Dog Bite | Animal Behavior Expert Witness

Richard H. Polsky, Ph.D. CDBC
Los Angeles, California

“Bringing the science of animal behavior to attorneys”

Animal behavior expert on dog bite attacks

Richard H. Polsky, Ph.D. CDBC
Los Angeles, California

“Bringing the science of animal behavior to attorneys”

Doberman kills toddler in Michigan while feeding the dog a biscuit

In most instances of adoption of a dog from an animal shelter, most Ph.D. dog bite experts hold the opinion that properly conducted behavioral testing, although questionable, may still be useful  to ensure that a dog can be safely adopted into a household.

A Doberman pinscher in Michigan kills a four-year-old while being fed a biscuit.

From my perspective in animal behavior, it is likely that insufficient scrutiny was given to the behavioral propensities of a Doberman pinscher adopted into the home of a family in St. Joseph’s County, Michigan in October 2016. In this instance the dog was not adopted into the home from a dog shelter but rather the Doberman was rehomed from one owner to another, however.

According to news reports, the dog was given to the family by the dog’s owner (reportedly a man from Illinois) to replace the family dog. Within an hour after the dog in the home of its new owner, the Doberman attacked and killed a four-year-old toddler.

The incident reportedly happened as the toddler was feeding the dog a biscuit. A witness reported that Doberman suddenly turned on the toddler and inflicted a fatal dog bite to her neck. The toddler’s mother was nearby and tried to stop the attack, but the Doberman turned on her and inflicted bite injuries that required hospitalization.

What I find striking about this tragic incident is that the dog had been in the home for less than one hour when the incident happened. Given how quickly the incident happened, I strongly suspect that the Doberman had prior issues with children, which the previous owner should have known about. this assumes however that the toddler did not act in a provocative manner to incite the Doberman to bite.

Behavioral testing might be useful for potentially adoptable dogs in certain circumstances for certain breeds with unknown behavioral histories. On the other hand, if a dog has a proven track record of acceptable behavior around adults and children in a variety of contexts then behavioral testing will likely not add anything to what already is known about the temperament of the dog.

Most likely, in the current instance, this Doberman’s aggressive propensities, particularly with regard to its aggressive propensities towards children, was disregarded. Was it safe to transfer this Doberman into the home where a four-year-old child was living? An evaluation by a properly qualified animal behaviorist, prior to transfer, using scientifically tested behavioral testing protocols, may have raised a red flag.

From my perspective in animal behavior, if this Doberman had never been properly socialized to children, if it had not received meaningful obedience training, if it did not have a proven track record of appropriate behavior responding around children, or if it possessed certain types of aggressive propensities (e.g. food related aggression, fear-based aggression, etc.), then more likely than not it was questionable to transfer the dog into the home where a toddler was living.

Legal action against the owner or perhaps the mother (for reckless endangerment of a child?) might be justified. Michigan law supports the prosecution of a person who has knowledge about the dangerous in a dog, as may have happened the current instance. 

More dog bite news in Michigan be found elsewhere on this website.

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