My dog bit someone. Now what?

A few weeks back I put up a post that explained when it was acceptable for a dog to bite a person. (The short answer: NEVER. Dogs can learn to walk away.) But today I’m going to talk about what happens when your dog DOES bite someone.

Let me tell you a story. It’s a true story. It happened in early 2010. I was called in to work with a dog for dog aggression (aggression toward other dogs). As soon as I walked into the house I could see that this dog was aggressive toward everyone — including me. After some pointed questions, I learned the dog had bit two other people. The owner said, “But those were understandable.” In both cases, food had been involved.

In our next session together, I stepped in front of the dog to block his eye line to my dog. The dog attacked me. The owner was horrified. That was the only time I’ve ever gone to the emergency room for a dog bite!

The owner was, understandably, appalled. She couldn’t believe her dog would do something like that — even though he’d done it twice before. She offered to pay my health insurance deductible, and I told her I didn’t want her to. I’d rather she acknowledge what happened and keep the dog in training, so it didn’t happen to someone else. She agreed.

It took me several weeks to heal and get back to work, and over that time something fascinating (and frustrating) happened. She started dodging my calls. She told a fellow acquaintance that he’d “nipped” me. She insisted it hadn’t been bad, leading her roommate to eventually ask her to leave. When I did catch her on the phone, she made excuses.

She could not deal with the fact that her dog had bitten someone, and so she denied it had happened. Eventually, she moved.

I’m sorry to say that this is more typical than not. Most people don’t spot the signs of growing aggression because they don’t know them. Therefore, when their dog DOES bite someone, it’s a surprise. We then very quickly make this leap:

My dog bit someone.
Dogs are not supposed to bite no matter what.
Only “evil” dogs bite.
My dog isn’t an “evil” dog. Most of the time, my dog is awesome.
Therefore, my dog couldn’t have bitten that person. It must have been a fluke. There must be an excusable reason behind it.
Since my dog isn’t an “evil” dog and this was clearly a fluke, MY DOG DOESN’T BITE. That was a nip, or a warning. My dog is a “good” dog.

This is the worst thing a person can do. You can’t fix a problem if you can’t acknowledge a problem. I also see this, and it makes me feel wonderful:

My dog bit someone.
Dogs aren’t supposed to bite no matter what.
Only “evil” dogs bite.
My dog isn’t an “evil” dog. Most of the time, my dog is awesome.
Therefore, possibly the supposition that only “evil” dogs bite is wrong. Or possibly my dog is going down the wrong path.
Either way, I need to deal with it now so my dog can go back to being its awesome, trustworthy self.

If your dog has bitten someone, acknowledge that it happened, and get help. In 99% of cases, it’s solvable — IF you get help. If you don’t, things will only get worse.

There are signs that your dog is heading down the wrong path before they bite someone, and it’s helpful to know what they are. So, in the usual order of severity:

1. Your dog stops moving out of your way, or physically pushes you around.

2. Your dog growls at you over its food or a favorite toy (but never any other time).

3. Your dog watches your or others with perfect stillness, eyes steady instead of nose twitching.

4. Your dog looks at you or others out of the corner of his eye, possibly also growling.

5. Your dog bares his teeth (wrinkles his nose) at you or others.

6. Your dog snaps at/toward you or others.

7. Your dog bites.

If you see any of these signs, talk to someone. Read some books. The earlier you catch it the less of a problem it is. In the early stages, you can probably even solve it on your own before your dog gets to the point of trying to bite. (If your dog is at or past the fourth stage, it’s time to get help. If you do the wrong thing you’ll either increase the aggression or get hurt. If your dog is growling at you over his food or a favorite toy, deal with the earlier stages in other areas of his life, and at least talk to a trainer about the food/toy possession.)

Now, if your dog has already bitten someone, GET HELP. Doing it once isn’t a fluke. They will do it again, and if you push too hard or incorrectly, they’ll do it to you. Admit there is a problem, acknowledge you need help to solve it, and get help. Denying it will only make matters worse. Your dog isn’t an “evil” dog because they’ve learned to bite, but they are making poor life choices! They need some direction to make better choices. You’re also not a bad owner because your dog is making poor life choices: you did the best you could with the information you had. Now it’s time to get more information!

Finally, make sure you tell the trainer if your dog has ever snapped at anyone, for any reason. It changes how they might work with your dog, and what they might suggest. There’s always a way to make things better, but it won’t happen if you don’t try!

Jenna

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One thought on “My dog bit someone. Now what?

  1. Pingback: My dog bit someone, but it’s okay because… | Jenna McDonald's Feathers and Fur

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