Dangerous Dogs! – What Shelters, Rescues, Prospective Adopters, and Owners Need to Know

< Versions these articles were published in the MAY 2017 and JUNE 2017
Issues of Downeast Dog News>

<Updated 11JUN17>

These articles have been updated since they were published in the Downeast Dog News. I have added material at the end which discusses an incident which occurred in Virginia Beach, VA on June 1st where a 91-year-old woman was attacked and killed by a newly adopted rescue dog with a previous bite history.

What defines a dangerous dog? – Part 1

Last July I wrote the first of three columns addressing dog bites and fatalities after a seven-year-old boy died as a result of an attack by a dog. For the past few weeks, the news and social media have been abuzz with a rescue dog from the Waterville area (Dakota) that has attacked and killed a dog. This dog was scheduled for euthanasia, has been pardoned by the Governor, then the court reinstated the euthanasia order, and now this case has been appealed to a higher court, which means a final disposition of this case may not happen until this fall.

Dakota’s case has been emotionally charged, and I think it will be to the benefit of all dogs and dog lovers if we look at this case objectively. This is my attempt to do so.

So what defines a dangerous dog? Title 7, Section 3907, 12-D of the Maine statutes defines a dangerous dog as –  “Dangerous dog” means a dog or wolf hybrid that bites an individual or a domesticated animal who is not trespassing on the dog or wolf hybrid owner’s or keeper’s premises at the time of the bite or a dog or wolf hybrid that causes a reasonable and prudent person who is not on the dog or wolf hybrid owner’s or keeper’s premises and is acting in a reasonable and nonaggressive manner to fear imminent bodily injury by assaulting or threatening to assault that individual or individual’s domestic animal. “Dangerous dog” does not include a dog certified by the State and used for law enforcement use. “Dangerous dog” does not include a dog or wolf hybrid that bites or threatens to assault an individual who is on the dog or wolf hybrid owner’s or keeper’s premises if the dog or wolf hybrid has no prior history of assault and was provoked by the individual immediately prior to the bite or threatened assault.” [Emphasis added]

The definition above makes it clear that if a dog bites a person or a domesticated animal they meet Maine’s legal criteria of being a “dangerous dog.” In fact, based on the above definition the mere act of exhibiting threatening behavior, without actually biting, would meet the definition of being dangerous. While the law does not specifically address whether or not a dog that kills a person or a domesticated animal is dangerous; it seems that the logical conclusion would be that a dog that kills is extremely dangerous.

The legal community and canine behavior professionals have been using a bite scale developed by Dr. Ian Dunbar for many years. The scale is an objective assessment of the severity of dog bites based on an evaluation of wound pathology. It starts off with Level 1, which is described as “Fearful, aggressive, or obnoxious behavior but no skin-contact by teeth. [Emphasis added]” The Dunbar bite scale is very similar to Maine law which declares that a dog that is threatening may be considered as dangerous.

Dr. Dunbar rates the prognosis of rehabilitating a dog with a Level 1 to Level 2 bite as good and a level 3 bite as fair. However, Dr. Dunbar states that a dog exhibiting a Level 4 bite (a single bite with at least one puncture) is dangerous with a poor prognosis for rehabilitation. Dogs that have bitten at Level 5 (multiple bites and severe mutilation) through Level 6 (the victim is killed) are considered to be dangerous by Dr. Dunbar and have a dire prognosis for rehabilitation. I believe Maine’s law on dangerous dogs could be improved by incorporating Dr. Dunbar’s bite scale.

In this article from 2012, the late Dr. Sophia Yin describes her approach to evaluating dog bites based on Dr. Dunbar’s bite scale. – https://drsophiayin.com/blog/entry/was-it-just-a-little-bite-or-more-evaluating-bite-levels-in-dogs/

FMIhttp://www.dogtalk.com/BiteAssessmentScalesDunbarDTMRoss.pdf

If the court finds that a dog is dangerous as defined above, the law dictates that the court shall impose a fine and:

  • Order the dog confined in a secure enclosure except as provided in paragraph C or subsection 8. For the purposes of this paragraph, “secure enclosure” means a fence or structure of at least 6 feet in height forming or making an enclosure suitable to prevent the entry of young children and suitable to confine a dangerous dog in conjunction with other measures that may be taken by the owner or keeper, such as tethering the dangerous dog. The secure enclosure must be locked, be designed with secure top, bottom and sides and be designed to prevent the animal from escaping from the enclosure. The court shall specify the length of the period of confinement and may order permanent confinement; [2011, c. 82, §1 (AMD).]”
  • “Order the dog to be euthanized if it has killed, maimed or inflicted serious bodily injury upon a person or has a history of a prior assault or a prior finding by the court of being a dangerous dog; or [2011, c. 82, §1 (AMD).]”
  • “Order the dog to be securely muzzled, restricted by a tether not more than 3 feet in length with a minimum tensile strength of 300 pounds and under the direct control of the dog’s owner or keeper whenever the dog is off the owner’s or keeper’s premises. [2011, c. 82, §1 (NEW).]”
  • The court may also choose to order restitution to the injured parties.

