Q: My daughter and her husband just got a Doberman puppy. I heard that at a certain point a Doberman’s brain can outgrow its skull and cause the dog to turn on their owners. I’m concerned for my daughter’s safety.
A: Fear not! This is a myth that’s been around for quite some time and is now being used for a lot of Pit Bulls as well. It is impossible for the brain to outgrow the skull while a dog is developing. A brain my have a growth that swells larger than the skull, but this is totally different. It is not the brain itself that is growing. Dobermans were once thought to be afflicted with the problem most likely because people were trying to find a reason for a dog who seemed to suddenly turn against his owner for no apparent reason. I’m sure, on closer examination, there were numerous reasons for this to happen. Most of the time when a dog “suddenly” turns on his (or her—female dogs can be aggressive too) human, it’s due to improper training and socialization at an early age. There have been signs along the way that were missed. Many dogs are allowed to “rule the roost” at a young age. They are given too many privileges and freedom and not enough consistent guidance. When the dog reaches maturity (usually around two, although this varies), a dog who has been allowed to do whatever he wants may assert his authority. Growling and snapping may begin when it was never there before. Dobermans are a very sensitive breed and need to be taught with positive methods from an early age. Any harsh methods used, may come back to haunt the human. Set household rules early in a pup’s life and introduce them to your dog from the beginning. Nothing in life should be free. The dog should be asked to sit before receiving anything from a human—food, attention, playtime. Building a relationship of trust with gentle and consistent leadership will help all dogs--no matter what the breed--grow up to be happy and well-mannered canine citizens in our community. Your daughter might want to consider a puppy class. Puppy classes are a great place to start socializing a puppy and learn how to be a good leader. Leadership doesn’t mean scruffing and shaking a dog into submission. Good leaders don’t need to use force, because they have built trust with the dog through consistency, guidance, and reward methods. If you have an older dog, beginning classes are offered to help learn new ways of relating with your furry friend. If anyone ever experiences aggressive problems with their dog, they should seek professional help immediately. Do not try to handle it alone. Do not think it will go away. Myths like brains swelling and dogs’ jaws locking when they bite only make excuses for behaviors that usually could have been avoided with proper training. We tend to look only at the dog when there is a behavior problem, but environment has a lot to do with a dog’s behavior. If your dog is misbehaving, ask yourself what your role in this problem has been. If your answer is “I didn’t do anything,” that may be EXACTLY what the problem is.