A Winnipeg radio station sought the expert opinion of Dr. Polsky concerning an incident in which three people were viciously attacked by a pack of American bulldogs on February 29, 2020.
This incident, which was initially was mistaken for a fight between people, happened in the early morning hours in a parking lot of a Winnipeg motel. Dr. Polsky shared his thoughts about this incident in a live interview on March 2, 2020 with Chorus Radio 680 in Winnipeg.
Inquiry from radio host Julie Buckingham
“We are hoping you can join us on our radio show to offer your expert opinion why dogs would attack their owner (and others). In this case, they were staying in a motel. Would space be a factor in causing the dogs to attack? I’m just surmising that a motel room would seems light tight quarters to me!
I’ve included some background of what happened in the incident on the weekend.
There’s some question on the actual breed. While the dogs were still on the loose, police initially identified them as Pit bull-mastiff crosses, then said they may have been American bulldogs. Some have also mentioned possible Pit bull-Terrier mix. Unfortunately, we do not have any pictures.
Typically, can you say in cases like this it is more of nurture over nature? How much of a factor does breed play into things like this? Are bans of breeds effective…or just more about making people ‘think’ they’re safer?”
Description of the dog bite incident
On February 29, 2020, at approximately 12:30 a.m., Winnipeg Police received a report of a fight occurring in the parking lot of a motel in the 1800 block of Pembina Highway. As further details emerged it was determined that the incident was not a fight but rather three people were being seriously attacked by vicious dogs. All victims were hospitalized as a result of their injuries.
The dogs attacked and terrorized numerous people in the motel parking lot before crossing Pembina Highway and leaving the area.
Thirteen separate police units were required for this incident including units from General Patrol, two K-9 units and members of the Tactical Support Team. Officers were assisted by members of the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service and City of Winnipeg Animal Services. The Winnipeg Police Duty Office sent out warnings on social media cautioning people traveling in the Fort Garry area to remain in their vehicles.
Three adults from the original call were injured with two males sustaining severe, life-altering injuries. All three were taken to hospitals, where the two most serious remain.
Two of the dogs were located in adjacent neighborhoods and had to be put down by officers. A third dog and a puppy were struck by a vehicle on Pembina Highway. The adult dog has not been located and residents are cautioned to avoid the dog and if located call 911. The puppy was brought to a local veterinarian where it was treated.
All four dogs at first appeared to be pit bull/mastiff crosses. Animal control later said the dogs were American Bulldogs. Mistaken identity often happens because of the similarity in the physical characteristics between many breeds, particularly between mastiffs and pit bull type dogs. More information about the American bulldog can be found here on this website
Dr. Polsky’s response
It will be difficult for any animal behavior expert, including myself, to render accurate opinions about exactly how the incident started or why this pack of dogs acted in a manner they did. From my perspective as a canine behavioral specialist, certain conclusions are warranted, however:
- First, this was a pack of dogs. Dogs acting in packs can be exceptionally dangerous if they are not supervised and if one or more members of the pack have a history of biting or threatening people. Moreover, the danger may increase if the dogs are pit bulls, or one of the more potentially dangerous mastiff breeds, such as the Cane Corso, or American bulldog (a breed with mastiff heritage).
- Second, the above should not to mean that all pit bulls or Cane Corsos or American Bulldogs should necessarily be banned or in some manner regulated. Serious problems exist with laws that regulate the ownership of certain breeds. The consensus of most animal behavior experts is that the implementation of breed-specific legislation is not warranted, based in part on research which has demonstrated the limited effectiveness of breed-specific legislation. Nonetheless, since 1990 the city of Winnipeg has banned the ownership of pit bull type dogs.
- Third, nature vs. nurture applies to any behavioral patterns displayed by a dog, whether it be toilet behavior, exploratory behavior, predatory behavior, maternal behavior or aggressive behavior. Breed tendencies cannot be ignored in the analysis of dog behavior. However, they cannot be used in and of themselves to explain canine behavior. Nature interacts with nurture in complex ways, and the complexity of this interaction differs greatly between individuals.