Three of Sydney’s leading dog experts have contested claims the two rottweilers that attacked a baby girl pounced “without reason”, suggesting there would have been some sort of unknown trigger that caused them to get “over-excited”.
Five-week-old Mia Riley was asleep in her bouncer next to at least six adults at her grandfather’s home in Moruya on the NSW south coast on Saturday night, when it is understood the dogs suddenly attacked.
The young girl’s parents, Tom and Lani Riley, rushed their daughter to Moruya Hospital, but she could not be saved.
A friend told the news platform the dogs started mauling the baby “out of nowhere” stating there were no other kids around, the dogs weren’t nearby and no one had provoked the pair.
However K9 Trainer Liarne Henry told news.com.au a sound or a smell could have been enough to overstimulate the dogs.
“I think what we could have been dealing here with what we call sleep startle in dogs, sometimes it’s also called sleep aggression, and that happens when the dogs are woken up suddenly or unexpectedly,” she said.
“Every dog breed has the potential to attack even their owner at that moment, because it’s a fearful reaction and it just takes them by surprise.”
Ms Henry, who had rottweilers as pets herself, added once they’re startled out of their sleep, it could turn into aggression until they realise what has happened.
“We forget that dogs possess up to 300 million olfactory receptors … So they smell millions of times better than us so that could have been a trigger,” she said.
“Or even the sound … Just because we can’t hear something it doesn’t mean that dogs can’t because dogs have a huge frequency range up to 60,000 hertz.”
The Sydney Dog Trainer, Mark Hickey, added when one dog gets really excited, the second dog is also likely to react.
“When you get one dog that gets really excited the other dog can feed into that and then obviously, you don’t just have one dog that’s bitten a child or a person, you’ve got two, so the damage is just going to be way worse,” he said.
It’s still unknown what triggered the two rottweilers who belong to the cousin of Mia’s mother to attack and there’s no suggestions of any wrongdoing by any members of the family.
Rather, Ms Henry, in addition to Dog Behaviour Specialist Nathan Williams, said rottweilers are “sweet, calm and affectionate by nature” if well socialised.
“I always say that rotties are big, fat, lazy, couch potatoes. Very, very good if they’re early socialised. (They are) fantastic dogs,” Ms Henry said.
Mr Williams added: “In Sydney right now there’d be thousands of rottweilers, but we hear of one story which is the exception to the rule.”
“So unfortunately, in situations like this, dogs are typically overstimulated and played with, especially with things like squeaky toys and tug of war.”
Consequently, the dog psychologist said dogs who play with these toys have a higher chance of reacting to high pitch squeals or noises.
“It’s not in a dog’s nature to kill – No dog has that nature … and especially rottweilers, if anything,” he said.
“But if we stimulate them, teach them to chew and bite on things they shouldn’t be, then that causes these potential side effects.”
All three experts agree boundaries need to be set between young children and dogs to prevent future dog attacks.
Mr Williams said parents should follow the “two metres for two months” rule where dogs are kept at a distance of no less than two metres from a newborn child for at least sixty days or until they know their dog is comfortable.
“At that distance the dog can get used to the scent of the baby without being overstimulated … and when they feel it to be true with repetition, then they don’t feel the right to control the child or baby,” he said.
He added they should also be on a leash while inside the house until they feel comfortable around the child.
Meanwhile Ms Henry suggested playing baby noises on YouTube, having the scent of baby oils around the house and taking the dog to the park before a baby is born can help the dog adapt to what’s to come.
“A lot of people take their dogs away for a while to give them a break and I think that’s detrimental,” she said.
While Mia’s family were supervising the 5-week-old at the time of the attack, Mr Hickey said generally speaking, children should always be under the watch of an adult around pets
“It’s just another timely reminder that children should never be left alone … things can happen so quickly within a couple of seconds.”
In saying that, Mr Williams added owners shouldn‘t be too hard on themselves for their pet’s mistakes.
“I think owners blame themselves … But I think what most people need to know is that it’s not their fault – pretty much everything that’s taught these days is now backwards,” he said.
“You’re meant to lead and guide and love and build trust, not bribe with food, dominate and be mean.
“You’re meant to be fair and consistent and give understandable, fair rules for them to abide by and smother them with love and affection.”
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