This video came to my attention today - I apologise that what you are about to view IF you choose to hit play, is not pleasant and involves an old dog suffering unecessarily.
This video is supposed to show a Police Dog Legislation Officer, Constable Davidson, carrying out a behavioural assessment on a dog currently under police care.
Asides from the rudimentary training in identifying 'type' dogs, this man has no valid qualification to carry out behavioural assessments, he is allegedly a student of the Cambridge Insititute of Dog Behaviour and Training, an organisation wholly out of date when it comes to a scientific basis for dog behaviour - though even they are stepping away from the content of this video!
On seeing this video I wrote my initial thoughts, based on my professional experience and my prior learning (now nearly 20 years worth of constant continued professional development), but in that I don't fully explain what a behavioural assessment should be doing or looking for, and really why what happens in this video is not particularly useful and from a welfare point of view, horrific.
You can read that initial review at the end of this blog entry - keep in mind it was written before I had read similar reviews of the footage by other behaviourists and trainers, so the opinions within are entirely my own.
Here are some salient points, these are all points the officer either was aware of, or should have been aware of, had he paid attention to the information available to him.
- Buster/Butch (he appears to have been known by both names) belonged to an elderly person who had already applied to have the dog taken into a breed specific rescue, Senior Staffy Club, who specialise in old Staffies.
- Before they could take him he was due to be vaccinated for kennel cough, but sadly, his owner died. The police I assume were called to the house as Buster was stuck in the home with no food or water and his owners body - sadly as is not uncommon, he had eaten part of his owners body.
- Buster was then seized by the police and held as a dangerous dog - there is to my knowledge no evidence that Buster attacked his owner, or that any injuries were commited by him before the owner died, however the police still insist that Buster is a dangerous dog.
- There is no information to suggest that Buster has ever attacked a living person - yet Constable Davidson suggests in this video that Buster attacked his owner who subsequently died, this is not the truth.
- Buster is an old dog - Davidson acknowledges this on camera.
- Buster has been held in police kennels for 'some time' I am lead to believe this is months.
- The kennels as can be clearly seen and heard in the video, are a barren and very loud, stressful environment, and totally alien to a dog who has been a pet well into old age.
- Buster has in the last few months experienced his primary care giver dying, being sufficiently short of food that he has had to eat his owners body, strangers coming into his home, being taken away by strangers to an unfamiliar and very stressful environment.
- It can be clearly seen that Buster is not in good condition as Davidson states, but is lacking muscle tone particularly around his hind quarters, and is unsteady, stiff and has a gait that strongly suggests joint pain. It would not be unreasonable for any person familiar with handling dogs to assume he has a degree of pain, most likely arthritis, and that his health conditions may well not be limited to just that.
- It is possible that Buster has some degree of hearing loss.
- It is very possible that Buster has not been trained, that even if he has, he has not been trained to a high enough standard that he understands commands given by total strangers, in an alien and uncomfortable environment.
- It is almost certain that a dog in pain and in an alien environment being handled by a stranger will struggle to comply with commands, particularly if they will exacerbate pain or he fears that compliance will hurt him, will not comply.
This is not a behavioural assessment of any worth, it does not prove that Buster is dangerous, in fact I would say it proves the opposite, that Buster is highly predictable and has a huge degree of self control, only using the minimal amount of force to end the situation and no more.
It was incredibly stressful and unpleasant for the dog, has almost certainly caused some lasting behavioural damage (he is now going to fear that kind of handling again!) and was totally unnecessary.
Buster should never have been subjected to this assessment, what he needed was to see a vet and have his pain taken care of, and a veterinary assessment should take place before a dog is assessed behaviourally, because pain and fear of pain will modify behaviour.
So what is a behaviour assessment and what does it tell you?
I assess dogs behaviour on a daily basis, as does any behaviourist or behaviour consultant - I personally don't do this for the police, for seized dogs or for the courts, maybe one day I will but right now I do this for private clients.
It is basically the same thing however.
I want to know what makes a dog tick, what motivates that dog, what does he love, what does he like?
I want to know how the dog deals with situations, for example how does he cope with meeting a new person who has come to his house and is sitting there drinking tea and talking to his owners and has some cheese in her treat bag?
I want to know how that dog responds to being given a simple puzzle to figure out - does he ace it? does he flunk it? does he get annoyed and bash it with a paw or pick it up and fling it, does he (in one case) run up his Moms legs and get in her face and demand SHE sort it out for him cos its too hard Mommy!...
I find out what behaviours that dog already knows, and how does he respond to being taught new ones.
I find out how he plays, how easily he relaxes and switches off, how he calms himself down (or if he can't!), what gets him worked up, what makes him feel satisified and content.
