Bolt, an Alaskan malamute being held at the Turlock, Calif., Animal Shelter as a result of biting a young woman in the face, is a hot topic of conversation. Regardless of your opinion of this situation, and what ultimately is to be done with Bolt and other dogs that bite, it is certainly an experience we should learn from and do everything possible to avoid.
As a dog owner, one must recognize that our dogs will never think, rationalize or behave like humans. Their instincts cause them to react and respond in ways that we sometimes don't understand or approve of, but there is always a reason for them behaving the way they do. Regardless of the breed, size, age and training, we must remember that all dogs bite, and if your dog bites another person, you could end up facing the same scenario as Bolt and his owner.
If you expect your dog to grow up to be highly social and relaxed around people in general, then early and continuous socialization is a must. If, as a puppy, your dog meets and has a positive experience with a few hundred different people of all shapes and sizes, he is likely to grow into an adult with a higher tolerance of human interaction. If your puppy is raised at home, and not properly socialized out in the world, be prepared to have him grow into an adult dog wary of strangers.
Incidences like the one with Bolt are preventable. As dog owners, we must realize that people -- friends, extended family, strangers -- will often behave inappropriately around our dog; sometimes purposely, but usually ignorantly. Rather than leave it up to our dog to protect himself or respond to these people and their unsuitable behavior, have a strategy to keep dog and humans separated when people other than immediate family are in your home, and politely deny requests from strangers to interact with your dog in public.
Being a responsible dog owner goes well beyond feeding, vaccinating and training. Think of your dog as a permanent 4-year-old; you should always look out for him, keep him under your control, make decisions for his safety, and never, ever allow him to interact with people without your supervision.
Dogs have an instinctive need to do what is necessary to survive potential danger. It seems that no matter how inappropriate the human may behave, the dog is expected to be above reacting in any way. Presuming that we are the more intelligent of the two species, is it reasonable that we accept no responsibility of the outcome when we interact with a dog?
These measures may seem, at first read, to protect people in general from dogs; I submit that they should be in place to protect our dogs from other people.