Monday, July 13, 2009

Just What We Need

aka The World is Full of Experts

Running With Dogs recently posted her scores on a "Dog Owner Threat Assessment Guide" created by the fine folks over at Smartdogs. We had a talk today about what a coincidence this was, but I guess it's not that much of a coincidence. We *are* roommates, and we do... share a lot of interests. But it's funny, because I read about this on July 9th over on YesBiscuit and tried to get Tamara Follett to give up her application/contract (she offered it in a comment somewhere above mine). I forgot I asked until Running With Dogs posted- I was not surprised that Follett had not coughed up.

So here's the background: Tamara Follett is an "expert." She is the creator of "Dog-Trax" which purports to solve the "dog bite epidemic" by having a public notification system of where a "dangerous dog" lives. Follett is on target about a couple things: many dog bites happen when fencing is inadequate. I was discussing this with another friend today- the cliche phrase that "good fences make good neighbors" is totally applicable in a responsible dog ownership situation. One part of responsible dog ownership is adequate confinement. I appreciate that Follett breaks this down into manageable pieces. I also agree with her that education is key. I agree with this in most areas- lack of education about vital issues is a societal failure. I taught humane education briefly and it was an eye opener, and totally rewarding. I also think that targeting education is important, as is community policing.

I'm just not sure that if Tamara Follett and I were to sit down, we would agree on much else. Her methods for stopping and preventing dog bites scare me. I've never heard of this BAM method, and really, handing out info on how to stop a lethal dog attack on the Internet, even with a bright yellow caveat, well, it's no good. Hit the dog with a shovel? Awesome. Great. Lovely. Then we get to the "CAT": Canine Threat Assessment Guide. You can probably already guess why Running With Dogs and I liked the Do-Tag, even though it was kind of tongue and cheek: the responsibility falls on the owner. The CTAG is all about the dog. You'll have to open the link yourself, but it's about 1/3 of the way down, under suggestions for Municipal Animal Control. You could argue that some of the factors (# of times "re-homed" (my least favorite word), environmental stressors, etc) are actually about the owners, but the language is all about the dog: "Heightened aggression or excessive behaviors can be exhibited in dogs that are stressed for any reason, including environmental, physical, mental, and hormonal factors."... "1. Consider the “worst-case” scenario when assigning points to a given dog. For example, in determining points for Function, if a dog is primarily a pet but also utilized as a guardian of the home, the points should be 2, for Guardian dog. This is because that, in order to accurately assess a given dog’s potential for attacking, we must consider the worst possible sequence of events and the worst possible reaction from the dog in that situation." And then we get to the dominance part. I'm not sure if you've figured out by now that I hate the dominance crap. I feel another blog coming later tonight.

WHERE IS THE OWNER in all of this? I think this video is telling. This is a National Geographic video of Tamara Follett and her dogs, Caucasian Ovcharka. Follett clearly is a genetic determinist, to large degree. I think the grey area of nature/nurture might be lost on Follett. Additionally, I think the fact that we expect a LOT of our dogs, and ask them to live in a heightened, unnatural situation while still being dogs is also missed. Watch the video. The dogs "get mad."

I'm not sure Follett's containment is adequate. The dogs stick their entire (giant) heads through her fence. She advertises her dogs as "as good as 45 caliber" guns. And yet she is concerned about a dog bite epidemic? I've got a gun epidemic in Oakland we could talk about... She shakes her puppies' noses, to "test aggression," because she wants the 3 week old puppies to naturally display aggression. Most breeders are concerned with socialization, not demonstrations of aggression, even/especially of large guardian breeds. The narrator states that these dogs are naturally aggressive. Perhaps they're missing some socialization? Or they've been improperly socialized? Which gets me back to the labelling of dangerous dogs: Dangerous dog laws should target the owner. Sure, some dogs are inherently dangerous. A lot of dogs are dangerous because their owners have failed them. Their owners set the dogs up by inadequate fencing/containment, inadequate socialization, inadequate understanding of their dog, of their breed. Like the guy in the video, who got a giant, undersocialized, guardian breed, for example. Do we blame the dog if he gets loose and bites someone? Or if he drags the guy into the street and bites someone? Or is that a failure of ownership?

Dangerous dog laws are not perfect. Responsible dog ownership is a work in progress. We need education all around, and we need to educate and penalize dog owners who jeopardize their own dogs and the safety of the community. Or we can just keep blaming the dogs.


Anonymous said...

Follett is irresponsible and unethical. She commodifies her dogs as being mere weapons. This is disturbing.

cissy said...