I love dogs and hate to see a dog lose its life to natural causes or state-mandated euthanasia; however, I also hate to see a person or another animal attacked and even possibly killed by a dog. The fact is not all dogs that exhibit aggression can be rehabilitated and are safe to be rehomed. We need to have equal concern for the community at large as we do for any individual dog.

This case leaves me with questions for which I do not have an answer. If Dakota is released, who will be legally, financially and morally liable for any future aggression by Dakota? The courts, the Governor, those who have evaluated Dakota and insist he will be safe in the future, Dakota’s owner, or all of the above?

Next month I will delve into this issue further, discussing the obligations those that rehome a dangerous dog and the responsibilities of someone who adopts a dangerous dog.

Dangerous Dogs – Part 2

Responsibilities of Shelters/Rescues, Prospective Dog Owners, and Dog Owners

Last month I discussed the definition of a dangerous dog as defined by Maine state law. I also described the bite scale developed my Dr. Ian Dunbar. I use the Dunbar bite scale when assessing the severity of a bite as do other canine behavior consultants and attorneys. As I indicated last month, per Maine law and Dr. Dunbar’s bite scale, a dog that merely threatens can be considered dangerous and can be classified as a dangerous dog.

Shelters/Rescues

I appreciate the effort made by shelters and rescues to find homeless and wonderful dogs a new forever home; however, I believe that first and foremost, shelters and rescues have a responsibility to act in the best interest of their local community. That means:

  • Management and all employees and volunteers responsible for adoptions have been trained on Dr. Dunbar’s bite levels as well as Maine state law covering dangerous dogs.
  • They have, and they follow, detailed written policies on the adoption of dogs with a bite history that indicate when and why they will adopt and when and why they will not adopt.
  • They provide full disclosure of any bite history or behavioral issues with any dog they adopt. They NEVER fail to disclose information, such as a bite history, in an attempt to make a dog more adoptable.
  • If a dog in their care has bitten at level 3 or greater, they will not make that dog available for adoption until they have the dog evaluated by a veterinarian, with behavioral experience, that is independent of their organization. Additionally, they will consider having these dogs evaluated by a dog behavior consultant credentialed by; the Animal Behavior Society (ABS), the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC), or the Pet Professional Accreditation Board (PPAB).
  • If they adopt dogs with a Level 3 or higher bite, they will counsel the adopters before the adoption and provide them with all the information necessary to keep them, their family, and the community safe. This includes making sure that the adopter understands their legal liability for keeping a dangerous dog.
  • They have a written return policy which clearly indicates that an adopter can return a dog at any time, for any reason, with no questions asked.
  • They will have policies in place that support the AAHA Canine and Feline Behavior Management Guidelines and will not use or refer to dog behavior consultants or dog trainers that use aversive training techniques and tools.
  • They have a euthanasia policy that clearly indicates that despite their best wishes not all dogs can be successfully rehabilitated and rehomed and that there are times when euthanasia is not only the safest option for the community but is also the most humane and kind option for the dog.

Potential Dog Owners & Dog Owners

Most people who are looking for a dog to bring into their family are looking for a well-mannered companion. They are not looking for a dog that could be a potential threat to their family or their neighbors. That is why adopting a dog or keeping a dog with a known bite history requires careful consideration. It is not a decision that should be made lightly because living with such a dog will require a great deal of work and also involves a certain level of unknown risk.

Potential Dog Owners

If you are thinking about adopting a dog with a bite history or other significant behavioral issues, I suggest that before you commit to the adoption/purchase that you do the following:

  • Consult with your veterinarian and get their advice and input on how well they believe this dog, and its issues will fit into your family and environment. If you do not have a veterinarian because this is your first dog or the first dog in a long time, keep looking for a dog without a bite history or behavioral baggage. There are many dogs looking for homes that are not biters and that do not have behavioral issues, being patient and taking the time to find a better fit, makes sense, especially if this is your first dog.
  • Consult with a dog behavior consultant credentialed by; the Animal Behavior Society (ABS), the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC), or the Pet Professional Accreditation Board (PPAB). Bite issues and most behavioral problems do not resolve on their own or through training. Taking the time to seek advice from a professional canine behavior consultant before you commit to an adoption is like taking a used car to an independent mechanic for an evaluation before you purchase the car. Taking this step may save you a great deal of time, money, and grief.
  • If you have kids, elderly parents, or other animals in your home and on your property, keep looking, a dog with a bite history is not the dog for you.
  • Make sure all the adults in the home support the decision to get this dog. No one should be forced to live in a home where he or she is afraid of the dog and is concerned about being bitten.
  • Make sure that you have a written document from the shelter/rescue that states that you can return a dog at any time, for any reason, with no questions asked.
Dog Owners

If you already have a dangerous dog read my April column “Help! My Dog is Aggressive, Reactive, Fearful, Anxious, etc. – What do I do?” – bit.ly/HelpDogAggx

