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Aggression in Dogs:the case of Diane Whipple

Updated on July 25, 2012

The case of Diane Whipple is probably in the hearts and minds of those who remember what happened to her in January of 2001. The pretty, petite blonde was attacked by two Canary Island Fighting Dogs, Herra and Bane as she tried to enter her apartment in the Pacific Heights section of San Francisco. The owners of the two dogs, Robert Noel and Marjorie Knoller, were found guilty of all charges brought against them, including a count of murder, for these dogs were deliberately bred to be aggressive. The bloody scene was such a traumatic one to witness that police personnel involved had to be sent for counseling.

The case highlights the importance of dog owners having to monitor their dogs’ behavior. The Whipple incident shows that it is critical to spot the signs of dog aggression before-not when, but before-it happens.

Symptoms of canine aggression

What, then, are the signs of canine aggression? Every responsible dog owner should be asking himself this question. An obvious answer to it would be the growling, snarling, lunging and snapping that is a hallmark of aggressive behavior. The dog may even mount other people or dogs in an attempt to establish dominance over the other party.

These are all symptoms dog aggression already being played out. What about the signs that aggression is about to manifest itself? Some owners fail to react quickly when they sense that their dogs’ hairs are bristling or when the canine’s ears have flattened backwards. They do not notice when their dogs’ tails have straightened or when they are deliberately blocking the path of whatever is provoking the aggression. Failing to react quickly before these little behaviors develop into full blown aggression can cause regrettable incidents.

How to nip canine aggression in the bud

Canine aggression can be dealt with in a number of ways. The most effective would be, of course to ferret out the root cause of the aggressive behavior. This usually is an injury; pain causes anyone, and definitely a dog, to behave negatively and brings out the dog’s need to defend itself. See a veterinarian for help in spotting hidden injuries.

What may seem an obvious but often neglected step to take for owners is to put a muzzle or halter on for their dogs. This acts as a reminder and a form of restraint for the animal and serves to keep it from baring its teeth. A stubborn owner who refuses to do this so as to give his dog that little bit of freedom can end up bearing unwelcome consequences.

Owners can train their dogs to focus on them. Treats can be used to distract an aggressive dog and draw attention away from the person or animal who has provoked the aggression. Owners should have treats in their pockets when going out with their dogs and give them out if they see a situation where there is potential for aggression.

If possible, dog owners should find a more controlled setting for aggressive dogs. These are places where there are fewer people or dogs around to represent sources of distraction for their canines, who would be able to behave better in such surroundings. This can be done until the dog slowly realizes the proper behavior to adopt around other people and animals.

Owners should always use positive reinforcement on their dogs when they behave well; when the dog shows the proper behavior in front of others, praise and pet to let him know that they have done well. The positive reinforcement reminds the dog that it is the correct behavior to subscribe to.

If possible, enlist the cooperation of people; they can give treats to your aggressive dog as they pass by or demonstrate non response towards the dog’s aggressive behavior so that it knows that the conduct should be ignored.

Canine aggression should be dealt with without delay for prevention of incidents like that which happened to Diane Whipple. The containment of aggression provides for a happier, well-balanced canine, and I daresay owner.


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    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      8 years ago from Singapore

      So true, Suhail. I think they must have used the dogs as a tool for intimidation, not really with an intention to kill as such but it grew out of hand as can definitely happen! The smaller dogs would tend to be cheeky because they need to make up for their smaller sizes. I guess that's why they take it out on your kuvasz! True too, that stemming aggression starts early. Thanks for this valuable sharing, Suhail, I really appreciate it!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      8 years ago from Singapore

      Yes, they were indeed silly to let the aggression spawn and most think it was deliberate. It could have been too, because they didn't quite like Diane and her lifestyle. True, dogs like humans have individual needs and all need to be handled differently!! Thanks Mark!

    • Suhail and my dog profile image

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 

      8 years ago from Mississauga, ON

      Very informative hub that also took me down the memory lane.

      I distinctly recall the case of Diane Whipple. It was the most horrible case of dog(s) attack on a human. I was so troubled by the whole incident that I kept reading about all the developments and the subsequent research work that was made on the incident. Through reading independent research pieces, I determined that:

      (1) The two dogs were not overly aggressive. The incidents of their interaction with humans showing their good behavior far outnumbered the incidents of their bad behavior.

      (2) I believe that the incident had to do with the lifestyle of two couples. Noel and Knoller must have disliked Diane Whipple and her same sex partner to the point that they must have exchange harsh words for each other earlier so much so that the dogs had taken the same sex couple to be their humans' enemies. On that nasty day, Knoller must have encouraged the dogs to intimidate Diane only to find that the dogs took it to the ultimate limit.

      Now I must say that I have stopped taking my dog to dog park for a simple reason that he has been bit twice by aggressive dogs causing my family and me lot of psychological pain. And my dog is 29 inch tall, 110 pounds heavy Kuvasz. Imagine the cheekiness of some dogs.

      I also believe that a grown up aggressive dog (fear aggressive or dominance aggressive) can never be fully trained. First 8 weeks of a puppy are a decisive factor in the making of a socialized dog.

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      Dr Mark 

      8 years ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

      The Presa Canarios were not bred to be aggressive to humans, but the couple who stupidly took them into an apartment failed to deal with their aggression, or, "nip it in the bud", as they should have. Your suggestions on dealing with aggression are not the same as mine but dogs are not all alike, and everything needs to be tried.

      I appreciate your alternative ideas. Voted this interesting, and sharing.

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      8 years ago from Singapore

      Deborah, thanks for stopping by! Your dog sounds lovely and she must have a great relationship with you and others around her for her to love people this way!

    • DeborahNeyens profile image

      Deborah Neyens 

      8 years ago from Iowa

      I do remember that incident; it was horrifying. I got my first dog soon after. She was a mutt with a little bit of Rottweiler in her (mostly Lab) and I was so careful about watching her for aggression. She turned out to be a big lover, however.

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      8 years ago from Singapore

      Jools thanks again for stopping by! It's megalomania. These folks just want to prove that they are one up on other people. They could also be nursing grudges against others and be using dog aggression as a revenge tactic.

    • Jools99 profile image

      Jools Hogg 

      8 years ago from North-East UK

      This attack is the most horrific I have ever heard. In the UK, there are a number of deaths caused by vicious dogs every year; sometimes they are owned by family members. I don't understand the mentality of people who breed them just for this reason.

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      8 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks for reading! Yes, understanding he breed of dog you own is really important. It's truly irresponsible to own. Fighting dog and allow it just to do what it wants, like the Noel couple.

    • Ann1Az2 profile image


      8 years ago from Orange, Texas

      Great article, midget. I kind of disagree with the use of treats. They need to be used sparingly so that a dog knows for sure he's not being rewarded for aggressive behavior. I also think it should be made mandatory for people who live in subdivisions or small communities not to own dogs that are bred for fighting. Invariable, kids go in yards, or dogs get lose. It can't always be avoided. There have been a number of cases in our area (one that was a friend of mine) where people (not just kids) have been mauled by pit bulls. If people want to own pit bulls, they need to live in the country, away from the populace and children. And people with children should not own pit bulls or any dog that is bred for fighting or for being a watchdog.


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