My recently deceased Caucasian Ovcharka worked for me as a service dog for 8 years in NYC. Tamara has ruined the reputation of this wonderful breed - both through her advertising campaign that marketed them as "having more stopping power than a .45" and breeding them for aggression and failing to adequately screen out buyers seeking aggressive dogs.
As someone who considers herself personally harmed by her lack of ethics, advertising and self-promoting activities, she leaves worse than a bad taste in my mouth. Because of her and breeders who followed in her footsteps, I chose not to get another Caucasian both because of their reputation and the shortage of responsible breeders.

themacinator said...

totally agree, anon.

cissy- i'm so sorry about your experience of tamara- i have read similar things online. i think she's a scary lady and almost didn't write this post for fear of publicising her more.

i am a pit bull lover, as you've probably noticed, and i hate how much damage irresponsible breeders have done to the breed, so i empathize. my dog doesn't weigh close to 200lbs, but he's more familiar with JQP.

it's amazing what nimrods can do, and it really reiterates my point: ownership is so much of "dangerous" dogdom.

Canadianguy said...


After reviewing the posts on this blog and several others and the unnecessary resentment you all show towards Mrs. Follett I felt it necessary to weigh in on the discussion.

First of all let me begin by stating I'm not a breeder, I'm not associated in any way with Mrs. Follett or any other entity and my views are mine and mine alone.

I believe that dog bites are not an epidemic at all and I wouldn't even go as far as to calling dog bites a problem in any community. If anything they are a very small percentage of isolated incidents caused by the owner's inability to conduct proper obedience training and socialization for their pet or the owner's blatant disregard for their local bylaws that govern basic common sense rules for responsible dog ownership. The safeguards and tools to prevent dog bites are already in place thanks to our local authorities. It is up to each and everyone one of us as responsible dog owners to do the right thing and follow a few common sense regulations in order to prevent more severe restrictions being placed on breeds, breeders and dog ownership as a whole. In any case, the blame should not rest with the breeds, the breeders or the individual dogs. I stand firmly by the fact that a dog is only as well behaved as the level of control it's owner has over it and that is directly associated with the amount and quality of obedience training and socialization the dog has received.

(ran out of space, will continue in my next post)

Canadianguy said...

As far the issue of Mrs. Follett's attempt to get rid of breed bans and prevent dog bites goes I sincerely applaud her for being a leader in the matter; however, I believe she should consider reevaluating the practical applications of her software and the fact that implementing it is counterproductive to our cause as a whole due to the fact it will lead to more and more illogical restrictions such as breed bans. As opposed to focusing on the real problem which is irresponsible dog ownership leading to dog bites and an overall threat to public safety, it seems that the application's basic practical function is to assess each dog and form a database to keep track of dangerous dogs and bad owners. It's not really any different from any system already in place by our local authorities. I would actually be delighted if there was a constructive discussion on reforming dog ownership laws to put keep bad owners from ever getting a dog rather than trying to deal with the aftermath caused by bad ownership.

As far as the National Geographic episode which so many of you have criticized Mrs. Follett for and her decision to place that CO with that particular owner there is a few things you should keep in mind:

1. How many breeders face that much publicity and scrutiny for their actions? In fact how many of them are even willing to accept representing their breed on national television? It takes someone with a lot of character and someone who stands by their breeding practices.
2. How many breeders actually offer a 100% money back guarantee on the puppy's genetic health & temperament? Hmmm... Almost none? Wow, that's sooooo surprising considering the unethical breeding practices they all follow.
3. How many breeders actually screen their breeding stock & potential owners as extensively as Mrs. Follett? Almost no one does because most breeders are more preoccupied with producing as many dogs as possible as opposed to producing healthy dogs and the cost of tests and not being able to sell to unsuitable homes affects their bottom line.
4. How many breeders are willing to dedicate their time and money to actually get involved in the community with important issues that affect EVERY dog owner and member of the public? Hmmmm... I don't really see any other breeders weighing in on this issue except with snide remarks and unfounded criticism.
5. The person she sold the CO to had SEVERAL other dogs and seems like the type of guy that would have no problem passing ANY assessment for suitability of ownership for a CO. It's impossible to know what a person will do with a dog when they take it home no matter how well you've screened them.

In fact, I actually plan to buy a CO and I'm only interested in purchasing one from Tamara Follett because she is the ONLY breeder in North America that is doing everything in her power to try and better the image of a breed I've been around and loved since I was 3 years old. Her dogs are healthy, well trained, well socialized and she's a responsible owner and breeder and a prime example for any aspiring breeder to follow.

Thank you for reading and please feel welcome to leave any negative comments for me to respond to below since obviously everyone is more concerned about attacking the one person that's actually doing anything about irresponsible dog ownership rather than discussing how dog ownership bylaws could be changed to prevent dog bites by preventing irresponsible dog owners from ever acquiring a dog to begin with.

Bye now!