In and among all that, which as a pet dog behaviour consultant, I can also achieve by speaking to the owners and looking at any video evidence they have, I find out a TON of information about each dog I meet and work with.
That information allows me to predict how the dog will behave in certain circumstances, which allows me to explain how the dog needs to be trained, what behavioural modification is required to help the dog cope with life and to manage the dog safely.
Provoking a dog to bite you really is a foolish and incredibly short sighted thing to do - yes, it tells you at what point that dog will bite you.
Of course now you have done this, that dog is likely to bite you or the next person who pushes him, sooner, or with less warning.
Every dog has the ability to bite you, every dog has the buttons, somewhere, somehow, that can be pushed that will result in a bite. Every single dog in existance.
We already know this, this is not some sort of mysterious phenomenon.
So here's my initial assessment of Davidsons 'behaviour assessment' on Buster/Butch
Assessment of Video of Dog Legislation Officer Davidson, Merseyside, handling/assessing Buster.
“The following is the professional opinion of Emma Judson – Canine Consultant, based soley on the video evidence of Constable Davidson, having seen no other assessment by any other canine professional”
Video begins with Davidson introducing himself, the kennel environment appears barren, incredibly noisy and in my opinion a very stressful environment, far from the ideal location to assess the true nature of a dog.
Buster is handled on a stiff cable slip lead – it is my opinion that this piece of equipment is liable to cause discomfort or pain due to the narrow diameter of the cable, and the choking action the slip loop produces.
Buster is taken into a secure square pen, metal walls and a concrete floor.
At no point during the video do we see Constable Davidson introduce himself to the dog, take time to form even a cursory bond with the dog, or give the dog any reason to be particularly interested in him or keen to work for him.
Davidson tells us Buster has been in these kennels for some months, is an old dog, and is in good condition.
In fact it is clear from the video that in my opinion, Buster is showing clear signs of joint pain/discomfort, probably arthritic degeneration of his hips and elbows and probably more as is typical for old dogs – he also appears to be lacking the normal muscle tone of a fit healthy dog of his breed.
Buster is walked around the exercise pen, where his gait is clearly uneven and his movement stiff, consistent with that of a dog suffering joint problems.
Davidson has Buster held fairly tight on the slip lead by holding the handle up high, stringing Buster up, this is in my opinion likely to cause discomfort to the dog.
Davidson states his intention to carry out a behavioural assessment on Buster to see how he copes under pressure – he does not make it clear at this point what he means by ‘pressure’, what signs he is looking for, in fact the whole thing is very vague.
Buster is asked to sit – Davidson is slightly behind the dog and asks in a nice tone ‘Sit’.. Buster does nothing. He then asks in a firm and slightly aggressive tone ‘SIT!’. He is still to the side and out of Busters field of vision, when Buster fails to comply he pulls the slip lead taught and forces Busters hind quarters to the ground.
Firstly, its highly likely that Buster has some hearing loss due to his age, this would be a reasonable assumption. He is also in a very stressful and noisey environment so this could also contribute to non-compliance.
Davidson has as far as we know, taken no steps to engage Buster in any kind of rewarding activity, there has been no use of a toy or food rewards and thus Buster has been given no motivation to want to work with Davidson who is a total stranger to him.
Finally, no allowance is made for the fact Buster is old and most likely has joint pain – this can cause a dog to not want to sit or lie down, particularly on a hard, cold concrete surface.
Davidson forces Buster into the sit and Buster collapses into it and looks visibly worried.
Davidson immediately asks for a down by bending over Buster and pointing at the ground between his feet with his hand below Busters chin.
Again Buster has not actually seen Davidsons face and may not realise he is being spoken to if he has hearing problems. Buster doesn’t look comfortable about having Davidson bend over him with his face in close proximity to his own, but does not react badly to this, however he does not comply with the command.
Here again Davidson makes no allowance for the fact Buster is old and there may be good reasons for non-compliance.
Davidson also makes no allowance for the very real possibility that Buster has never been taught to either sit or down before.
The Constable also appears unaware that dogs are context specific learners and that even if Buster has been trained to sit and down by his owner, if he has never been handled by other people or in a variety of locations, he may well not understand what is being asked of him now.
Davidson walks Buster around the pen again, declaring ‘The dog seems to be the type that is just happy to do his own thing’.
As a behavioural assessment goes, so far Davidson has done nothing to warrant that conclusion at all – there are many many reasons as discussed above, as to why Buster may not be complying and they have nothing to do with him ‘doing his own thing’.
Davidson goes on to say that Buster .. ‘Doesn’t really want to be told what to do’. He again misses the fact that Buster may not understand, may have good reasons for not complying.
