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Veterinary Behaviorist Warns Certain Dogs Can Be 'Walking Time Bombs'

Veterinary Behaviorist Warns Certain Dogs Can Be 'Walking Time Bombs'Tufts' Nick Dodman Says A Dog's Behavior Is Based On Several Important Factors.

No. Grafton, Mass. [02.26.01] In the wake of the recent death of the female lacrosse coach killed at the door of her apartment by a 120-pound dog, Tufts Veterinary School's Dr. Nicholas Dodman joined other animal behaviorists who told the New York Times that dog behavior depends a great deal on genes, upbringing, living environment, health and training.

"People who own a good Rottweiler can have a wonderful pet," Dodman told the Times. "But when it goes into the street and something goes screaming by, the Rottweiler locks on like a heat-seeking missile."

And he added that often two or more dogs in such situations will fuel a collective predatory behavior, thereby becoming even more dangerous.

The author of Dogs Behaving Badly and director of the Veterinary School's animal behavior clinic said that an animal can become a "walking time bomb" if it is matched with an owner who deliberately attempts to make it mean--often through abuse and neglect--or one who is unwilling or unable to control it or keep it away from situations where it is a threat.

The Times cited surveys noting that about 40 percent of American dog owners acquired pets primarily for protection-including German shepherds, Rottweilers, mastiffs and Doberman pinschers.

"Not surprisingly," the Times article noted, "those dogs, along with huskies and Malamutes, consistenly rank at the top of the lists for dog bites."

Dodman told the Times that although the genetics of aggression are not well understood, people can change the nature of a breed dramatically in a decade. As an example, Dodman noted that Doberman pinschers were bred for increased aggression during World War II and subsequently became notorious for their attacks on people-as Rottweilers are now.

"But since then Doberman breeders in America have cleaned up their act through selectively breeding against aggression," he said.

The challenge, animal behaviorists told the Times, is to develop ordinances that can both consider the needs of dog owners along with the health and welfare of others.

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