Dog Bite | Animal Behavior Expert Witness For Attorneys

Richard H. Polsky, PhD, CDBC
Los Angeles, California

“Bringing the science of animal behavior to attorneys”


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Does the “taste of blood” make an attack by a Rottweiler more likely?

Q .  My son, Alexander, is a Staff Sergeant in the US Army. He was deployed in February.  A month or so ago his wife informed them that theyRottweiler dog bite expert were getting a divorce.  Last week my 18 year old son and  I drove to Oklahoma, helped her pack, closed up the house, put her on a plane and headed north with Odin.  Odin weighs about as much as I do.  Odin is an 18 month old, unneutered male purebred.  He now lives with us on the farm in rural North Dakota.

I read that you know Rottweilers inside and out, so you know their good traits and, well, Odin has an abundance of them. He sits, stays, comes and kennels on command.  I have recently taught him to lay down.  My son warned me about his strength. Encouraged me not to become complacent. He is a dog and he is not fixed and he is strong.

We went for a walk with just the shock collar.  And then things went to hell.  He smelled and/or saw my 4 bottle calves in a pen near the barn.  I saw him flinch and yip when I used the shock collar but to no avail. He chased them until he had torn the ear tag out of one calf and had a very firm grasp on the heifer calf.  The shock collar quit. (My fault, I didn’t know to charge it every night)  It was awful. I opened the walk in door to the barn and the two most pursued calves ran inside and so did Odin.  I had no idea if he would bite me or not but I jumped on him and pulled him to safety.  The damage was done. Sarah, my heifer calf was bleeding from her face and ear.  The weather was incredibly humid and then Odin went down. I put him in a pen on the cool cement floor and offered water.  After a while he got up and my son returned from the hay field. Hayden walked Odin to the outdoor kennel. My husband soon arrived and, as you may imagine, he was furious. I was in tears and covered in calf blood.  I was glad Odin was up at the house.  We doctored the calf and went to the house.

When we got to the house Odin was standing but very unsteady. We quickly determined that he was overheated. I hosed him down and soon he recovered use of his legs and some of his strength.  I took him inside to his kennel.   My husband met the vet at the barn and when they were done stitching  Sarah the vet came into the house to see Odin. He had been kicked and limped a bit but his temp was normal and he was very docile.  With this horrible incident aside, Odin is very loving and sweet and docile.

Fast forward to this week.  Everything is still good. He wears a fully charged shock collar and a poker choker.  I am able to control him on a leash.  Right now he is on his blanket in my office chewing a toy while I am working.  I miss letting him run with the other 2 dogs (yellow labs) on our vast grass but I can’t take the chance that he might bolt for the barn.

My question to you is, have I ruined this dog forever by putting him in a situation where he has now tasted blood?  He is lucky they were calves…a cow would have charged and kicked him harder, perhaps fatally. But is his interest so peaked now that he will want more blood?

Odin will stay with me until Alexander returns in October.  This coming May Alexander may again be deployed he is hoping Odin comes back to me.  Do you have any behavioral suggestions for me? If they will take us, we will attend obedience school, beginning next month. Do I dare walk past the calf pen with him on a leash?  I simply do not want to make it worse for him but he does need to expend some energy.

Leslie Kemmett,  North Dakota

A.  Odin’s predatory tendencies towards a target such as calf was probably imbued in his “personality” prior to the incident you described. These predatory inclinations probably have a genetic basis but probably also to some extent are influenced by his past experience or lack thereof towards calves. The fact that he has now “tasted blood” probably was a reinforcing event for this dog making a similar reoccurrence likely if he ever gets access to a calf again. However, note that it literally was not his taste of blood but rather his engagement in the predatory act which was self reinforcing. An incident like this was likely to eventually occur given the nature of your dog in the circumstances in which the incident happened.

Fortunately, these tendencies have little to do with attacks on humans, particularly in a territorial sense. Many Rottweilers have strong territory tendencies but motivationally speaking these tendencies are independent of the tendencies to display behaviors driven by the dog’s predatory inclinations. This applies to adult humans, however. Children should be viewed differently: you need to exercise caution about kids the size calves moving in his vicinity. He might mistake them as a potential prey object.

The use of a shock collar at the proper intensity will likely serve as a deterrent provided it is properly used at the correct intensity and with the correct timing. This is not a permanent solution, however. A shock collar should be combined with counter conditioning techniques.

Drug are also not a solution. Nor is obedience training. Alternatively, you may have a chance of lessening his predatory tendencies if you thoroughly habituated Odin to the presence of calves in his proximity. You could try either tethering him on a long leash leash in their presence or putting him in a nearby pen, making sure that there is no possible way for him to escape. Black dog