The story of Max, the Dogo Argentino, who bit the Seattle news anchor on live television, has been reported in the press over and over in the weeks following the incident. While we regret the incident and wish the woman who was on the receiving end of that bite all the best in her recovery, we value the gift that Max and the other players left us in the form of a beautifully documented dog bite incident. As with the vast majority of bite incidents in this country, it was completely preventable and avoidable. We’re also encouraged to note that much of the commentary that followed the incident, and the reports that followed for days afterward, emphasized the series of errors that preceded it, the clear signals poor Max was giving off that either no one noticed, or was willing to call out before the woman was injured.
If you haven’t seen the video of this incident, we’ve captured one of the better versions for you here below. If you have seen it before, we encourage you to watch it again. We will include a “graphic footage” warning, although the ‘bite’ is so fast and the angle at which the video was shot makes it impossible to actually see the actual point of impact. Please take a look and see how many of Max’s distress signals you can spot:
For those who are not familiar with the breed, the Dogo Argentino, or Argentinian Mastiff, is a large, muscular hunting/guarding breed developed in Argentina for big game hunting, primarily wild boar and puma. To be effective in that role, a dog has to be stoic and steadfast, and as a guarding breed, there’s always an inherent tendency to be suspicious of strangers.
In the prior 24 hours, Max had been nearly drowned in freezing waters, and ultimately fished out by a PD rescuer in a dramatic, televised event. Having barely recovered from this incident, Max finds himself in a TV studio, a totally foreign environment, surrounded by bright lights, strange people and likely attached to a very nervous owner. We have to assume poor Max’s stress levels are through the roof.
As the report begins, Max’s owner holds his leash very tightly, which is generally a great big signal to most dogs that something is very wrong. As the news anchor approaches, you can see in the video that Max turns around to face away from the approaching woman. As she begins touching him (he’s still facing away), Max turns several times with his head and “bops” her hands slightly, which is a clear signal in “dog” that translates roughly to “please stop that”. But no one pays any attention.
As the interview continues, the woman continues to smoosh Max’s face and head with both hands, and we can see from the series of lip-licks, blinks, look aways and head turns that Max is growing increasingly uncomfortable with this kind of handling, and likely the proximity of the visitor. At one point, Max’s mouth opens to accommodate his panting, another sign of stress that most folks would likely interpret as a “smile”.
Towards the very end, the anchor seems to pull back a bit, and for a micro-moment, Max appears to relax just a bit, but as the woman assumes the “in your face”, full frontal, direct eye-contact approach to give Max a big kiss goodbye, Max is startled into lashing out quickly and makes contact with all the soft, vulnerable fleshy structures of her face. I would guess if this same bite landed on a different body part, such as an arm or leg, there probably would have been little damage. There was one single thrust forward, and as soon as the threat retreated, Max immediately backed off.
The aftermath? Our dog-loving news anchor is sent for reconstructive surgery and we hope she recovers with minimal scarring. Max goes off to bite quarantine and we hope he also suffers minimal scarring. Many dogs in Max’s situation would be slated for euthanasia, and only for doing what comes naturally. We hope that all the documentary evidence of the provocations that led up to the bite keep Max out of further trouble.
Many folks would write this situation off to the behavior of a dog breed predisposed to bite, and that would be a tragic error, because any dog is capable of and should be expected to engage in similar behavior when sufficiently provoked.
Dog owners, know your dogs. Understand their language, read their signals and please listen to what they’re telling you. This situation could have easily been avoided if Max’s dad had read the signals that clearly screamed Max’s discomfort and also clearly predicted what was to come. What kept him from asking the kind-hearted, dog-loving lady to back off a bit? Embarrassment? Shyness? It’s no one’s right to manhandle your dog, so always be prepared to intervene on your dog’s behalf. If you’re not going to protect your dog from these unwanted advances, he may feel the need to defend himself!