Max, the Argentine Mastiff, had already made headlines when he appeared on a local Denver news show Wednesday morning. The dog had been rescued after falling into an icy lake, and anchorwoman Kyle Dyer was reuniting Max with the firefighter who helped save his life.
But things didn’t go as planned and now Max is in the news for a different reason. As Dyer leaned in to kiss Max’s face, the dog bit her on the mouth, live on television. Dyer landed in the hospital and is recovering from reconstructive surgery on her lip. Max went straight into quarantine at the county animal control facility.
If you watch the video, you can see that Max was not out to get Dyer. But he did choose to communicate to her in no uncertain terms: “I don’t know you and you’re way too close to my face right now.” He actually expressed the same sentiment in the moments prior. It’s just that his body language was more subtle and the cues — stress panting, a couple of tongue flicks, a freeze and a lip curl — were not read correctly.
If you weren’t looking for the signs, you might’ve missed them. And that’s my point. You have to be looking for them. Dogs, while terrific in many ways, are not mind-readers, and their communication system is very different from ours. Dyer was telling the dog in human language “I’m coming in for a friendly kiss.” What Max said to her in dog language in the seconds before was, “Whoa, lady. Gimme some space, I don’t even know you.”
Almost any dog can be provoked or feel cornered to the point of biting. And frankly, so can almost any human. If I felt a stranger in unfamiliar surroundings hovering over me, I’d probably lash out too. So, maybe the lesson is this: We can’t expect dogs to know what we’re thinking, nor vice versa, but we can meet them half way by tuning in to their body language and responding accordingly.
Dyer acted the way many of us would have around a new dog. I meet new dogs on a weekly basis at the shelter, and even though I know better, I’ve done the same thing. Too much affection too soon. Dyer’s experience now serves as a painful reminder to slow down, be observant.
From what I’ve read, Kyle Dyer is a true dog lover and cares deeply about animals. I wish her a speedy recovery. I wish Max and his family a happy reunion.
Warning: This video shows the bite as it occurs. I’ve included it only to illustrate the examples of body language pointed out above.