Pit Bull Attack

Pit Bull Attack on our 9 month old Golden Retriever

My wife and daughter recently experienced an attack on our 9 month old female golden retriever. I have done quite a bit of reading on-line the past week and can see there is a ton of information out there but most information seems heavily biased one way or the other. I am hoping to get an objective opinion of what happened. I will try to be brief.

Our neighbors own one pit bull (male) and one pit bull mix (sex unknown). The owners of the dogs are very nice people and absolute dog lovers and definitely not abusive. They love the dogs very much and consider them very kind, affectionate and non-aggressive animals.

My wife and daughter were at a park near by our house with our 13 year old male and 9 month old female golden retriever’s, both on leashes. The couple who own the pit bulls came around the corner and into the park.

As they entered the park, the male pulled out of it’s collar that was too loose. My wife and daughter were over 200 yards away and the male pit bull immediately sprinted towards them. What happened when the pit bull got to my wife and daughter is where I am interested in your opinion.

My wife had both dogs on a leash, the 13 year old male on her right side and the 9 month old female on her left. She had told my daughter to stand back so she was probably 10 feet or so behind my wife and the two Goldens.

The pit bull approached on my wife’s right side ran around the backside between her and my daughter and attacked the 9 month old female from behind who was on the left side and pulled the puppy away holding her by the head and shaking her.

Fortunately, the husband owner of the dogs was able to get to the scene – must have taken a good amount of time as he had to run the 200 yards to the scene – and was able to pull the pit bull off of the Golden.

A neighbor heard my daughter screaming and was on the scene by the time the owner was able to pull his dog off. While pulling his dog away, our Golden bit him in the leg and the pit bull in the paw.

Fortunately, the puppy suffered only one puncture wound to her head just below her eye. The vet we took her too also noted that there was quite a bit of air under the skin leading her to believe the pit bull had locked onto her head which supports what my wife said happened.

As I mentioned, I have done quite a bit of reading and there a clearly two competing views of pit bulls. I guess I fall into the camp that would say a pit bull is a decent dog if trained well, but it would also appear that there is a fine line there and I wonder how many people are actually skilled enough in training and behavior to own a pit bull. Having said all the above, here are some questions/comments I hope you can address:

1. While the pit bull owners are very nice people who love their animals, they don’t appear to have much control over the animals and my guess is they are not very well trained. When they take the dog for a walk, it pulls so hard it actually pulls the husband to the point he has to run to keep up. I am sure they pour love on the dog but my perception is that they give it little discipline and structure.

Gale's Reply: Hi. Thank you for your questions. You've certainly given a very detailed account of what happened. My replies are in green directly underneath each one.

2. Assuming the above is true, what impact would that have on why the pit bull attacked?

As I understand the situation that you are describing, your wife, daughter and two dogs were minding their own business when the pit bull slipped its collar and made a beeline for your family. The pit circled around the older dog and your wife to get to the pup--pulling it away from your wife. That sounds like predatory behavior to me.

Dogs with a high prey drive are a challenge to own. They require owners who are dedicated to providing strong positive leadership and safe, socially acceptable outlets for the dog's predatory instincts. The dog's lack of training and proper handling didn't cause the attack. But, I believe proper training and handling could have prevented it.

3. What is your opinion of why the dog attacked given the circumstances I noted above?

I believe the dog has a high prey drive and is either dog aggressive or in the process of developing
those tendencies.

4. Why was there not a brief “greeting” between the dogs before the attack? I think I could understand it better if the dogs met up and the pit reacted.

Predators don't bother to say "hi".

5. The neighbor who witnessed the dog being pulled away believed the only reason the owner was able to get his dog off was because the pit bull was letting go to get a better grip on our dog’s neck. Does this make sense?

Again, in the context of a predatory attack, it would.

6. If you lived next to this dog, would let your 9 year old daughter play in the front yard? My wife is concerned that the dog might get out and come after our daughter. This seems like a very low risk as the owners normally do a good job keeping the dog on a leash when it is out, which is not very often. The “what if” is the hard part.

Pit bulls, while some are dog aggressive, are typically submissive when it comes to humans. There were 4 people--including your daughter--on the scene while the attack was going on. Your daughter was screaming. Other people may have been doing things like yelling or throwing things at the pit to try to distract it. In any case, we do know that the owner reaches in and pulls his pit off of your dog. And, yet through all that, the pit didn't bite anyone. A breed of dog that is less human submissive than the typical pit very well might have bitten someone in that situation.

All this is to say that dog aggression and human aggression are two totally different things. And, pits tend to be better than most dogs at making the distinction. For a dog of any breed with a high prey drive, a toddler could be a concern. But, it's unlikely that your neighbor's dog will see your 9 year old as prey.

Nevertheless, I think all children need to be taught how to be safe around dogs. Dogs are everywhere in our society. Unfortunately not all owners are diligent about keeping their dogs confined to their own property. And, children often unintentionally do things around dogs that could put them at risk.

Many humane societies offer dog bite prevention classes to kids. Some even go out into the schools as community outreach. If your daughter hasn't been exposed to this kind of information, I would encourage you to check out some age appropriate books from the library and read them with her.

7. Could the fact that the pit bull sits in the front window and watches us play with our puppy in the front yard have any bearing on the attack? Like, I can’t wait to get loose so I can get you?

It's possible that the pit recognized your pup as a dog he had seen before. But, I believe the pit was acting on instinct in the moment--not from some past resentment. Of course, we'll never really know what was going thru the pit's mind at the time of the attack.

Any thoughts you have would be very welcome. My wife has not been able to leave the house with the dog for a walk since the attack – more than two weeks ago. She used to walk the dogs at least once a day.

Thank you for your time.

You commented that your neighbors are nice people who love their dogs. If they are open to suggestions, I have a few:

First, if this kind of aggressiveness is totally opposite from the dog's history up to now--something they've never seen before and never would have suspected possible, it's worth a trip to the vet to be 100% certain that the dog isn't seriously ill.

Secondly, if the pit hasn't been neutered, it needs to be--pronto.

A properly fitting collar might have prevented the attack. At least, the owner would have had a better chance of holding his dog back. There should be enough space to slip two fingers flat against the dog's neck. But, the collar should never be so loose that it can be removed by pulling it over the dog's head.

Finally, in addition to obedience training (which is an absolute must), the owner needs to do some remedial work on his relationship with the dog. A book I recommend to a lot of people is How to be the Leader of the Pack...And have Your Dog Love You For It. The title says it all. I would also suggest that when shopping for obedience training, that your neighbor looks specifically for a trainer with experience dealing with dog aggressive dogs and/or is familiar with the NILIF (Nothing in Life is Free) method of training.

For more information on obedience training, visit our Pit Bull Training page.

For help with behavioral problems, check out our Dog Behavior Training page.

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