News Anchor Dog Bite: A Lesson in Dog Communication

A recent televised dog bite, in which news anchor Kyle Dyer was bit by a dog during a live segment, is being described by various news outlets as a “vicious attack” by a “lunging dog.”

Did they watch the footage?

I forced myself to watch Kyle Dyer get bit by the dog, and saw a dog who had undergone a lot of stress in the past 24 hours doing his very best to adjust to yet another stressful situation. (TV studios can be pretty nerve-wracking even on a good day.)

Dog Bites News AnchorMax the Argentine Mastiff managed to hold it together for the first part of the interview, accepting Kyle Dyer’s over-exuberant face and muzzle petting while his person held tightly to the dog’s collar. Max’s many attempts to turn his head away from the anchor and his lip-licking convey his underlying discomfort. His “lizard tongue” isn’t affectionate in this scenario; it’s actually a calming signal that means that the dog is feeling stress.

It’s clear that Kyle Dyer is a dog lover. She can’t keep her hands off Max, and to anyone watching, his responses to her touch seem friendly. She can’t help but get caught up in the drama of the story, and the living happy ending sitting right in front of her. Finally, she’s overcome by affection and moves toward Max for a smooch.

There’s a heart-stopping instant when Max bares his teeth as she leans in, then, the bite. It’s a quick single bite, and hardly a “vicious attack.” (I’m curious as to the severity of the bite, which plays a big role in determining the seriousness of the “attack.” Was it a graze, a puncture, a tear or a combination? A dog’s bite inhibition, or ability to soften the force of its jaws, can mean the difference between a mauling and a scrape.)

I’m hesitant to weigh in with an opinion about the situation though the rest of the world isn’t. People are blaming Max for being aggressive by nature – a “born fighter” pit bull-esque dog that can’t be trusted. On the flip side, people are faulting Kyle Dyer for thrusting her face at a nervous and over-stimulated dog. Rather than point a finger at a guilty party in this multi-layered incident, let’s think about how the interview should have gone.

Max should’ve been sitting near his person on a loose leash instead of in a choke hold on his collar. Kyle Dyer should’ve remained in her chair. If she wanted to interact with Max, she could have extended a gentle hand towards him and waited to see if he expressed interest in contact. If he did, the anchor could have given Max a gentle shoulder massage, instead of thumping and grasping his face. She could’ve also used verbal praise to convey her affection. Kneeling in front of an unfamiliar dog at eye level is a risky proposition in any scenario…in a charged environment like a newsroom, it’s a pressure cooker move.

I’m disappointed by what happened for many reasons. That Kyle Dyer was bitten by the dog, of course. That Max looks like a pit-type dog, which will fuel breed discrimination. That he’s in quarantine now. And that, once again, miscommunication between human and dog led to a very sad outcome.