Monday, April 21, 2014

Healing as an open wound.

The Air Force tests a number of things. Some of these things are totally cool to me. The function of people in zero gravity. How many G's can ya take. How fast can we make this thing go?

The Air Force used German Shepherd dogs for many years to guard things. Things like nuclear weapons, bombers, and interceptors and the places that nurture such items. In the course of this, they decided to see how well German Shepherd dogs did their jobs. So somebody in the Air Force figured a way to measure the bite pressure generated by a German Shepherd dog who was munching upon your arm.

Seven hundred pounds per square inch.

In case you were wondering.

These were dogs trained to bite, so they would bite that thing and within the thing was a measuring device. A German Shepherd dog trained to bite can generate that much bite. Such a bite could fracture your femur, that rather large bone hidden in your thigh.

That would hurt!

In case you were do not want a trained German Shepherd, one with sufficient motivation, munching upon your femur. Now, the average backyard German Shepherd won't bite that hard. Even the one on the chain that had every kid in the neighborhood scared out of Mr. Wilson's yard wouldn't bite you that hard. But the trained ones would and could.

The one that bit me, all those years ago, up on my forearm just below the elbow where those muscles used to bulge, wasn't trained to bite... so he just gave me a little nip. It hurt, of course. Surprised me, for I wasn't expecting to get bit that day. But in this business you don't get an engraved invitation to a little nip. You simply get to enjoy it. Without warning. Without option.

What surprised me....was the noise. Oh no, not the bark or the growl. No, not that. It was that pop....the pop when his canine tooth popped through the taunt skin of my left forearm. I could hear it as he bit me. That makes it seem real, in case you were wondering.

The scar is lost amongst those others, probably that dot next to where that other shepherd got the muzzle off and with his front teeth, those twelve incisors, he pinched a wedge of skin and tugged my arm that way when I thought it should have been going this other. I turned to see my arm in his mouth going west, and I requested he give it back.

I don't get bit often. I've learned most of the tricks to avoid this. Several dogs every day consider biting me. Sometimes more than several. Through diplomacy I avoid most of these bites. I win them over. I'm good, after all. Maybe one or three a week give it a good try, and miss. Like I say, I'm good. And a few times each year one will get me. Most are an annoyance. Every two or three years I get one that hurts. After four decades, I've the scars to prove how good some of these dogs can be, and how fallible I be. I remember many of these.

I'll remember this one. The scabs are slowly shrinking, and I exhibit supreme discipline in that I've not picked at the scabs hardly at all, which is unusual me. I'm an inveterate scab picker. And I've resisted for two weeks. They are jolly good scabs, and it would be fun....

While the Air Force was training German Shepherds to guard our military bases, the Soviets under Joseph Stalin had a few military bases too. After losing a few million people in the process of driving Hitler's armies out of the country, the Russians took guarding their bases seriously. The dog they came up to do this with is now called a Black Russian Terrier. It is a formidable beast. It looks like a bear, tips the scales at 120 pounds or so, and it is fiercely territorial, passionately protective, and as one breeder confessed, inordinately intolerant of any invasion of its personal space. Where most dogs must be trained to attack, according to this breeder, you must train this dog not to attack, and you must continue to train it for the entire life of the dog.

In other word, if you try to pet it, this dog will kill you.

This is not a dog for the casual dog person. It is not a dog for beginners. And it is not a dog for those silly people who think they need a guard dog that is nastier than their neighbors' guard dogs. Guess who bought this dog to be their family pet?

It was a nice social puppy. But by the time it was 9 months old, it tried to bite me because I touched its ear. When I gave it a correction with the leash for that misdeed, it came right up after me. That's when I gave the owner “the talk”.

Some dogs cannot be kept in polite society. At all. Some others can if the owners know what they are doing. Here we had a dog in the first category, and owners who didn't even come close to the second. Here is the number of the best dog trainer in the area, the one I send the worst behaved dogs to, to see if he can save them. The rest will die, hopefully before they really hurt someone. Go see this guy.

They went once.

But since the dog was behaving himself in their home, they decided they didn't really need to go again.

The trainer told them to never take the dog out in public without a muzzle. So when they showed up at my hospital when the dog was 16 months old, the lady told me she had a muzzle on the dog. This beast has hair everywhere, so you cannot see his face, his eyes. You cannot read him, see his tells. He doesn't even have a tail. He just stands there. You cannot see the muzzle.

