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Bred for violence?
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The media coverage of accused Michael Vick's dog fighting ring and of vicious dogs mangling small children has increased the number of calls the Newton County Sheriff's Office receives reporting canine behavior.

Sheriff Joe Nichols said he was shocked to discover the NCSO has fielded 764 calls relating to dogs since Jan. 1 of this year. That's an average of three calls a day.

Certain breeds such as pit bulls, German shepherds, chows and other large breed dogs are at the center of the Vick and various attack stories, but Nichols said the NCSO has no way to track certain breeds in the calls they answer.

"If you asked us, we could find out in the computer how many left-handed females had a wreck at a particular intersection at 3:15," Nichols said, "but we don't have information about specific breeds of dogs involved in incident calls."

He explained that unless animal cruelty or an attack has occurred, dispatch will forward calls about dogs to Newton County Animal Control.

"Particularly now, we get complaints about pit bulls running loose even if they're friendly," said Teri Key-Hooson, director of NCAC.

She said if NCAC officers pick up a dog they deem vicious because it chased or bit someone or another animal, the shelter will house the animal for three working days to allow the owner to claim it.

 If an owner does come to claim a vicious dog, he or she must comply with an ordinance requiring the dog to be housed in a pen with sides, top and bottom or the owner will face criminal charges.

Key-Hooson said certain breeds of dogs are not inherently more dangerous than others, but some large dogs have the potential to do greater damage if they attack.

"Anything with teeth can bite," Key-Hooson said.

Nichols explained how in his patrol experience, large dogs were usually not the ones to worry about.

"It's been a while since I've been out on the road," Nichols said, "but in my experience I've been bitten more by small dogs than I have by big dogs."

Gary Gschwind, owner of Rockdale Kennels on Ga. Highway 20 in Conyers, has had his share of bites in the 27 years he has operated the kennel but agreed with Nichols that smaller dogs such as cocker spaniels are more defensive and bite more than large breeds.

"Those are the guys you have to watch out for," Gschwind said.

Both Key-Hooson and Gschwind agree that dogs are not born dangerous, but their owners or environments can condition them to be ferocious.

Even dogs bred to fight other dogs are usually still friendly toward humans, according to Gschwind but are more likely to attack since that's all they know.

Dogs crated excessively or chained also have a greater potential to attack because they feel threatened or defensive while in captivity. Gschwind also explained dogs that need lots of exercise but who are not allowed to be active can cause problems with their social behavior.

Parents or guardians should never leave small children unattended with any dog that is not familiar with the child and should educate their children about what may happen if they approach an unfamiliar dog or pet one inappropriately.

Gschwind suggests only adopting pets if you can give them what they need such as adequate physical activity, appropriate space and plenty of attention and affection.

He said all dog owners - of breeds large and small - should attend a basic obedience program with their dogs, because owners need to always be in control of their animals.

Several years ago, Gschwind had his first encounter with a pit bull when he adopted Bruiser - a stout, 90-pound black and white pit bull and Staffordshire bull terrier mix.

"I thought they were wild, crazy dogs until I understood them," Gschwind said. "I found out they are very intelligent dogs - they're just high energy dogs."

Bruiser became Gschwind's star Schutzhund dog. Schutzhund mean's "protection dog" in German, and they are trained for police work, search and rescue missions or simply sport. The basic idea is for the dog to fear nothing and obey their trainers impeccably.

"He was a dynamite dog," Gschwind said. "You could do anything with this dog - dress him up or put him in a competition or have preschoolers all around him."

He explained how pit bulls were bred in the 19th century to kill mice, rats and other pests in homes and businesses. As menacing as they look and sound, Gschwind said their outward appearance is very deceiving.

"Most of the pits that come in here are sweet, good dogs," Gschwind said. "They're very loving toward people."

Gschwind said some dogs may act aggressively toward other animals, but aggression toward humans usually stems from abuse, training or environment.

"It comes down to the owner," Gschwind said. "Everybody's responsible for the dogs they own."