Hike in vicious dog attacks: Expert reveals what makes animals turn

Expert dog trainer Mitch Watson, the Paw Professor, has explained why he thinks there has been an increase in dog attacks across the country. Source: Getty (stock image used)

An expert dog trainer has weighed in on the spate of horrific attacks across the country recently, explaining the reasons why so many loved pets are turning on their owners and friends.

Over the past few months Australia has been hit with a flurry of incidents, with children and adults alike on the receiving end of terrible injuries and sadly a number of fatalities.

Multiple toddlers have been rushed to hospital with injuries to their faces after being mauled by a dog, while last month a 61-year-old father was killed by his son’s American Staffordshire Terrier in a tragic attack in Melbourne.

Speaking to Starts at 60 about the plethora of shock attacks, Mitch Watson, also known as the Paw Professor, has claimed it could be a result of many things, including Australia’s love of saving animals.

The former police dog handler explained while it’s fantastic Aussies are so caring towards dogs and wanting to give the animals a second chance at life, it could be a reason behind the increase in attacks.

“In the past a lot of dogs were euthanised if they showed traits of aggressive behaviour, but now there are so many organisations such as the RSPCA which are saving them,” Mitch said.

“It’s wonderful more are being saved but there are definitely more dogs with these aggressive behaviours around having not been trained properly as puppies.”

The Paw Professor, who has trained countless dogs over the years, said many of those which have shown signs of aggression have been from the RSPCA and have lived disadvantaged lives.

“There are people who choose to get puppies and don’t think about the responsibilities of training a pet,” he said. “There is a flow on effect and they end up giving those pets to the RSPCA because they can’t look after them and then the new owner is faced with the challenge of training a badly behaved dog.”

On top of this Mitch said people are increasingly treating their dogs like people and not enforcing the correct discipline. While it may seem like a good idea to continuously praise a pet and allow it to do human things, the Paw Professor explained this sadly can give the dog an incorrect perception of where it stands in the family structure.

“Inadequate socialisation when the dogs are young and more people treating pets like people, meaning the dogs don’t respect their positions, are other reasons behind aggressive behaviour,” he added.

While most of the dog attacks lately have involved certain breeds with a muscular physique such as a the American Staffordshire, RSPCA Senior Scientific Officer Dr Sarah Zito said ultimately the behaviour of the dog is largely to do with the owner.

Although certain breeds have received a bad rap due to their appearance, Zito said every dog has the potential to bite with many interacting factors such as socialisation, experiences of training and the dog’s physical and psychological health. While other things including the behaviour or the victim and the dog’s handler can add to a situation too.

“Responsibility for the behaviour of a dog rests with the owner and is exercised through the considered selection of a suitable dog for the owner’s circumstances, the provision of a caring upbringing in a positive environment with appropriate reward based training and by ensuring effective control of the dog,” she told Starts at 60. “The principle of owner responsibility is firmly established in existing dog management legislation.”

She added: “Many of the elements of what is required to reduce and eventually prevent dog bite incidents are already in place in Australia. What is required is a renewed effort on the part of governments, at both the state and local level, to implement further measures to encourage responsible dog ownership to reduce the risk of dog attacks and to enforce existing dog control legislation based on the actions of individual dogs, not on the basis of breed.”

Her comments were echoed by University of Sydney, Professor of Animal Behaviour and Animal Welfare Science Paul McGreevy who used the incident involving a pack of dachshunds, more commonly known as sausage dogs, who killed a middle-aged woman in America last year, to explain his opinion.

In a piece written for The Conversation McGreevey explained how it’s an “over-simplification” to label an entire breed as “too dangerous”.
“Many factors lead to the first bite and even more factors feed into a second and third bite,” he explained. “This is why most veterinarians call for a ‘deed-not-breed’ approach, arguing that blaming a dog because of its genes overlooks the role of nurture and circumstance.”

What do you think needs to be done to address the increase in dog attacks?

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