“Once they taste blood…”

By Lynn –

I’ve heard from a few back-woods types (and even some city-slickers who, if appearances were anything from which to judge, should have known better!) who insist that dogs, once they eat raw meat and “get the taste of blood in ’em,” can turn aggressive to people.

Simple concept, and wrong on all counts.

Let’s examine a typical scenario in which a dog is exposed to the taste of raw flesh: the house dog who, as usual, chases and catches one of the local forms of wildlife that happens to venture into the backyard at the wrong time. Elated at the newfound game (the behaviorist types would call this “self-reinforcement”), the dog now puts forth more effort in trying to catch another local form of wildlife the next time it is outside since, of course, it caught something once…catching something again shouldn’t be a problem. The chase is continued at any opportunity, whether in the backyard, at the park or out on a walk. The owner notices this obsessive, possibly aggressive behavior toward living things and is concerned that such attention might have the possibility to be turned on himself.

The first problem that’s worth mentioning is that the dog is outside unsupervised.

For most people, a fenced-in yard gives a sense of false security that nothing bad can ever happen, and it’s a good point to mention that fences do prevent a majority of dogs from escaping the yard, which is the primary purpose. It’s also unrealistic for me to think, much less imagine, that people have the time and energy to supervise their dogs anytime they’re outside, especially if the yard is fenced-in. So I’ll forgive this point in the interest that it is, for the most part, sheer habit for dogs to be let outside in fenced yards without supervision, assuming that there is no way that the dog can escape the fence, or has ever tried to do so.

The first REAL problem is going to be that the owner didn’t notice anything was amiss for a while.

In a nitpicking sense, this can go back to the fact that the dog is unsupervised. So much happens in a dog’s yard that impacts it that to not notice them is to almost be blind to what influences outside the realm of the house and its occupants the dog is experiencing. The dog could be digging in an obscure area of the yard that might not be noticed for a while. The neighbor’s dog could be antagonizing your dog, causing fence-running and wearing a rut into the ground. The dog could be chewing on sticks or rolling in (and possibly eating) scat from the local wildlife that passes through–which is a real risk for contracting internal parasites–or even eating dead wildlife that has been decomposing for some time. (This is not to say that dogs CAN’T eat anything but dog kibble, since most of them seem to be just fine after dining on local fauna, but most people just seem to be squicky enough about the idea of their dog eating a dead animal and then showering them with kisses that it doesn’t hurt to discourage the behavior. Plenty of people feed prey-based raw diets with no ill effects…more on that in a second!)

The second problem is that the owner is not seeking help, either until someone actually DOES get hurt, or not at all. Whether this person is a “train-it-yourself” type of person does not matter. Whatever this person is doing in this situation, if anything, is not working and the dog’s aggressive behavior towards other live beings is becoming more obsessive.

The truth of the matter is, unless the dog is told to “Knock it off, you’re not supposed to do that” in a way it can understand and learn from the first time and “Here’s something else to do instead that will get you pets and praise,” the behavior won’t go away.

Either this person is not communicating clearly with the dog in a way that the dog understands and finds motivational (no, yelling doesn’t count, neither does spanking or time-outs), or the person is more concerned with trying to avoid such situations while out on walks. Most people have heard the stories of owners who walk their dogs at 3AM or go to the back alleys where they have the smallest chance possible of running into either other dogs or situations where they know the dog will become a general nuisance to handle and embarrasment to the owner. This is more management than anything else, but trying to manage the dog’s behavior without working to make it better or change anything significant. These are the people who really need all the help they can get from a real trainer, not a behaviorist who will recommend drugs (which take months to have any effect whatsoever, and that’s if they even work), a PROC trainer who will recommend the dog be managed some more (or perhaps euthanized due to the aggression), or the friend of a friend who just thinks the dog needs a good beating or strung up on a chain collar.

If trained properly, the dog that was formerly thought to be a ticking time bomb due to the hapless killing of a local wildlife critter would actually turn out to instead be a well-behaved member of society. It would receive more socialization through interaction as well as the self-control necessary to NOT chase and kill local fauna. Prey drive is a good thing in many facets of dog training, but perhaps the challenge that most people tend to forget is that the energy the dog uses to try to chase and kill can be harnessed and redirected into activities such as obedience, agility and other rewarding exercises. Even if a dog DID turn on people after killing a groundhog, it would not be as a result of that action: the dog had no idea that what it was eating WAS blood, or that it came from within bodies. The dog just simply understood that the chase was fun, the catch was rewarding, and hey, there were goodies inside that tasted pretty good! I don’t know about everyone else, but if such an activity gave people that much fun, we’d be trying to do more of it too, right? (Of course, such activities exist for people that do not involve the consumption of entire raw dead animals, but in the interest of space I’ll leave you to name a few yourself and nod gravely with the realization that they are just as self-reinforcing as the topic under discussion!)

The truth of the matter is, if it were true in any sense that dogs who “get the taste of blood” will eventually turn on people, then there are a LOT of owners who feed their dogs a diet of raw meat that are in serious danger for their lives. Some of these dogs are pets, while others are out in the public eye as police K9s and even Search and Rescue dogs. For the SAR dogs, the owner’s admission that this is NOT a recommendation is very eye-opening…however, one cannot deny the benefits of a raw diet if one has the time, dedication, resources, support network and possibly financing to put the idea into motion. While I do not feed the dog a raw diet at the moment and hence cannot recommend it either (due to inexperience and the lack of knowledge of formulating a balanced diet), I would certainly encourage people to look into what is involved and the benefits both you and your dog can reap from something so simple as a change in diet. There are many sites out there to get started that encourage questions and networking, so read up and, should you decide to go with raw or a part-kibble, part-raw diet, be proud of the fact that your dog indeed dines on food that might contain a small amount of blood, and you are still alive to tell them why it actually might be beneficial!