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Richard H. Polsky, Ph.D.

Website author

Expert Witness for the defense

Animal Behavior Counseling Services, Inc.

Los Angeles, CA.

Q. Prior to the mauling of Whipple, were Bane’s and Hera’s displays of aggression, as reported by the Bad Dog witnesses, predictive of dogs who would viciously attack or perhaps kill a person?

A. The answer to this question needs to take into account past aggressive displays towards humans and not other dogs. There were approximately 15 encounters in which either Bane or Hera displayed some form of aggression towards a person. What is extremely important to note that in each of these 15 aggressive encounters only two people were bitten. In each of these instances, the bite was superficial and caused no injury. In all other instances, the dogs threatened with typical canine behavior consisting of snarling and growling, lunging or approaching quickly in an intimidating manner. In no instance whatsoever, did they show any signs of the vicious behavior such as uninhibited, and uncontrolled frenzy-like biting.

From the technical perspective of animal behavior, one cannot conclude with certainty that these kinds of displays would necessarily mean that it dog would attack subsequently in a vicious manner. Certainly as Hammer argued, these displays indicate that the dogs were dangerous. However, in this case they do not necessarily indicate that such a dangerous behavior would eventually manifested itself in the form of vicious or lethal behavior. Note that in many of these instances Bane and Hera had the opportunity to attack in a vicious manner but chose not to do so.

For example, a week before January 26th, Bane had broken loose from Noel’s control and aggressively charged Henry Putek in the very same hallway in which Whipple was mauled. In response to Bane’s charge, Puket says that he froze and he did nor dare to challenge Bane. Why wasn’t Putek attacked or for that matter even bitten? The most reasonable explanation for this is because Bane still possessed a sufficiently strong bite inhibition towards people or because his territorial aggressive tendencies had not yet matured to the point where they would predictably show themselves in the form of a vicious attack.

In fact, one cannot predict with scientific certainty that dangerous displays such as the kind described by the bad dog witnesses would necessarily eventually manifest itself in the form of a severe attack. For example, one widely cited investigation examined 20 cases of severe attacks in dogs and it was found that some of these dogs ( approximately 33% ) who attacked a person in a severe fashion had never previously shown any signs of aggression suggesting that they might attack a person severely some time later.

In short, many dogs like Bane and Hera behave in a threatening manner, or bite with inhibition, and never go beyond this point unless provoked. Often, owners usually have a good idea of the limits of their dogs aggressive tendencies and they leave it at that knowing that their dog may be frightening but not potentially lethal. In the case of Bane and Hera, Noel and Knoller had absolutely no reason to suspect vicious tendencies in their dogs. As stated previously in this web site, Bane’s attack on Noel’s hand that happened in the midst of a dog fight and therefore cannot be used to support the notion that he was vicious.

Therefore, how could Noel and Knoller have possibly know that their dogs could kill? Bane and Hera were not time bombs waiting to go off as Hammer erroneously argued to the jury during closing arguments. They were not loaded guns who might unpredictably attack in a severe or vicious fashion. Bane and Hera might have been unpredictably dangerous but they were not unpredictably vicious. Vicious behavior kills, dangerous behavior does not. The arguments Hammer made to the jury have no basis in the science of animal behavior.

What factors influence, or are associated with, human fatalities caused by a dog attack? The table below lists nine factor that have meaning from an ethological perspective. The various factors do not necessarily have equal weight in that in some instances one factor be of overriding significance. For example, a dog who is purposely trained to attack could inflict serious injury to a person despite its size or breed characteristics.

In the table below factors #3,#4 and #8 do not apply to Bane and Hera.

 

Factors influencing the likelihood of a fatal dog attack
Significance
Relevance to the San Francisco mauling
 (1) Size & strength of dog A disproportional number of fatal attacks are caused by large and muscular breeds such as Rottweilers and Pit bulls. Presa canario dogs are larger that both Rottweilers and Pit bulls and certainly just as muscular. In fact, Canary dog look like over-sized Pit bulls. Bane, the male, was reported to have pulled wagons while he resided at the farm of Janet Coumbs.
(2) Nature of previous aggressive displays Aggression in dog is contextually dependent. Therefore, frequent, past displays of a functionally distinct type of aggression make it more likely that a dog will engage in future displays of that kind of aggression in a specific context. Prior to the mauling of Whipple, Bane and Hera on at least 10 occasions displayed territorial aggression to unfamiliar people in or around the apartment building.
(3) Intensity of previous aggressive displays Displays of vicious behavior directed towards people, as reflected in sustained, uninhibited biting with intention, possibly combined with shaking the victim, indicate that a dog may subsequently attack in this manner on future occasions. Bane and Hera never attacked any human in a vicious manner prior to the mauling of Whipple. The bite inflicted to the buttocks of David Moser and the alleged bite to the hand of Whipple (prior to the mauling) are good examples of bite inhibition. Bane’s bite to the hand of Noel happened in the context of Noel’s attempt to interfere in a dog fight.
(4) Circumstances present for a fatal attack? Fatal dog attacks usually occur in unrestrained dogs outside the owner’s presence. The circumstance surrounding fatal attack on Whipple were highly unusual: (a) Bane was restrained (at least initially he was but he broke from the restraint when Knoller lost control), and (b) Knoller was present during the attack. Randall Lockwood, Ph.D., the prosecution’s behavioral expert, stated that this was the first occurrence he was aware of in which a dog-related fatality occurred in the owner’s presence.
(5) Breed characteristics Dog related fatalities are disproportionally breed-specific. For example, Pit-bulls and Rottweilers are involved in approximately two-thirds of all occurrences. This is the first known case in which a Presa canario has been involved in a human fatality. The absence of recorded instances in this breed (at least in the United States) may be attributed to the fact that the breed is still relatively rare. No scientific data exist on the behavioral characteristics of Presa canarios.
(6) Gender Males, if they act alone, are almost always the ones involved in fatal attacks. Bane, the dog mainly responsible for Whipple’s death, was male. Hera, the female, was nearby during the attack, but she probably did not inflict the most serious wound onto Whipple.
(7) Neutered? In the vast majority of case, the dog(s) involved in fatal attacks have not been neutered  Bane and Hera were not neutered
(8) Previous attack training? Previous attack training often teaches a dog to attack in a vicious manner. Neither Bane or Hera were ever subjected to any training procedures designed to instill attack tendencies.
(9) Owner capable of consistent control over dog? Being able to consistently maintain physical and psychological control over large, muscular dogs with aggressive tendencies greatly reduces the likelihood of a fatal attack. Noel and Knoller were unable to maintain consistent psychological and physical control over Bane and Hera.