Dog talk with Uncle Matty: Don’t be shy about asking why

By From page A10 | February 08, 2013

 My 4-year-old mutt, Seamus, bit my stepson on the nose. In doing so, he ripped off a piece of his nose, and doctors are stitching it back on as I type. This is the second time he’s gone at my stepson’s face. The first incident was a year ago. Both times, my stepson put his face in Seamus’ face.

We are the second owner. I sent a message to his first owner asking whether he could provide any information. Seamus has been with us for more than three years. He is current on all of his vaccines and has been neutered. Please, any advice would be welcome.

Not knowing the dog and not knowing the actual circumstances, the best advice I can give is:

• Enlist the services of a dog trainer who specializes in aggression — yesterday.
• Start networking to find Seamus a home without small children.
• Keep Seamus separated from your stepson at all times.
• Teach your stepson how to appropriately and kindly handle animals.

That’s my after-the-fact advice. The best solution for this kind of problem is prevention.

When inheriting a dog from a friend or relative, or adopting from a stranger, don’t be shy about asking why. “Why are you giving your dog away?” is a natural curiosity, and it could save you a lot of heartache.

Be prepared, though. People are rarely forthright with details that could work against them. If someone tells you they have to rehome their dog because their child or spouse is allergic, persist. Ask:

• How does your dog get along with your child? Your spouse? You?
• Does your dog guard resources such as food, bones, toys or bed?
• How does he behave when guests come over?
• How is he with other dogs and cats (or any other animals he’ll have cause to associate with if he goes home with you)?
• Is he friendly when approached by strange people and animals on walks?

Then persist further.

Request to walk the dog yourself. Ask that the whole family be present with the dog at some point in your presence, and make sure every member of your family meets the dog before he moves in. Ask to play with the dog and his favorite toy, and tell the owner you’d like to come around for feeding time — for the dog, not you. And if this dog will be living with another dog, arrange an introduction on neutral territory before committing. Seeing is believing.

On Nov. 11, 2012, firefighter paramedic Bob Brown came home to find his wife’s body at the bottom of the basement stairs in their home, dog bite wounds adorning her neck. According to the Chicago Tribune, an autopsy confirmed that Dawn Brown, 44, died of dog bites to her neck from a 140-pound mastiff.

The Browns had adopted the mastiff only a week earlier, from a relative.

The reason the family member cited for giving up the dog? They could not care for it anymore.

French Mastiffs, while large, are typically gentle giants. But breed is no guarantee of temperament. The only thing investigators unearthed that could have played a role in the attack is that the mastiff wasn’t getting along with one of the Browns’ two older dogs.

Inviting a dog into your life is a big deal. It’s your life, your home, your family. It’s a 10- to 20-year commitment. Don’t be shy. Don’t feel obligated. Ask questions until you are satisfied. A good match serves the interests of everyone, including the dog.


 Dog trainer Matthew “Uncle Matty” Margolis is co-author of 18 books about dogs, a behaviorist, a popular radio and television guest, and host of the PBS series “WOOF! It’s a Dog’s Life!” Read all of Uncle Matty’s columns at, and visit him at Send your questions to[email protected] or by mail to Uncle Matty at P.O. Box 3300, Diamond Springs 95619. 

Copyright 2013 Creators Syndicate Inc. 

Matthew Margolis

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