Semyonova, A, October 2014, The Tragic Fantasy that a Protection Dog Can Make a Reliable Family Pet. An analytical paper that accompanied, “2014 Dog Bite Fatality: 7-Year Old Boy Killed by Trained Protection Dog in Dodge County, Wisconsin” published at DogsBite.org.
On Friday, October 24, 2014, a seven year old boy was mauled to death by a Rottweiler. The Rottweiler, imported from the Netherlands, had undergone attack training as a ‘personal protection dog’ and gained titles up to level 2 IPO. The trainers of this Rottweiler were sure they could install a ‘switch’ in their attack trained dogs, one that could be flipped at will to make the dog function as a safe and docile family pet, then flipped back again if the dog’s attack skills were needed. The boy’s family apparently bought this Rottweiler as a family pet. They felt comfortable leaving the boy alone with the dog after all the assurances they’d had from the trainers. They were confidant that when the ‘switch’ was set to ‘family pet’, the attack trained Rottweiler would be safe around children. On the fatal day, they allowed their son to take the Rottweiler into their yard to go to the bathroom. While the two were outside, the Rottweiler attacked the boy and killed him. No one witnessed the attack.
This case reveals a whole range of problems and illusions that we would do well to address regarding dogs trained for ‘personal protection’ or police and military work.
Bite threshold and bite inhibition
Perhaps the most urgent reality we need to recognize is this one: any dog that has been either bred or trained (or both) to abandon bite inhibition and to attack other living creatures with a hard, gripping bite will never be a safe household pet.
The domestic dog is normally a conflict avoider and normally has a high bite threshold. This means it is reluctant to bite and would rather resort to signaling (barking, shows of teeth, air- snapping) to deflect a conflict or a threat. If for some reason this doesn’t work, and the dog is forced over its bite threshold, then bite inhibition comes into play. This is the extremely accurate and reflexive control dogs normally exercises over how hard they bite if they bite at all. If you corner a dog without an escape route, or if he lashes out in fear or in a pain reflex, a normal dog will still, reflexively, inhibit its bite so as to do zero or minimal real damage…