Police Officer Teaches Respect For Dogs

Posted on December 18, 2003

Const. Pierre Schelling believes society's ignorance of dog behaviour is putting the lives of children at risk. The Edmundston City Police officer said people don't understand that although dogs may be part of their families, dogs are still animals and they all have the ability to bite - regardless of breed or size. "Education is the key," he said. "And it's important to start when kids are young." Const. Schelling, who is also an animal protection officer for the New Brunswick SPCA, has spent years working with dogs, studying dog behaviour, compiling information and putting together a Bite Prevention Program. He testified recently at the inquest into the death of a Kingston Peninsula boy who was killed by three rottweilers. Schelling's program can be adapted to any age and for any workplace, but his overall message is the same: "you have to respect animals."

To help get his message across, Const. Schelling has teamed up with Benny, a five-year-old German shepherd. Although Benny loves to romp around with children, he can also demonstrate how powerful dogs can be. He's been trained to bite a padded sleeve under specific and well-controlled situations. Benny has become a favourite on the lecture circuit and an important part of Const. Schelling's education program. Const. Schelling has a host of other tools at his disposal as well. He has everything from a Power Point presentation to colouring books and a video. For the youngest audience members, cartoons and simple messages work best. He doesn't try to explain dog behaviour to them, only the consequences. The children learn that dogs can bite if they're teased, if they're playing rough with a human, if they're afraid, or if they're trying to get away from a tight hug.

Children are taught two simple lessons when they encounter an aggressive dog: stand like a tree or lie like a log. Const. Schelling said the most important lesson is for parents of young children: never leave a child alone with a dog, regardless of a dog's past behaviour, breed, or size. Even furry little lap dogs have killed young children, according to a 30-year study of dog attacks in the United States. "We don't let our kids play with guns. We shouldn't let our kids play alone with dogs," said Const. Schelling.

Obviously, he said, the larger the dog, the more damaging a bite can be. He said it takes four pounds per square inch (ppsi) to break a finger and roughly 400 ppsi to break an arm bone. A Labrador retriever's jaw is capable of 400 to 500 ppsi, a rottweiler is capable of 1,700-1,800 ppsi, and a pit bull of 2,400-2,500 ppsi. For older audiences, Const. Schelling shows exactly what a pit bull's jaws are capable of doing. His Power Point presentation contains picture after graphic picture of children who have been mauled by dogs, from small children who have had their noses bitten off to those whose stitched-up heads look like baseballs. Children can become victims of dog attacks for a variety of reasons - sometimes they provoke the dogs, they wrestle too forcefully, or they try to take food or toys away from a dog. Const. Schelling said it's important for parents to understand how pack animals behave. Life for them is structured according to a strict hierarchy of power. The entire household belongs to the pack. The dog can never be number one, and it must understand that. In households with two parents, for example, the child will be number four behind the dog. So, once the parents are out of the room, the dog is number one. Dogs communicate with each other through body language and ultimately with their teeth. When a child is at the other end of that communication, the results can be tragic.

Even Const. Schelling knows firsthand how damaging a bite can be. Several years ago, while working with a Doberman in Moncton, he got bit in the face during a lightening-fast attack. The bite ripped open the left side of his face from his eye to his jaw line. While the scar is a constant reminder of how dangerous an unstable dog can be, the incident was the catalyst for Schelling's Bite Prevention Program.

He said everyone who regularly goes to strange houses - from the postman and the cable guy to police officers and extramural nurses - can learn something from his workshop. He does an average of two sessions per week - in English and French - and travels throughout the Maritimes, Quebec and New England. While the SPCA endorses the program, the agency can't afford to reimburse Const. Schelling for his expenses. He is still hoping for a corporate sponsor to recognize the importance of educating people about dogs and dog behaviour. He has also discussed with government officials the possibility of taking his message to schools.