Bite Prevention-Dog Training
I apologize for skipping last month’s post. A family emergency kept me out of town for a few weeks. This month I feel compelled to share with you one of the most common problems I encounter in my behavior consulting business – dogs that bite people. Although National Dog Bite Prevention Week was back in May, anytime is a good time to talk about a problem that is more common than you might think.
Here are some statistics published by the American Veterinary Medical Association:
- More than 4.5 million people in the U.S. are bitten by dogs each year.
- Almost 1 in 5 people bitten by dogs require medical attention.
- Children are the most common victims of dog bites and are far more likely to be severely injured.
- Most dog bites affecting young children occur during everyday activities and while interacting with familiar dogs.
Dog bites typically happen in or near the home. I suspect many if not most go unreported, especially if the victim does not seek medical attention. That is certainly true of the cases that I see. I see biting dogs of all breeds. Many of those breeds have reputations as wonderful family pets. Breed alone is a poor predictor of whether a dog will bite. Individual temperament, early socialization, past experiences, training, and health can influence a dog’s readiness to bite.
Fortunately, the majority of dog bites are of the non-puncturing kind (snaps or light scrapes). But a dog that uses his teeth to control people is worrisome no matter the dog’s intent. Injury to soft tissue can occur even if the skin is not broken. I often see clients whose entire arms are covered with scratches and bruises thanks to their dogs who were “just playing”. A dog that warns with growls or air snaps might escalate to biting if his warnings are punished or unheeded.
Contrary to what a popular dog training show might lead viewers to believe, there is no guarantee that training can “fix” a biting dog. You cannot erase a dog’s past experiences like doing a factory reset on some electronic gadget. Appropriate training can improve many aggressive dogs (it is beyond the scope of this blog to discuss actual methods), but not all dogs can be made reliably safe. The risks may be too high depending on past behavior.
Of course there are dogs that never bite their entire lives. It is the lucky owner whose dog is highly tolerant of common human antics that stress many dogs. Such dog probably has never been pushed to his limit, and it would be unwise for the owner to try (although some shelters do this to test their dogs’ suitability for adoption). It is a fallacy to think “My dog would never bite”. Dogs differ in their bite threshold, just like humans differ in what situations provoke anger.
Doggonesafe.com is an excellent website for dog bite prevention education. I recommend this site to everyone, especially parents of young children. One important rule to teach every child is to NEVER hug a dog. A hug is a human gesture of affection but it has a very different meaning in the canine world. The only time a dog hugs another dog is during mating or attempts to control. A dog could perceive a hug from a human as rude and invasive. A child who hugs a dog can get bitten in the face. A dog is able to deliver a bite or multiple bites in a fraction of a second. Even a little dog could inflict serious injury.
A quick search on the internet for pictures of people hugging dogs will bring up many uncomfortable looking dogs with happy smiling people. Some pictures make me cringe, either with pity for the dog or fear for the person. In a future post, I will talk about subtle signs of stress in dogs that are often misinterpreted or ignored.