THE STUDY AUGUST 26, 2011
Among the head-bursting revelations in Dick Cheney’s new book is the news that the former Vice President’s Labrador Retriever, Dave, once got into big trouble for an unprovoked attack. The incident in question took place at Camp David, where the canine companions of the president and vice president were accompanying their masters on retreat. Apparently, Cheney’s dog caught sight of the president’s treasured terrier Barney and immediately launched into a “hot pursuit.” The chase got so out of hand that President Bush was moved to demonstrate a rare demand for accountability, appearing during the fracas to ask, “What’s going on here?” The mad dog could only be calmed with a pastry from the breakfast buffet. Soon after, Cheney was told that his dog was no longer welcome at Camp David. But what could have driven the beast to such aggression in the first place?
According to a report by veterinarian Sarah Heath, aggression is not inherently bad for dogs or any other animals—but the domesticated dog has few reasons to ever exercise it, meaning that most incidents involve behaviors that are problematic for owner and pet alike. Heath notes that dogs can display aggression for a number of reasons: fear, anxiety, conflict, or concern over their status relative to other dogs. Heath cites a review of canine aggression showing that the awakening of Dave’s baser instincts while away from home was not unusual: In over 78 percent of cases “involving aggression toward other canines,” Heath writes, the other dog was “encountered away from home.” But that’s not the only possible explanation. After all, there are a number of factors which influence canine behavior. While owners can’t control a breed’s inherent characteristics, or the way another dog might react to their own pet, they can influence behavior through training and treatment. It’s important to consistently reinforce rules while dogs are puppies, and the importance of consistency remains crucial throughout the span of a pet-owner relationship. Inconsistent punishment, Heath warns, can lead to stress and a bond based on the dog’s feelings of fear or anxiety toward its owner. That’s bad for both parties involved. And when you’re as unpopular as Dick Cheney is, you can’t risk souring your bond with man’s best friend.