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Gail Fisher's Dog Tracks: Great Dane case requires a difficult decision

May 13. 2018 12:26AM

A news item in last week's New Hampshire Sunday News was about one of the Great Danes rescued in Wolfeboro attacking a caretaker. The article, which quoted from court documents, read: ". a contractor for the Humane Society of the United States was petting the dog, a 145-pound unneutered male named Remus . when it growled and lunged at her in an 'unprovoked and sustained attack.' The dog bit the woman's arm and pulled her to the ground. She was able to yank her arm free, but Remus 'grabbed the contractor's shoulder area, stood over top of her and began shaking her.'" She had to undergo surgery and "will require 'extensive, long-term rehabilitation.'"

The article went on to say, "Remus, the state said, should be euthanized because he has 'insufficient bite inhibition, is extremely dangerous, is not safe around people or other animals and cannot be adopted out or rehabilitated.'"

Dog owner Christina Fay, whose Great Danes were removed from her home last June, called for Remus to be examined "by an expert and a review of the HSUS protocols for 'preventing dog bites while keeping dogs.'"

Several aspects of this article are worth exploring.

If I were consulted on this case (and I'm not applying for the job!), normally I would want to explore several things before giving my recommendation. First, I would want to examine what happened before the bite. What was the contractor doing? Were there any warning signs (often subtle and missed by the person interacting with the dog)? Have there been any other incidents of aggression, including something as subtle as a muzzle-bump?

I also would normally want Remus to have a complete veterinary work-up to explore the possibility that something is causing him pain. For example, if he has an undiagnosed cervical spine injury, it is possible that being petted might have unintentionally caused pain, to which he reacted.

The state claims Remus has "insufficient bite inhibition," which refers to the amount of pressure a dog applies with his teeth. An inhibited bite means the dog is gentle and does not cause injury. Bite inhibition can often be instilled in a dog, but that does not mean a dog with "bite inhibition" will never bite hard. A dog with an inhibited bite might be extremely gentle playing tug or fetch, but that same dog is capable of self-defense to ward off an attacker or in reaction to pain (as my own dog exhibited on my wrist several months ago). That Remus did not exhibit "bite inhibition" in this instance doesn't mean he doesn't have it in other circumstances. But that is immaterial in this case.

Remus' over-the-top aggression is abnormal behavior. It is one thing for a dog to bite - usually out of fear and/or self-protection - but after the person (the fear-producing entity) moves away, the dog normally does not continue the attack. In this case, Remus continued attacking the contractor, including prey-shaking her, which is a "kill" motion in the wild.

I have used the word "normally" several times in reference to how I might handle a behavioral assessment in most cases. In this case, however, how I would normally conduct an assessment does not affect my recommendation.

We often work to rehabilitate and modify the behavior of a dog that has bitten. When we do so, the most important requirements are that someone is committed to doing what is required and that the person is dedicated to saving the dog and understands that this commitment means management and exercising due care for the lifetime of the dog.

Such an undertaking would require months of careful training and behavior modification. Even if it were possible to save Remus, he has no loving, committed owner willing and able to take on this responsibility.

The bottom line is that Remus is a 145-pound dog who has exhibited abnormal, dangerous behavior for a pet. This dog cannot be adopted and potentially poses danger to anyone who interacts with him. Remus' future is to spend the rest of his life in isolation from human contact - not a happy life for any dog. I rarely recommend euthanasia for a dog because of a behavior problem, but this is not a case that requires a second opinion. There is no question in my mind that Remus should be humanely euthanized.

Gail Fisher, author of "The Thinking Dog" and a dog behavior consultant, runs All Dogs Gym & Inn in Manchester. To suggest a topic for this column, which appears every other Sunday, email or write c/o All Dogs Gym, 505 Sheffield Road, Manchester, NH 03103. Past columns are on her website.

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