You may have seen the feel-good footage of a fireman who pulled a dog out of icy waters on Tuesday, February 7. Or the viral video of the same dog biting a news anchor live on TV the very next day when he and his owner were reunited with the rescuer.
Viewers are shaking their heads and pointing their fingers. Some say the dog is to blame. After all, anchorwoman Kyle Dyer, of NBC’s KUSA Denver affiliate, was only leaning in to give Max the Dogo Argentino a little kiss. Others claim Dyer is at fault; she either missed or misinterpreted Max’s warning signals, which included lip licking, blinking, stiff body, turning his head away, whale eye and, finally, just before the bite, baring his teeth and growling.
I say owner Michael Robinson is to blame for allowing his dog to be in the stressful environs of a TV studio a mere 12 hours after Max’s traumatic ordeal and rescue. In his nearsighted quest for 15 minutes of fame, he has risked his dog’s life for a second time.
That’s right—a second time. (Read Denver-based animal behaviorist Kari Bastyr’s thought-provoking essay, “The Perfect Storm,” for more insight.) The initial risk occurred last Tuesday, when he allowed Max—who does not have a solid recall—to be off leash near an icy pond. True, who could predict that a coyote would’ve come along at that exact moment, and that Max would’ve chased him onto the ice, and they both would’ve broken through?
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But that’s what training is for, to prepare one’s dog for the unpredictable to ensure his and the public’s safety. If Robinson’s tense leash corrections on Max during the live segment are any indication, the poor dog was ill-prepared in general, not just for the spotlight.
Dyer had emergency reconstructive surgery the same day she was bitten. Hopefully, she will make a full recovery and soon be able to return to work. As for Max, the three-year-old mastiff is being quarantined at a Denver animal shelter.
"Several people interacted with the dog [prior to the segment] and everything seemed fine,” said Patti Dennis, KUSA vice president of news, as quoted in a Yahoo! News article. “Then at the last moment, the dog had behavior that nobody predicted or understood. Clearly we learned something."
One can only hope. Or, if you’re a dog advocate like me, you can do something about it and educate others about reading and respecting dog body language. The majority of dog bites are preventable. Until dogs learn how to speak our language and verbally tell us when they’re feeling threatened, it is our responsibility to learn canine communication.
A good place to start is the ASPCA’s “Virtual Pet Behaviorist,” resource page with photo illustrations. I also like the book Canine Body Language: A Photographic Guide by Brenda Aloff, and the DVD The Language of Dogs: Understanding Canine Body Language and Other Communication Signals by Sarah Kalnajs. Both are available from Dogwise.