Monday, May 6, 2013

Rufus the beagle: A cautionary tale for all pet parents

UPDATE: Rufus the beagle returned home Thursday, 5/9 after his family's lawyer met with the county. Rufus will also receive training. This is all great news, but it might be time to look at the laws and making some changes come next year.

Have you heard of Rufus the beagle?

Rufus the beagle with Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs. Photo courtesy of Orange County.
Rufus is a one-year-old beagle currently in quarantine at Orange County Animal Services in Orlando, Florida.

The truth is clouded by differing stories, but the basics is this:
  1. Rufus was waiting for his owner to fix him a special dinner for his birthday.
  2. The owner's four-year-old son came near his mother and Rufus.
  3. Rufus bit the boy on the lip, badly enough that he had to be taken to the hospital.
  4. Later, Orange County Animal Services came to investigate, and the family surrendered Rufus.
  5. Orange County Animal Services came back and said because of state law, Rufus needs to be put down.
  6. The family freaked out. They turned to Facebook.
  7. Facebook freaked out. Now everyone is fighting to save Rufus.
But this post is not about saving Rufus. We are not getting into the details, we are not offering up an opinion either.

What this post will do, hopefully, is to help you prevent this from happening to you, or at least know what to do when it happens.

What we first need to dispel right now is a myth that is common in the dog world: Beagles are too gentle to do something like this.

Lori Norman is a beagle breeder in Bonita Springs, Florida. She is an AKC breeder of merit. And she says you should never make generalities about a breed.

"Beagles as a breed have a wide temperament," Norman said. "Between show beagles, field beagles and what I call 'pet shop beagles'."

We know that beagles can be very trusting and sweet dogs. That's why they are used so widely in lab testing. But there's nothing saying they can't also get testy.

Lulu would get testy with my niece when they were younger (they're three years apart). My niece would get her all wound up, then decide she was tired of playing, and couldn't understand why Lulu would start play biting. Or my niece would hug too hard and Lulu would tell her to get off in the only ways dogs know how. 

"Beagles are great with kids, but kids by do nature everything wrong with dogs," Norman said.

And the problem is, Lori Norman said, dogs, particularly young dogs, don't respect young children because they are about the same in age. A dog will see a four-year-old as a sibling, not as someone they need to listen to.

Norman says many reputable breeders will not sell a puppy to a family with young children because of this very reason.

 But what if you do have young children and you get a puppy, or a young dog? Training is needed, for the dog and the family members. Especially when it comes to food.

"A startled reaction while feeding is a natural response by any animal that has not had proper training and leadership," said David Fitzpatrick, aka "Dave the Dog Guy," a certified animal trainer in Texas.

Fitzpatrick says any animal can have food aggression issues.

"What causes food aggression is the lack of leadership. Leadership is a role a dog looks for in a family situation," Fitzpatrick said.

Now I know many of you will disagree with the idea of pack leaders, but I promise you this is not necessarily a dominance issue.

Lori Norman, the beagle breeder, tends to agree with Fitzpatrick.

"There's no one method that would work better than another," she said. "Beagles are very social animals. They are used to a pecking order. They are pack animals."

How do you stop that? Here's what David Fitzpatrick says:

"Using dry kibble, put his measured portion in his bowl, stand in the feeding area and hand-feed him from the bowl, making him sit for every handful of food.  Repeat this two to three times, making him sit each time before you allow him to eat from the bowl."

 Here's what Lori Norman says:

"You have to correct a dog's behavior right away. You take the food away, tell the dog no, and then put them in its time out area. Then a little while later, bring the food, then take the food away, and if the dog does nothing, say good boy and give it back. You aren't torturing the dog, and when you praise a dog, do it lavishly."

Also incredibly important, is to keep a dog active. One thing I've always believed, a tired dog is a happy dog.

"Due to the lack of physical/mental exercise, the dog may create alternative exercises for himself, such as compulsive barking at inanimate objects, and/or digging," David Fitzpatrick said. "It is important to keep this breed of dog mentally stimulated as well as physically active."

Again, beagles are great dogs, and they are great for families. Just remember that any dog takes work, and training for the whole family. Respect your dog, and they will love you forever!


  1. Great points and tips.

  2. Rufus is not the first dog I've heard of this has happened to. There is also a sheltie in NY that was taken from the family for the same reason. I think people/society over-react to these types of situations. When I was a kid, if you walked up to a dog that was eating and got bit, it was your own fault. I'm not saying that it's okay for dogs to bite - just that he did what a dog would normally do. People need to use their common sense when dealing with dogs and small children.

    1. It almost seems people don't have that common sense anymore about these things. You'd think we'd learn from one generation to the next, but I don't know what happpened.

    2. Great post. I agree - there seems to be nothing so uncommon anymore as "common sense." It's a sad state of affairs.

  3. Very well done.

    We adopted littermates and were told that food/toy aggression could be an issue. When it came to food, I followed the advice suggested by Dave - we feed them by hand. Even today, 3 years later, I feed our dogs by hand a few days a week, because it's turned into a bonding experience. Our 3 dogs can eat raw meat (their favorite dish) side by side without growling.

    When it comes to toys, when there was aggression, toys were taken away immediately until they connected the show of aggression with the loss of a toy. Each of our dogs also have a special toy - the other dogs may take it, but we always return it to the owner. There is no aggression.

    Training is so important - working with a professional trainer with our dogs was the best investment we made starting out.

    1. Thanks Kim. In some ways I wish I had Lulu as a puppy so I could have those bonding experiences with her then.

  4. I agree. This is an excellent post with great points and tips. Luna (also a beagle) is very food driven. While she has never shown aggression, we work through training to keep it that way.

    1. Thanks Jessica. I don't know if the family has trained Rufus or not, but I'm betting they will consider it now.

  5. Last I heard, there has not yet been a determination that Rufus will be returned to the family, let alone, finally trained.

    1. True. But I am hopeful. Maybe more hopeful than most.

  6. What about training your kids also??? Your "special little angel" is not viewed that way by everyone else! Teach your kids about dog behavior, not to tease or bother a dog. And please don't allow them to walk up to a strange dog and start petting them! This is my pet peeve, I am constantly steering my dog away from screeching, unattended brats in parks, on trails, etc. PUT YOUR KIDS ON A LEASH!

    1. I agree. I think training is as much for the people as it is for pets.

  7. This is really interesting. You are a great blogger. I have joined your feed and look forward to seeing more of your work.


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