Love and Understanding: Max’s story

By now, most readers are aware of the tragic bite incident that happened to Channel 9 newswoman Kyle Dyer.  While the bite seemed to happen “out of no where”, a series of events in this dog’s life, combined with misunderstanding (or non understanding) of dog communication, played a major role in this split second bite.  What can we learn from this event in order to prevent future tragedies?

I am sure Max’s owner loves him. However, part of love is making good decisions for our pets that do not understand the rules and nuances of our human world. This includes getting them vaccinated for rabies and licensed, if required by local ordinances. This also includes being honest with our selves about whether or not our dogs have 100% recall with high distractions.  If we do not know for sure that we have 100% recall, we should not let our dogs off leash in areas where wild life or other equally desirable distractions may be present. Max began  his journey with a visit to the local open space park. He was off leash and chased a coyote onto a lake.  They both fell through the ice. The coyote drown. Max swam for his life and was rescued; scared, exhausted and traumatized.

Max’s owner loves his dog and is very excited that his wonderful dog Max will be featured on the Channel 9 news the next morning.  Max, however, is still very tired, still probably quite distressed and his cortisol (stress hormone) levels are still quite high. Max’s owner does not know about cortisol, stress and their relation to aggression and does not understand how stressed Max still is from this experience. So Max makes the journey to the studio.

Imagine Max, picking up on the nervous, excited energy of the humans around him, now in the studio with bright lights against darkness, cameras moving in and out of the light and darkness, people he does not know close to him, touching him, and in his space. His owner is jerking and popping on his leash. At the very least, Max is very confused. At worse, his stress level is rising to the point where he is over his threshold. Max tries to calm himself down with yawning. He tries to communicate that he is very uncomfortable with the situation. He pants, his respiration rate is high, he licks his lips repeatedly, roles his eyes, his body is tense and vigilant.

Someone he does not know approaches from behind. This woman also loves dogs and all animals passionately and has been a wonderful advocate for their cause. She is moved by his story and in the moment, leans over to kiss him. Max growls. He is saying he wants space. The woman does not hear him and comes closer. Max’s owner does not understand anything his dog is trying to communicate.  Max resorts to his last alternative and bites.

Max’s next journey is to a ten-day quarantine in a kennel, away from his home and the people and routine he knows. He is still there.

Love is important, but understanding is crucial. Learn to understand your dog’s body language. When they are saying they are nervous, remove them from that situation to a quiet, safe place. Make decisions for them that keep them safe. Be not only their best friend, but also their interpreter, protector, and advocate. And when a dog asks for space and peace, let us all grant them their simple requests.

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