Denver — In light of the Feb 9, 2012 dog bite of 9News anchorperson Kyle Dyer, I have decided to start this blog, beginning with a 5 part blog series covering all aspects of the bite, and our relationship with dogs. I hope you find this series educational and engaging, and a good starting point to learn about the complexities of communicating and living with the friend and companion that we know so little about, yet so many of us share our lives with.
Over the course of this series, I hope to answer some of your questions, pique your curiosity in regards to dog behavior and communication, discuss why dogs bite, and finally how to be a friendly stranger and more responsible dog owner.
Every year, in the Denver metro area, several off-leash dogs end up falling through the ice and need to be rescued. So far, this year alone, there have been 4 highly publicized incidents of dogs that have needed to be rescued, one resulting in the death on an owner. The 4th and most recent incident involved a black lab, who was pulled from icy waters on Valentine’s Day, in Centennial Park.
The rescue of Max, the dog involved in the 9News incident, was the third dog rescue of the year. What was different about this Feb 7, 2012 case, is that a news helicopter captured the entire incident, broadcasting the rescue around the world.
We learned that this dog was a 3 year old, 85lb Argentine Mastiff named Max. The owner, like many local dog owners, decided to let his dog off leash. Unfortunately, there was a coyote in the area and Max’s owner had no means of controlling his dog. Max chased the coyote on to the ice and both animals fell through. The coyote died, and after 20 minutes of treading water, Max was rescued by West Metro FD, and became an instant media celebrity.
Max’s owner was cited for allowing his dog to bite, not having his dog on leash in an open area, and I heard reports of not having proof of vaccinations. He was current on all vaccinations. This incident could easily have been prevented if Max’s owner had some means of controlling him, such as a leash or a long line, and had strong impulse control and emergency recall.
Following the rescue, the media and Internet started buzzing as the video started spreading around. Max’s owner started getting requests for interviews, and that evening the family gave one interview in their home, then another where the family thanked the firemen at the fire hall.
Fast-forward about 18 hours, the owner was invited on 9News morning show to have a reunion with Fire Fighter Sugaski in the 9 News studio with Kyle Dyer, for the morning edition of Petline9. Petline9 has been a long-standing segment and a big part of the Denver animal, veterinary, shelter and rescue community.
Kyle Dyer is clearly an animal lover. While Kyle was instrumental in setting up and running Petline9, she appeared very uneducated with canine communication, body language or how to interact with animals appropriately. The producers and director also did not see the warning signs, and there were no trained individuals in the studio.
Max was clearly stressed from the onset of the interview. He had just experienced a traumatic incident where he almost died. He was in a new environment with lights and large cameras pointed at him, chaos all around and strange people all focused on him. His owner was obviously stressed with his first appearance on live TV, and he was holding the leash taut, restraining the dog close to him, while giving an occasional leash jerk.
On top of all of the environmental stressors, Max had this strange lady, talking in a fast high-pitched tone, on the floor grabbing him from behind. Then all of a sudden she moved up, reaching over him, getting in his face and trying to kiss him on the lips. Max gave clear calming signals such as lip licks, and turned his body and head from the primary stressor. He showed clear signs of stress through panting and trying to escape the situation, and appeared startled when Kyle moved from behind to restrain his head before she attempting to kiss him.
The bite was preceded by a quick freeze and lip curl, but by that time it was too late. During the entire interview, there was very little focus on Max except very rough and invasive petting, and nobody noticed any warning signs. Everybody was caught completely off guard. Kyle Dyer was transported to the hospital and kept there for 3 days. Kyle received 70 stitches to her nose and upper lip and a skin graft. She is expected to come back to work after several weeks of healing at home, and a second surgery.
Immediately following the incident, the Internet commenters, and even those in dog training community seemed quick to try to find someone to blame. Some blamed the dog, most blamed the owner, others blamed the reporter. It got ugly, with one well respected Denver dog trainer even going as far as publicly using the terms “stupid and narcissistic” to describe the owner and his actions. I feel that this was a systematic failure at ALL levels for this dog, from almost every human involved in this case, not just the owner.
I feel the owner could have prevented the situation simply by keeping the dog on leash in the first place. It is every dog owner’s duty to keep their dog safe and not put their dog in a potentially dangerous situation. Although 99% of uneducated owners with normally stable dogs would have done the interview, I feel that any expectation and judgment is unfair in this situation. Most dog owners only become educated once an incident has already happened, or they acquire a shy, fearful or reactive animal. As trainers, we need to get past preaching to the choir and educate, not castigate.
As far as the 9News staff, the producers, director and reporter, I feel with the amount of interaction that they have with animals, and the liability that they took on bringing animals into the studio, they should have had a foundation understanding of communication and interactions with animals.
I applaud their effort since the incident. Of all of the coverage, 9News had the best and most levelheaded coverage with a focus on educating themselves and the public. The day of the incident, they brought in a behavior technician from the Denver Dumb Friends League to talk with the staff, and then talk to the public that afternoon, and about a week later brought in Dr. Suzanne Hetts, PHD, a local Denver dog behaviorist, to talk further about dog behavior and how to interact with dogs.
Eventually online, cooler heads prevailed, as more behaviorists chimed in, using this event as the valuable learning experience that it has the potential to become. Max is expected to be released Feb 18, 2012.
In our next installment, we will discuss in detail and the physical and mental impact fear and stress has on dogs.
This post was edited by Janet Phillips