Checklist for a Dangerous Dog

August 12, 2011  

By Jessica Dolce

Photos by Melissa Lipani

Are you a politician or resident in an area where a dog-related injury or fatality has recently occurred? If so, you’re probably working to determine the best way to prevent this sort of tragedy from happening again. Right now it may feel like dogs are posing a large threat to your community, but what you’re experiencing is actually quite rare. Dog bites are at historic lows in our country and, as a whole, we’ve never been safer. But there are certain criteria that are consistently present in regards to dog-related injuries, so as you look at the details of the tragic events in your community, here’s a reference checklist for the ingredients that, when mixed together, have the potential to create dangerous dogs.

First, take a look at the function of the dog. Is the dog a member of the family? Keep in mind that just because a dog lives with a family doesn’t mean it’s a family dog. Determine why the family owns this dog. What purpose did they intend for the dog to serve?

Was the dog used for:
_Fighting and gambling?
_Protection of property or other people?
_Intimidation or status?
_Backyard breeding?

If you’ve checked any of the above, you’ve determined that the dog is not a family member. Now it’s time to look at the conditions the dog was living in. Family dogs are provided with basic care, such as food and water, regular vet visits, and time inside a home where they can socialize with their human family members. Take a look at the dog’s daily life.

Was the dog:
_Suffering from untreated medical problems or injuries?
_Intact (and not being shown or bred responsibly)?
_Not vaccinated?
_Living outside or in a garage full time?
_Abused or neglected?

What did you discover? If you checked any of the above, then you know that the dog was not provided basic care and may, in some cases, have been physically abused. These are further indications that the dog was not a family dog and was the victim of mistreatment.

Next, examine the people involved. The actions of a dog are always directly related to how they are managed by humans. Did the dog owner act in a reckless manner by creating scenarios where a dog, confronted with situations without proper management by humans, is likely fail?

Did the owner:
_Allow the dog to roam freely?
_Fail to supervise the dog around children?
_Fail to socialize the dog with people?
_Have multiple unsocialized dogs?

If you’ve checked any of the above items, then you’ve determined that the dog was not properly managed by its owner. The human set the dog up to fail.

Lastly, look at the history of the dog owner. When tragedy strikes, most people are slow to take responsibility for how their actions contributed to the problem. They may say they’ve done nothing wrong, but since you’ve looked deeply into their daily life with the dog(s) involved in the incident, now you can trace their history. It’s likely that this isn’t the first time the owner or their dogs have encountered trouble.

Does the owner:
_Have a history of criminal behavior?
_Have past citations with animal control?
_Not have a current license for their dog?
_Have a history of training their dog to be aggressive?

If you checked any of the above, then you’ve determined there was a history of reckless behavior on the part of the owner and a failure of law enforcement and/or animal control to follow up on a known problem.

Every one of the items in this article is a warning sign that went unchecked for some time until a serious incident occurred. Luckily, the overwhelming majority of dogs that are victims of one or more of the criteria listed here still do not cause harm. We are safer now than ever before.

So, what’s missing from the list? The breed of the dog is not a checklist item. That’s because any dog, of any breed or breed mix, can become dangerous in the hands of a reckless, irresponsible owner. Sadly, in the last few decades, abusive and neglectful humans have gravitated towards pit bull type dogs because false information and sensationalized myths, from various sources, have glamorized pit bull type dogs as status symbols for criminals.

Just like any other dog, if pit bulls are not treated as family dogs, then they become canine victims, set up to fail by humans that care little about their health, training, or for that matter, the law. If you choose to ban pit bull type dogs in an attempt to make your community safer, these reckless humans will move on to another breed (like they did earlier this century when they chose to own German Shepherds or Dobermans) or it will simply push their pit bulls further underground, hiding from the law, where they will go without medical care and proper socialization.

Now that you’ve looked at the checklist, it’s plain to see how those circumstances, exacerbated by a breed ban, could create a dangerous dog. It is time to move away from fixating on the breed if you want to create safe, humane communities. Instead, focus attention on the elements present in this checklist, since it’s the cocktail of human-related criteria listed here that is to blame.

By addressing these items through the creation and enforcement of breed-neutral dangerous dog laws which address irresponsible owners, you’ll be creating truly safe communities, without punishing the hundreds of thousands of families with pit bull type dog that are loving, law abiding guardians of family dogs.

Bad Rap
listing out warning signs – a media first?
When Dogs Bite
The Cruel Cost of Breed Specific Legislation
Animal Farm Foundation
Resident Dog vs. Family Dog – What’s the Difference?
A Community Model For Responsible Pet Ownership
American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)
Dangerous Dog/Reckless Owner Laws
National Canine Research Council (NCRC)
What is a dog bite?

