A dog that bites is dangerous. Not just for people, but for the dog. While it’s impossible to calculate how many dogs are euthanized because they’ve bitten someone, it puts them at great risk of being put down.
Why do dogs bite?
The first thing to remember is that, unless a dog is sick, all dog bites are provoked. So, the first step is to visit your vet for a thorough checkup.
Unfortunately, without a dog-human dictionary, you’re probably often unaware that a dog is indicating, “I am worried over here. What is it about STOP that you don’t understand?” For an anxious dog, the next step is to growl, bare teeth, snap or bite, “out of the blue."
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), dogs bite as a reaction to something. If the dog finds itself in a stressful situation, it may bite to defend itself or its territory.
Dogs can bite because they’re scared or have been startled, or because they feel threatened.
They can bite to protect something that is valuable to them, like their puppies, their food, or a toy.
Dogs also might nip and bite during play. Even though nipping during play might be fun for the dog, it can be dangerous for people. Avoid wrestling or playing tug-of-war with your dog. These types of activities can make your dog overly excited, which may lead to a nip or a bite.
Signs to Watch For
“Psychology Today” offers the following tips for dog owners:
- If your dog is uncertain in some situations, be their advocate. Keep your dog on a secure lead, and offer reassurances and treats; this is a classic psychological way to counter-condition anxiety.
- Watch body language closely. If there is a situation when your dog has growled or snapped, catalogue it and closely manage similar situations the next time around.
- It’s very important to give your dog the gift of distance from those people who want to get super-close to your dog too soon. Let them chill in a separate space, with food and toys. Playing music can soothe as well.
How Can I Train My Dog Not to Bite?
You’ve heard the horror stories of free-roaming Pitbulls mauling children as they walk to school, but most dog bites actually occur in the owner’s home. Sixty-one percent of dog bites occur in the home or a familiar place, and 77% of bite victims are family members or friends.
But what to do to keep your dog from biting?
Punishing your dog by hitting or slapping is the worst thing you can do – in all circumstances – but particularly if your dog shows aggressive tendencies. Not only is it barbaric and cruel, but studies show that owners who use aggressive means to correct their dogs – hitting, kicking, shaking, scruffing, etc. – experience more aggression from their dog. A dog who has been physically punished, experiences, just like a person, physiological stress reactions that make it harder for them to calm down.
And this type of punishment can make your dog afraid of you; once you’ve ruined that human-animal trust, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to build it again.
The first step in specifically dealing with the dog’s aggression might merely be rewarding the dog for any behavior that does not involve fighting or aggression. Some other behavior modification techniques include:
- Start early. The AVMA says that socialization is a good way to help prevent your dog from biting by helping your dog feel at ease in different situations. Introduce your dog to people and other animals while it’s a puppy, so it feels more comfortable in different situations as it gets older. It’s also important to use a leash in public to make sure that you are able to control your dog.
- Manage Behavior. This is not an ideal solution. Selecting this option means a reduced quality of life for your dog, with no more walks in the park, on or off leash; no more rides in the car; and no more spending time on their own in the fresh air and sunshine in the fenced backyard.
You’ll have to restrict your dog’s movements so they have no access to humans other than adult family members. Crate your dog in a closed room when company comes over. If children visit, your dog is crated or sent to a kennel that is equipped to safely handle a biting dog. Even if the dog adores children, if your dog has bitten someone, this puts children at unacceptable risk. Unless you are 100% confident that you know what your dog's stressors are and can prevent them from occurring during the kids’ visit, you can’t take a chance.
- Training. Obedience training is by far the best thing you can do for your puppy or adult dog. A well-trained dog is safer to have around family and friends. Training has a positive impact on many of the potential reasons as to why a dog might bite. Dog training refocuses your dog’s mindset, assists with impulse control, and modifies all types of problem behavior.
- Best Friends Animal Sanctuary has some great tips to keep your dog, other dogs, and your friends and family safe:
- Put signs around the house communicating current training protocols, so everyone in the family is on the same page about the dog’s training
- Erect physical and visual barriers such as doors, X-pens and baby gates, if necessary
- Train your dog to use a crate as his safe place
- When you are out in public with the dog, have him wear a vest that says “Dog in training” on it
- Train the dog to wear a basket muzzle
- Use high-value treats (things the dog finds particularly yummy) that can be given through a muzzle
- Use nutraceuticals (e.g., L-theanine) and aromatherapy, (and perhaps CBD oil) to help manage the dog’s overall emotional state
Every dog and every home is unique, of course, so management strategies for each family will vary. Train your dog to wear a basket muzzle. Some people are reluctant to consider using a muzzle, but it can be a wonderful tool to keep both your dog and others safe.
Dogs are very good at picking up our emotional states, so if you’re nervous about your dog biting, your dog will feel your anxiety and might be more likely to bite. Have your dog wear a muzzle during training, and you will feel more calm and help your dog to be calmer, which means training will happen faster. It’s important to teach your dog to look forward to wearing their muzzle because if they don't like wearing it, they’ll be uncomfortable and distracted when training.
- Consider seeing a relationship-based professional dog trainer or a certified animal behavior consultant. A qualified professional can help you work with your dog on their specific behavior challenges.
Training your dog not to bite can be a complex process, and takes a real investment of time. Your veterinarian will have additional tips to share with you, and may be able to provide a referral to a good local animal behaviorist.
If you are unsure of when your pet’s last vet visit was, don’t have a current vaccination record, or have questions about your pet’s health or behavior, don’t hesitate to contact us at Academy Animal Hospital. We’re committed to keeping Greenwood area pets healthy and happy.