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Boy Dies after Pitbull Attack - now what?

Updated: Oct 22, 2021

I heard about this from a colleague at work. Such a sad case, a young boy passed away due to wounds incurred by the family dog.

Sadly, for the pitbull lovers, it is a step backwards for folks trying to ensure that there is no breed discrimination. I have met some very lovely pitbull-type dogs. They are also very powerful. It’s impossible to say why the attack occurred since there were no witnesses, but chances are high that the attack was provoked. However, I personally would not leave a child alone with a dog of this size and power. People likely will blame the dog and its breed tendencies - especially the poor recall, or poor ability to listen to the adult in the scenario. Chances are high that the dog had poor training. The care-giver is going to have to live with that regret for the rest of their lives. That care-giver who was responsible for caring for the boy made a mistake. Sadly, though, the dog will likely be euthanized.

I had a patient come in last week, a 4-year-old male intact German shepherd dog mixed with husky. He was aggressively barking - attention-seeking but also attempting to tell me, demanding in fact, that he needed the treat I had in my hand. He lunged at me and grabbed it. The owner had zero control over this dog. I knew to be cautious of the dog immediately. When I walked into the exam room, he was off-leash and jumped on me. The owner called him and he didn’t come. I instructed the owner to put him back on the leash. I made a few notes and watched the dog while talking with the owner. Gave him a few treats if he sat. But he had no patience. If the treat was not in his mouth immediately when he sat, he would stand up and would bark and bark and bark. This is evidence of poor training behaviour.

I believe that we as veterinarians need to provide clients with guidance when we meet these types of dogs. These behaviours are built very early in the dog’s life. The best time for dogs to learn proper social skills is when they are young, right around the time they are weaned, which is the time that breeders tend to send them off into the world. Puppy socialization should therefore start around 8 weeks of age.

Dr. Sophia Yin has an article that I’ll direct you to that suggests having the breeder start these social skills around 3 weeks of age. She also says that it is the breeder's responsibility to tell the family what kind of scenarios the puppy has been exposed to. Responsible pet ownership also means ensuring that your dog had proper social skills to move about the world without causing harm to themselves or others.

I mentioned to the client with the shepherd x husky that he needs training. I tried to be firm and friendly with the owner. I don't want to see this dog hurt someone, especially a child, because life for him will not be a good one. I suggested a front clip harness, one that Renee from All About Dogs has been recommending (called SENSE-ation) and I suggested that he sign his dog up for her training classes as she has a program for older dogs called 'Never Too Late' (click here to see up-coming classes at the bottom of the page).

So far, at least that I know of, none of the owners of adult dogs with poor manners whom I have referred to have additional training have gone this route. I guess that's just part of our frustrations in veterinary medicine. That sometimes you can give out your advice and it falls on deaf ears.

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