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22 Responses to “Checklist for a Dangerous Dog”
  1. nativbaygirl says:

    Thank you so much for posting this today. I live in the SF Bay Area and have been reading some of the comments that have been posted to the internet news stories in reference to the pregnant woman who was apparently killed by her dog. I am just horrified by the comments people are leaving about killing all the pit bulls and the hateful things they are saying about owners. I hope that the blog attached gets out to policy makers and citizen groups. The commentary is so over the top I just want to hide my dog right now. Eventually cooler heads will prevail, but there is such a long way to go to make people understand that ultimately it is up to the humans to create the right experiences and environment to keep people and dogs safe.

  2. tdotcopeland says:

    A friend of mine is having trouble with his three-year-old boxer/pit mix. She was rescued from a junk yard as a puppy and is a good family dog (when she wants to be), but has had three red zone moments of concern to me, including an attack on their eldest dog, a Rottweiler/Swiss Mountain Dog mix. What I conveyed to my friend is that their current rural environment (in upstate New York) may be indirectly fostering a “pack” mentality, which is not appropriate for a household dog. By allowing his dogs to run free, he is not enforcing appropriate boundaries. The Rottweiler is not harming other dogs, but he is killing the neighbor’s chickens, for Pete’s sake! Being a responsible owner also means recognizing benign neglect as a possible cause for this and the young girl’s behavior. Dogs that were bred for guarding will do just that, if left to their own devices.

  3. StubbyDog says:

    @nativbaygirl We just hope this article will provide information so people will realize the circumstances that lead to any dog attack. Thanks for commenting.

  4. StubbyDog says:

    @tdotcopeland Your friend should seek out the advice of a professional. You raise many good points, but it is ultimately up to your friend to see there is a problem and address it with her dogs.

  5. tdotcopeland says:

    @StubbyDogHe’s already sent her to a kennel upstate with a very good trainer (but he referred to it as sleep-away camp). The dog was kicked out because she jumped over a fence and attacked a new dog that was entering the facility.

  6. tdotcopeland says:

    @StubbyDog We’ve taken four training classes already (that’s what we do in the winter–summer is for fun and reinforcement), and I advised him, “The training is always for me, not my dog.” 😉

  7. StubbyDog says:

    @tdotcopeland That is so true.

  8. HeatherMartinChilders says:

    Fantastic post, and a topic I feel very passionate about. Inspired a post of my own!

  9. StubbyDog says:

    @HeatherMartinChilders That’s great Heather, thank you and help spread the word.

  10. theprettychic says:

    The Pretty Chic with the Pits, Inc is fighting this legislation currently with Chalres County Maryland. Stubbydog and few other sources have been very helpful to this cause. Thank you all you do and we ask everyone to check out The Pretty Chic with the Pits on facebook and provide your support!

  11. StubbyDog says:

    @theprettychic Glad we could help, best of luck with the fight. Hope the legislation doesn’t pass.

  12. Ladybug1966 says:

    I had one and he was a great dog. He loves all kids and would be like a big baby with them. We now have a pit chow mix and she is built like a tank. Love this dog very much. My son has made her his own. and she is the best thing that has happened to us. Please give these dogs the chance to change your mind. They will change you. These dogs are like any other dog. They are the best. Plan on getting another one in the near future.

  13. StubbyDog says:

    @Ladybug1966 Thanks for sharing and good luck on your next addition to the family.

  14. Ladybug1966 says:

    These pictures that you have are great and thank you will try to send a picture of my new one.

  15. RubyBrownNovascone says:

    This article still gives my gallant breed a bad name!!!!  People before u judge research the TRUE AMERICAN PITBULL TERRIER!!!!  They r the best  breed of choice even if breed to fight take precautions around other ANIMALS  but never a human!!!!!!

    • RubyBrownNovascone says:

      In no means am I giving the American Pitbull Terrier a bad name, i am the proud owner of one but his background is from a true breed. Not everyone should own a Pitbull bc it gives the breed a bad name!!!!

    • StubbyDog says:

       @RubyBrownNovascone not sure how you came to that conclusion. Quite the opposite, ” So, what’s missing from the list? The breed of the dog is not a checklist item. That’s because any dog, of any breed or breed mix, can become dangerous in the hands of a reckless, irresponsible owner.”
      A dangerous dog can be any dog if not given love, care, and respect.

  16. MariaKnowsBest says:

    Growing up we had 3 pit bulls living at home, I would always catch my son sleeping in the kennel with my dog. they were all amazing dogs loyal, loving and never tried to bite the hand that fed them. I have nothing negative to say about them. I just cant stand when people generalize these dogs as all being dangerous, it all depends on the owner and how they were raised.

  17. lovabull says:

    what a fantastic article! there is always more to the story and this is what society needs to realize!

  18. DonnaMarieDavis says:


  19. DonnaMarieDavis says:

     YOU SAID IT !!!!!!!!!!!!!