I was teaching my puppy class on socialization. A couple hundred feet away, there were three dogs playing — a mastiff, a large pit bull mix, and another large mixed-breed dog. (I learned what happened after the incident by speaking with one of the people involved.) The dogs and owners knew each other. All dogs were on leash. The leashes got tangled, and as the mastiff owner was untangling his dog’s leash, a jogger ran by. The mastiff attacked the jogger, who was bitten severely with pieces of flesh missing.
I think that the mastiff was highly aroused by playing with the other dogs and redirected his focus to the jogger. It may have started out as play, but because of the size of the mastiff, it changed to aggression as the man and other people were screaming. When the mastiff stopped, the owner got him to sit, and the dog stayed in a sit while the people tended to the jogger. He was not lunging and trying to get at the jogger.
The mastiff owner had taken his dog to several trainers for dog/dog aggression, but there had never been any dog/human aggression except to the owner who had gotten scratched when he had tried to implement the methods taught by the other trainers. I did not ask who the other trainers were nor what their methods were.
Here’s my explanation of what I think happened. There are two parts to both the human and the dog brain, the thinking brain and the primitive brain. The primitive brain is hard-wired to take care of us in cases of extreme fear and also during extreme pleasure. And there is a switch from the thinking to the primitive brain. When that happens, both we and our dogs are not in control of our behavior. We’ve all been in the position of laughing so hard we can’t stop — it just has to work itself out. We’ve all been driving on the freeway talking to our passenger when someone cuts us off. At that moment, we can’t hear what our passenger is saying because all our bodily functions have jumped in gear to take care of the threat — hormones and chemicals are released in our bodies to help out. Then we don’t need them, and our “stomach falls.” That “fall” is the chemicals and hormones being reabsorbed into our bodies.
So the mastiff was in his primitive brain already, highly aroused because of the play, and the jogger ran by. He could have thought the jogger was a threat, but another explanation is he just wanted to continue playing and the jogger was the only thing that was moving. People started screaming which made him instantaneously go into survival mode — kill the thing that is moving and that he didn’t know. When the owner got control, the dog was now back in his thinking brain.
This was the perfect storm. I’ve been teaching at that park for about eight years and have gone to dog parks for another thirty. I have seen dog/dog fights, but this is the first time in thousands of hours at parks that I have ever seen a dog attack like this. I would not stop going to parks because of this any more than I would stop walking my dogs because they were attacked by an offleash dog a block from my house. Am I more cautious and aware of my surroundings? Yes. And I carry both a spray that temporarily blinds a dog and a barbecue fork to come to my dogs’ aid if necessary.
Be prepared and be vigilant.
I’d love to hear what your comments are. Have you ever seen or been involved in a dog attack? Please share your experiences with your dog or ask a question so we can begin a dialogue to help each other.
Disclaimer: This article is for information only. It does not replace a consultation with a dog trainer, dog behavior consultant, or veterinarian and may not be used to diagnose or treat any conditions in your dog.
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