Thus far apart from not responding to Davidson, Buster has shown no real signs that he doesn’t want to do anything – for example he has made no effort to get away from Davidson, nor has he made any attempt to make Davidson leave his space.
Now Davidson says hes going to ‘put a little bit of pressure on’..
By this he actually means he is going to forcibly pull the dog over onto his side by holding the skin on his neck and hind quarters and pulling him down.
As Davidson kneels down to do this, Buster turns towards him, looking interested and wanting to engage with the man – however when Davidson pinches the skin on his back and pulls him down and puts pressure on his side, Buster stiffens, snarls and snaps.
In my opinion, this was not ‘pressure’ but a highly provocative, threatening and intimidating move, viewed as a physical threat or attack by the dog.
Given Busters age, lack of mobility and poor muscle tone, being forced onto the concrete floor on his side almost certainly caused him pain.
Having a stranger bending over him, pinning him to the ground would be an incredibly intense and frightening experience for almost any dog, but particularly a dog who has had a very stressful few months, who is already in pain.
Busters reaction to this treatment is well within the bounds of normal dog behaviour, he is reacting in fear and in pain, and his behaviour is designed to make the man stop hurting him, nothing more.
This is clearly evident as the second Davidson lets Buster up, he gets up and does not make any attempt to further growl at, snarl at or snap at Davidson. In fact he tries to ignore him, a typical reaction when the dog is aware he cannot get away from a threat but isn’t willing to use more aggressive or violent behaviour.
Davidson tells us that Buster doesn’t like pressure – he appears wholly unaware that for a dog, being physically pinned to the ground is probably one of the most threatening and frightening experiences they can have, and again fails to acknowledge that Buster may well be in pain.
The next step of the test Davidson explains is that he is going to try picking Buster up.
He doesn’t explain why this is a part of a behavioural assessment, but it is rare that a dog who hasn’t been taught to be lifted up will relax or tolerate the experience. It is a high risk thing to do when you have no idea of the dogs background or training history, as it puts the dog in close proximity to the handlers face.
Davidson calls Buster to him and stops walking, Buster turns again willing to engage but sees Davidson bending over him reaching out to him.
Bearing in mind the experience of being forced to the floor and pinned there just a few minutes earlier, it is not remotely surprising that Buster stiffens and lip curls and growls at Davidson.
Here the dog is very clearly telling Davidson ‘I do not want you to touch me’ – this is again a perfectly normal behaviour for a dog in pain, a dog stressed and a dog fearful of what is about to happen next.
Davidson ignores this and pushes on with his insistence on picking Buster up, which he does very awkwardly with both hands under Busters body. Buster growls and snaps at and bites Davidsons hand in an attempt to get him to stop, which Davidson does.
Davidson points out that whilst the dog has bitten him and isn’t happy about being picked up, he is wearing a bite sleeve under his jacket.
Again in this frightening experience, Buster has done what he perceives to be the minimum amount of aggression to get the situation to stop and to gain space away from Davidson.
It would have been very easy for Buster to turn and bite Davidsons face, and to bite him again as he goes to pick up the lead, but once the threat level is reduced, Buster has no need to aggress and does not.
Davidson goes on to say that Buster, ‘obviously isn’t happy being put under pressure’.
In my opinion, Davidson has subjected this old dog to fear, and physical discomfort or pain. The dog has reacted in a way I would expect a stressed and frightened animal in pain to respond to threats of physical harm and actual pain – by lip curling, snarling, snapping and biting sufficiently to stop the situation and gain space or respite from the stress.
Davidson repeats again that in his opinion Buster is not happy ‘being told what to do’.
In my opinion it is likely Buster does not understand what he is being told to do, or due to stress, mobility and hearing issues and pain is unable to comply.
Davidson concludes that this dog will react when put ‘under pressure’ or is ‘made to do something it doesn’t want to do’.
In my opinion based on this video, Buster is an old dog potentially suffering joint pain and hearing issues, who has possibly never been trained.
He reacts in a way consistent with a dog responding to fear and pain, and uses the minimum amount of aggression to keep himself safe.
There are plenty of opportunities in this ‘assessment’ for Buster to have seriously injured Constable Davidson, when he puts his face near Busters, when he lets him up from the pin-down, when he puts him down after picking him up.
At no point does Buster do more than is necessary to stop the situation.
In my professional opinion, Constable Davidson has not carried out a thorough or useful behavioural assessment, but instead has subjected an old dog suffering pain, to more pain and fear in a thoroughly unscientific manner.
He has missed many obvious signs such as the dogs uneven gait and lack of muscle tone, and misread others to come to a conclusion that is of very little use in determining the risk this dog poses to others or the dogs future.
Emma Judson – 11.08.16 at 15.36pm