Turns out the muzzle was not such, but only a strap loose around his nose and mouth. When I petted him, he attacked. No growl. Didn't get tense. Didn't look at me. Just boom. He bit like an experienced dog, with enthusiasm and power.

The strap kept his mouth partially closed. Those twelve incisors were latched onto a bit of skin on my left forearm. He wasn't letting go. He was growling.

Remember the eyes....the great white shark on “Jaws”? Yeah, those eyes.

I ripped my arm out of his mouth. That makes a sound, too. He left with my skin.

The owner expressed surprise. She thought she was holding him. She didn't think she needed the real muzzle. The dog had only attacked one person, a friend visiting their house, and they caught the leash in time.....

Without that strap, the dog would have opened his mouth fully and my arm would have been entirely within. Something in excess of seven hundred pounds per square inch. The bones would have been broken. The muscles and tendons torn asunder. The nerves likely lost forever. Crippled. For life.

“Doc, will I still be able to play the piano?”

“Certainly, my friend.”

“Good, because I couldn't play a note before.”

Ten fingers. Two eyes. Two ears. That's how I wish to end this career.

So far, so good.

Yes, this dog will hurt someone some day. Seriously. He may kill someone. But not in my practice. But he will hurt someone. Everybody sees it coming. Except the owners. Everybody has warned them, threatened them. Somebody will be hurt or killed.

I hope it's not a kid.


  1. I am sorry that you got hurt, and I am sorry that those individuals have a dog that is so aggressive. And like you, I hope someone doesn't get hurt. (And like you, I think it's going to take someone BEING hurt badly before these owners realize they have a Cujo on their hands)

    But I will express surprise because I have two Black Russian Terriers in one of my locations. And the owners aren't uber dog training wizards. While we treat the dogs with the respect any very large powerful dog deserves, I wouldn't say that the dogs (or our staff) are doing anything untoward. No muzzles. Routine exams done with polite permission from the dogs after polite requests from us. Typical big dog exam.

    Now, these are the only two Black Russian Terriers I know... maybe they're the exception to the rule (half-siblings from the same breeder)? Maybe it's just lack of proper socialization mixed with a large powerful dog in your case? Maybe it's actual bad training by the owners? Maybe it's bad bloodlines by some breeders?

    Either way, yeah... that is the type of dog that is going to hurt someone, one day. I wish there was a way we could proactively do something about situations like that, but beyond recommending trainers and behaviorists, we can't. We can't FORCE these people to take their dogs to trainers. Too bad that a behavior evaluation isn't required for a dog to be licensed.

    Anyway ... I hope your arm heals well, and I hope that dog gets the behaviorist/training that it deserves, BEFORE someone else bears scars (or worse) on their arms.

  2. We have one in our practice, and (so far, at 1 year old) she is a good dog. The first time I went into the room with her, I stopped and had to evaluate where I was going to safely put myself to examine her. I came to the conclusion there was no safe place. If she wanted to, she could have easily gotten the better of me in that room.

    On the other hand, I have told a few owners that they need to euthanize their dogs before someone gets seriously injured, but so far, no one has listened.

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  4. In the same way that we have Child Protective Services and Adult Protective Services, we need Canine Protective Services. The family needs an evaluation and the dog removed unless they do what is needed. So sad and scary.

  5. Every owner seems to think that their own dog won't bite. And every dog, given the right provocation for their own mental status (stepping on their tail, being HBC with a broken leg, having someone give direct eye contact or dare to exist in their presence), WILL bite.
    I wish owners would believe us when we say that.
    We've had multiple heartbroken owners have their dogs PTS when they bit/attacked/savaged a family member or neighbor. Their charts are full of warnings. But the owners didn't want to believe that their dog could do something like that. "He's so good at home" they say. When you dig deeper you can see the signs, but it's too late, the grandchild needs extensive facial plastic surgery or the neighbor needs a skin graft.
    All I can say is document, document, document.
    And heal. I am sorry the dog nailed you. :(

  6. please bring it to the attention of animal control. if there are children in the house, DHHS as well.

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  8. Irresponsibility abounds. Shame on the breeder for placing one of these dogs with a casual owner. Shame on the owner for not knowing they've got a loaded gun at the end of their leash.

  9. Breaks my heart for the dog and the family (and whoever the dog is going to attack). I'm glad you're healing up and hope that the owners' eyes are opened without someone being maimed.