Responsible dog management: When man's best friend turns aggressive

As the adage goes, dogs are best man's friend. Working dogs beef security in our homes, institutions such as airports, schools and hospitals. On the other side, pet dogs provide companionship to members of the family who owns them and are even accorded a family member status in many households.

However, in the recent past, news of dogs biting family members, relatives and neighbours has been on the rise and the situation is worrying.

While discussing this situation with my fellow veterinarians I got a few insights.

Dr Derrick Chibeu, a seasoned small and companion animals veterinarian noted that a critical component that is usually overlooked is breeding for temperament.

"When I joined practice after college some 25 or years ago, there was great concern about temperament in some breeds, Rottweilers included. I remember there was a gentleman's agreement amongst the reputable breeders then within the East African Kennel Club plus vets to actively seek out puppies that had a potential for a 'mean streak' in them," said Dr Chibeu.

Those days, lineage of dogs that had been seen to produce overly aggressive dogs were discouraged to be used in breeding. Any puppies that so much as growled when being handled gently were euthanized. Any young dog over 6 months that had missed this scrutiny and showed aggression got euthanized.

He added that breeders were very selective on who got the puppies and followed up by encouraging new owners to take their puppies for socialization. What resulted was a generation of Kenyan- bred Rottweillers that was as gentle as retrievers but maintaining a boisterous character.

But things changed albeit slowly. Towards the end of the 2000's, the middle class fad of owning dogs bloomed. With it came all manner of breeders who thought that the rules put in place were meant to discriminate the ordinary mwananchi from breeding good dogs and earning good money. All common sense became less common. Anyone bred from anything. Add to this the poor socialization for the puppies (most of the work was left to the shamba guy or a relative recently finished school - ajishikilie hapo akingojea kitu ipatikane (pass time at this as they wait for a job opening) . New owners bought any puppy because they wanted to fit in or massage an ego. Dogs were not socialized - it's locked up in a dingy, dark kennel and only comes out late at night and by 5 am its back in.

Things are bad to the point that some men say they don't go home early because they will be bitten by their own dog. The dog only knows the shamba guy as the man in authority (literally and figuratively) in the place - he feeds , cleans and most of the time beats some discipline in to it. The real members of the family don't have anything to do with it.

When it happens to go loose when family members are around, all manner of screaming and shouting happens creating a panic mode rather than a reassuring set up for the dog.

As veterinarians, we need to start educating our clients on responsible pet ownership. This includes educating them on the suitability of their set up for certain dogs / pets. We must not be shy on telling off our clients that they are not looking after their pets properly. We must advice them on the potential drawbacks of how they look and treat their dogs, if they must have it.

Additionally, Dr. Chibeu notes, "I have always had at least two Rottweilers in my ownership since 1998 and I have never had any issue with my visitors and their children. In fact, I do remember my younger son, he was 2 then, actually getting a bone off one my dogs because he didn't think bones are to be eaten - the dog let him. My dogs love it when my nieces and nephews come over because they get to chase the football all day."

Dr Desmond Tutu shared a few tips that if followed by dog owners can go a long way in curbing the rogue behaviour that dogs sometimes adopt.
 Never train for aggression on dogs at home. It's easy for such dogs to snap at people.

If you have to train, hire a trained  and qualified professional dog handler.

All dogs, not only Rottweilers, must be adequately socialised, exposed to the environment animals and human from 8 weeks to the day they breathe their last.

Castrate any male and spay any female you don't intend to breed from.

Feed the dogs good quality food in right quantities. Never let your dogs starve. Dogs are carnivores and hunger can lead them to cannibalism and the owner is not out of the equation.

Observe five freedoms of animal welfare  at all times no  matter the breed.

Never lock up dogs with intention of making them aggressive. This promotes antisocial behaviours and aggression may not be reversible.

Do not give your dogs drugs like bhang to enhance aggression. You can intoxicate and poison your dog.

Leash your dogs at all time they're outside a kennel and use appropriate choke chain or harness.

Protect your dog and he will protect you. Love them and treat them well.

To conclude this matter, a dog is what the owner makes it.

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