The owners of the two presa canarios who mauled Diane Whipple to death outside of her apartment were found guilty of second degree murder, manslaughter, and owning a mishievous dog. They are, in my opinion, guilty on all accounts and also guilty of being irresponsible dog owners. Their irresponsibility has brought media attention to dogs, dog owners, and how things can go so badly wrong when a dog ends up in the wrong hands.
There are many things you can do to be a responsible dog owner, and to ensure your situation never gets out of hand. Here is a long list, and if you find that you are doing things differently than on this list, you are NOT a responsible dog owner, and for your dog's sake and for the safety of others, you should consider your actions very carefully.
1. Obedience train your dog. This is your 3rd most important responsibility as a dog owner (number 1 and 2 being providing food and healthcare). If your dog is not obedient to you, he is a nuisance and to take him out in public is dangerous and irresponsible. Your dog should at least obey 3 basic commands, sit, stay, and come. If your dog does not do these reliably, then work with him on it. I am not saying obedience train him to win best in show at Wesminster, but these 3 basic commands are life saving and should be taught and enforced from day 1.
2. Keep a leash on your dog unless you have a securely fenced in yard. No exceptions here, NONE. Again, this is for his safety and for the safety of others.
3. If your dog has bitten someone or attacked another dog, you have a problem on your hands. You can either keep a muzzle on him in public, or work with a professional to curb the aggression. Most dogs don't just up and decide to bite someone or attack a dog. Dogs who do this usually disobey their masters, have growled at their masters, or have shown other signs of disrespect towards humans or other animals before. Keeping an accurate history of your dogs aggressive outbursts will help a specialist better deal with your problem. Once I was councelling a client on her aggressive dog. She told me first the dog barks aggressively at children, what can I do? So I spent the whole session giving her a plan to follow to control the barking. Then she said (a half hour later), what if I told you that the dog also lunged at children? It was at that point that I decided not to help the woman any further. Unless she could be completely honest with me, I was not going to take responsibility for modifying that dogs behavior.
4. Never say, my dog doesn't bite. That is a lie. All dogs bite, it is their nature. With that in mind, watch him as though he does bite.
5. Take your dog to the vet on a regular basis, and if your dog seems to be acting aggressive out of the blue, have the vet do a complete work-up on her, including a thyroid hormone check.
6. When in doubt, use a muzzle. Every dog owner should have a muzzle. If you think your dog is uncomfortable in his surroundings, or you are taking him to a place where is gets especially nervous, USE A MUZZLE. They are not cruel and will give you peace of mind. With a muzzle, your dog can do NO HARM. Some dogs who get nervous will bite. Don't wait until it is too late to find out, just use a muzzle. Then he can go everywhere with you. Be sure to give him a rest from the muzzle every 20-30 minutes. A good fit on a muzzle should allow panting and drinking. Do not engage in heavy exercise with a muzzle on your dog. If the Noel and Knoller were using a muzzle, Whipples tragic death could have been avoided.
7. If you think your dog is aggressive, contact a behaviorist or a trainer or both. Email me for a free consultation. There are options out there and aggression can be cured.
8. Never leave dogs and children unsupervised under any circumstance. If your child comes home before you, give explicit instructions for your child not to play with the dog while you are gone, especially if your child is bringing friends home. The rule for children and dogs go as follows, if your child needs a babysitter, they are too young to be alone with the dog. Be sure your child knows how to respect your dog, this means no tail pulling, ear biting, grabbing, screaming, running, or wrestling with the dog. Children have the ability to anger even the most level headed dogs.
9. Do not engage in aggressive games like tug-o-war with your dog.
10. Do not leave your dog in a car during the summer months. The temperature can rise to an inhumane level in a matter of minutes.