Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Canine Rorschach Test

Do not think of a Pit Bull!

Puppy euthanized in Vancouver after three biting incidents

"As a result, the eight-month-old puppy, a Korean breed of hunting dog called a Jindo, had to be euthanized last Friday, after the 30-day appeal period ..."

Read the court record here.

This case is like a Rorschach ink blot test for dogs.

Who or what is to blame for the death of this dog? Various (often conflicting) lines of thought:

  • This is a known fighting breed ("There's the problem!" or conversely, "There is no such thing as a known fighting breed, that's just bigotry!")

  • This dog may have been mentally ill ("Yes that can happen!" or conversely, "There are no bad dogs")

  • This dog was taken to a puppy class ("The canine equivalent of trying to train a 3-year old to drive a car while giving him instruction at an amusement park" or conversely "Well, at least they did that right, because you know you can never start a dog too young, especially a dominant and aggressive breed like a Jindo, which really needs all the socialization it can get."

  • This dog was not exercised enough by its 10-year old owner who needed to have his non-English speaking adult Mother with him to take the dog out. ("That's speculative" or conversely "Speculative, but no doubt true as two people can rarely coordinate schedules, and recent immigrants tend to work long hours and rarely jog much as a consequence.")

  • The dog trainer at the puppy class was using "harsh methods" to gain the dog's attention ("This shows you the danger of Cesar Millan," or conversely "Cesar Millan would have exercised the hell out of that animal first, and he would not have brought an unknown dominant breed dog like a Jindo into a group of unknown dogs and people.")

  • This dog came from a "backyard breeder" ("The best dogs come from commercial puppy mills because they have AKC papers" or conversely "The best breeders are small places and all raise their dogs in backyards, so this phrase is meaningless parrot-talk from a Kennel Club theorist.")

  • It was a communication problem because the 10-year old kid was a just kid, and the dog trainer only spoke English, and the adult owner only spoke a little English (Canada needs to make sure every dog trainer and owner speaks both English and French and that only adults are allowed to own dogs).

  • I could have fixed it because .... (No dogs are bad, I am a better dog trainer, I would have used a muzzle, after that first bite they should have...)

I would call particular attention to the cast of dog experts here:

  • The puppy class trainer without too much of a clue (which is pretty typical of puppy class dog trainer);

  • The wannabe "dog whisperer" for whom I can find no reference or credentials;

  • The Kennel Club expert with her potted breed histories and colorful phrasing;

  • The Animal Control folks who saw a dog far outside the bell curve of normal canine behavior;

  • The "dog behaviourist" who the court noted was "not a dog trainer" and who had "never in her career or personal life dealt with the Jindo breed before" and who had "done no reading whatsoever in the literature about characteristics of the Jindo breed" and who "dismissed the stereotyping of dogs based on their breed" but who also said "some dogs are actually hardwired to hunt and chase."

Click to enlarge.


Cassandra Was Right said...

(Can't get the link to the court record to work.) But am not surprised at all by this story. My own Jindo, Cookie, was well-socialized from the day I took her from her mother in Taegu, through several international moves, to the day she went to the great cat-killing grounds in the sky at the age of almost 14. During that time she was never off a leash except in an escape-proofed house and yard, never approached by or allowed to approach a stranger even under my extremely watchful eye, and always kenneled when non-family came into my house. I was not prepared to have to supervise her so closely when I got her, but quickly learned. Still, there were a few minor (luckily) biting incidents through those years. Hyungwon Kang's thorough and fair old web site was very helpful to my understanding and appreciating Cookie for what she was:

If I myself might be allowed to generalize, for all of the breed's virtues I would never suggest a Jindo for a family or a kid's dog. Although they are often the dog of choice for Korean-Americans, taken out of the context they have been bred for they don't usually translate well: a dog that MUST escape from its yard, that will bite anyone who tries to catch it except its master, and that can pluck a cat off the top of an eight-foot wall might not be appreciated in a US suburban neighborhood. As Mr Kang writes, they are skilled and clever independent hunters; they are clean, quiet, loving and loyal house dogs for adult owners who understand them. They are not easy-going pets. By the numbers (which of course I can't locate now that I'm looking for them), rescues find Jindos over-represented in the numbers of dogs put down by animal control groups in the US due to biting. I've often tried to adopt Jindos from my local animal control
(Fairfax County), but if the dog has bitten, it is doomed. And Jindos bite. This dog was almost two years old. As you pointed out, it's very easy for Monday-morning quarterbackers to list the "should haves" for him. If I may join in, he should have been treated like a Jindo.

Sorry for rambling. RIP Scott.

Cassandra Was Right said...

I wrote a very (I believe) thoughtful and well-balanced comment here, which took an hour to draft and which, when submitted, prompted an error message that I couldn't back out of (it was too long). So don't know if you saw it or not. It included my own experience with my dear departed Jindo, Cookie, and a reference to Hyungwon Kang's excellent web page on Jindos at In summary, I wrote that Jindos are Jindos and often don't travel well out of context. They have some extraordinary virtues, but need to be appreciated (and watched over) for what they are, and never mistaken for dogs that can be too thoroughly 'repaired.' RIP Scott.