usually goes something like bad owner, inattentive and dumb victim, and maybe a dash of something else, but never breed.
| 10/08/2012 8:18 PM |
OK, I cannot believe how stupid Ian Dunbar sounds in that linked interview. A person with a Ph.D should be able to think a little more critically than he does there.
"Breedism is the racism of the canine world?"
I don't even... Really, recognizing that some breeds have been bred for violent, questionable purposes and therefore make poor pets is the same as 'racism?"
Then he ignores real statistics (pit bulls kill more people than all other breeds combined) and states that pit bulls are particularly accepting of children. That's an irresponsible thing to say, as it just encourages people with kids to get pit bulls, which should not be considered family dogs. They are (by a large margin) the breed that kills the most children. By that metric, I'd say they are the least trustworthy of breeds.
He's also ignoring cases where dog rescuers (unlikely to abuse or neglect dogs) have been killed by their pit bulls. He's ignoring history and statistics. I wonder if he has read the books written by the people who (in the 19th century) imported and bred pit bulls for fighting in the US? That's the type of primarily source to read if you want to know what pit bulls were first bred for. I highly doubt Dunbar is even aware of such sources, because if so he'd know these dogs were bred to fight, in brutal matches that could last hours.
That interview bothers me so much because Dr Dunbar should know better. A vet and "behaviourist" spouting such garbage just gives it even more credibility.
| 10/09/2012 12:45 PM |
At this point, it's clear to me that Dunbar totally fits Semyonova's definition of the 'science whore' -- a term she didn't coin for no reason:
Dunbar seems to go with whatever is the fashion as he perceives it. His PhD was about the formation of hierarchies in animals -- the fashion of the day, but a thing that Mech abandoned and Semyonova later proved totally wrong. After that dominance PhD, Dunbar suddenly made career by publicizing what Karen Pryor had already published as if it was his own. That was good for dogs, so no problem there. But lately, he's been hooking up with Cesar Millan. Aside from the pit bull question, this is clearly strange development in a man who was all Karen Pryor until recently. I wonder if we'll soon be seeing Dunbar telling that it's really much better to choke your dog half to death...if only you give the dog a treat after.
| 10/10/2012 9:20 PM |
I have read Alexandra's explanation of the genetic component of working dog behavior, and I just now put it together with an old saying:
If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
Give a boy a hammer, and he will find that everything he encounters needs pounding. (goes for girls too of course)
The genetic behaviors bred into working dogs dictate how they will interact with their environment, whether appropriate or not.
| 10/11/2012 3:38 PM |
Your hammer adage also works for Dunbar and other behaviorists. They make their living off of manipulating nurture and environment to influence dogs. They have studied how to do this. They have dedicated their lives to it. Well, no wonder, with that "hammer" they think all dog behavior is the fault of humans and that dogs are nearly a tabula rasa. Dunbar is a tool, and nutters love to bring him up for a faulty argument from authority.
| 10/12/2012 10:38 PM |
DubV, I do believe that most of these big-name gurus made the genuine mistake you describe when the pit bull problem first became clear. Say, late 1980s, early 1990s. Twenty-some years along, I think something else is going on. Most of all that their egos don't allow them to say 'oops, we made a mistake.' But also that they've discovered how lucrative it is to pander to the pit bull lobby. Ego and personal finances above the interests of any animal, including the pit bull's.
Evidence of this is clear in at least one guru case: Jean Donaldson. She is (was?) this past decade working on a PhD in evolutionary biology. This means she must have been exposed to the freshman level course that explains natural and artificial selection, reproductive isolation, and so on. Yet still she kept saying 'it's all in how you raise 'em' until very recently, when she finally, grudgingly, admitted that genes might play some small role...but continues to add that you can clicker-train aggression out of a pit bull.
Makes you wonder if she thinks you can really and truly clicker-train a pointer never to point, not even when you're not looking.
I agree with you that the bunch of them have made themselves into tools for the pit nutters, but I'm much more skeptical than you are that there's any honest tunnel vision involved.
| 10/13/2012 2:49 AM |
Animal Behaviorists make money on both ends of the dangerous dog problem...Defending owners and helping to sue them as "Expert Witnesses".
Then you have the $300 an hour training sessions.
One noted AB was successfully sued for $1 Million after a Pit Bull he was training attacked a pedestrian. A few years later he was testifying for a City with BSL against the Nutters for a fee.
They need the dangerous dog problem...victims be damned.
| 10/13/2012 12:58 PM |
As far as I can see, the only trainers/behaviorists that recognize the fact that pit bulls were selectively bred to display a dangerous form of aggression are Semyonova and Wilkes. It's sad, really.
I do think a lot of it has to do with the huge, vocal pit bull lobby. A trainer can admit that other breeds have traits that can make them problematic pets. I could, for instance, write a blog post noting that Jack Russell terriers are active dogs with high prey drives and no one would really disagree or get upset. For a long time, those terriers were selected for their prey drive and aptitude for work. They're really intense dogs and few people can handle them. Everyone also agrees that border collies or sled dogs are terrible pets for sedentary people, because they were selected for their athletic ability. That's generally an okay statement to make too.
However, if any behaviourist or trainer states the truth that pit bulls were selectively bred for the sadistic 'sport' of dog fighting and therefore shouldn't be marketed as family pets, a whole contingent of pit bull fanatics will have the behavioral equivalent of a nuclear meltdown. They'll gang up on any person who tells the truth about the breed's history. You have to have a thick skin to withstand that. Any trainer or behaviorist who also admits that pit bulls have been/are selectively bred for aggression will lose a lot of money (due to loss of clients), again due to the fighting dog lobby.
However, denying the pit bull's history and calling them "nanny dogs" is immoral, in my opinion. It encourages people to get these dogs as family pets and that often leads to the disfigurement or death of a child. Pit bulls are also a danger to other pets. Most, if not all, of the pit bull maulings that occurred this year (and the last year and the year before that, etc) were committed by family pets. It also makes no sense for supposed 'dog lovers' to promote a breed that was bred to destroy other dogs in a horrid, brutal 'sport.'
| 10/14/2012 7:55 AM |
I don't know. I always felt that if you had to shoot an animal multiple times to stop it from killing, then it probably is not a safe family pet. Even the most dangerous humans usually only need to be shot once.
Common sense, no? Thank you, Alexandra Semyonova, for yours.