My Story with Aggression & a Serious Bite

By definition, I have owned and lived with a “dangerous dog,” Shortly after our Golden Retriever Tikken turned three she began to show aggression towards other dogs. In the summer of 2000, she attacked and severely injured our Pekinese, Crystal. We immediately sought veterinary advice and began treating Tikken. Over the next three years we worked with our local veterinarian, the veterinary behavior team at Tufts University, applied behaviorist Patricia McConnell, and with homeopathic veterinarian Dr. Judy Herman. We eventually helped Tikken through this ordeal, but it was only after extensive treatment and three plus years of close supervision. We had ten wonderful years together after Tikken’s full recovery, but that came after three very tense and stressful years. While living with a dog with a severe bite history can be done, it requires a level of financial and emotional commitment that is not something everyone will be able to undertake.  FMI – bit.ly/TikkensAggxStory

UPDATE

Since I wrote part 2 of this column in May, a tragic and fatal incident occurred on June 1st in Virginia Beach, VA when a 90-year-old woman was attacked by a dog that had just been adopted by the family from the Forever Home Rehabilitation Center. The news media indicated that the woman underwent surgery including the amputation of an arm, before dying from her injuries. < http://www.13newsnow.com/news/local/mycity/virginia-beach/woman-in-her-90s-dies-after-pit-bull-attack-in-virginia-beach/444861256>. Apparently the dog had bitten a child multiple times in a previous home. The rescue had allegedly “rehabilitated” the dog before placing it.

When asked to comment, the Forever Home Rehabilitation Center released this statement: “We send out our deepest condolences to the Patterson family who adopted Blue. Blue went through our 3 month board and train program, and was a favorite amongst all of the staff members and volunteers. Blue loved other dogs, and didn’t know a stranger. He never showed any aggression while at our facility, and passed his final evaluation with flying colors before being adopted out to the Patterson family.[Emphasis Added] Trainers spent yesterday morning checking over Blue’s new home and going over training with Blue’s new owner. There were 2 other dogs in Blue’s new home, who Blue immediately bonded with. We do not know what events transpired in the moments before this tragedy occurred with Blue’s owners mother, and none of us could have ever predicted this horrible event. We are devastated for the Patterson family and our thoughts and prayers go out to them.” I have placed part of the above statement in bold because it demonstrates that a behavioral evaluation is not a guarantee that a dog will be safe. Unfortunately, some shelters and rescues do not emphasize that an assessment or evaluation is only a snapshot of that dog’s behavior at that moment in time. Satisfactorily passing an “evaluation” does NOT guarantee the dog is safe, especially if they have a history of dangerous behavior involving multiple bites.

It has been alleged that the Forever Home Rehabilitation Center routinely uses remote shock collars and other aversive training techniques as part of their “rehabilitation” program. This is despite the fact that leading authorities on canine behavior such as the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, and the Pet Professional Guild all have specific position statements explicitly recommending against the use of aversives for training or behavior modification under any circumstances but especially for treating aggression, as these aversive techniques often cause aggression

Experts in the canine behavior and dog training community have been reacting to this attack.

Dr. Ilana Reisner, a veterinarian board-certified in behavioral medicine, wrote an excellent analysis on her Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/ReisnerVetBehavior/posts/1355502811202275) Dr. Reisner made several key points, and I would encourage you to read her entire post; however, since not everyone uses Facebook I wanted to highlight the following:

“1. The incident itself could have been an episode of impulsive, disinhibited, affective defensive aggression, or it could have been an example of toggle-switch predatory behavior. Vigorous shaking is intended to kill the victim, but that does not always imply that the attack started as a predatory event. Aggression is common, biting is common, but the character of aggression in this episode is not at all common. [Emphasis added]

“4. The Forever Home Rehabilitation Center, which I have never visited, freely posts pictures of its use of remote shock collars and prong/pinch collars. The website description uses terms linked to Cesar Millan, such as “rehabilitation”, “our pack”, “balanced”, and “calm, relaxed”. Without knowing more about the details of their dog management and training, it is reasonable to assume that they train with a generous amount of punishment through shock and perhaps flooding, two of Millan’s well-known tools. Such handling is associated with defensive aggression, fear, arousal, stress and learned helplessness. Blue’s experience at the Center, which might have included long-term suppression (through shock or other corrections) might have contributed to the attack. Three months is certainly long enough to alter brain chemistry in a predisposed individual. [Emphasis added]

5. In my opinion and experience, it may be unrealistic or just impossible to “rehabilitate” all aggressive dogs to the point of “calm, relaxed” behavior. This is a euphemism for learned helplessness or being shut down. Even shut down dogs can be switched back on.” [Emphasis added]

Temperament testing – whatever that means for each facility or rescue – cannot prevent or predict explosive, disinhibited aggression. Unfortunate, but true. It can’t reliably predict even inhibited, “appropriate” aggression such as one-bite resource guarding in the long-term. [Emphasis added]

I believe the shock collar training and “rehabilitation” might have contributed to the behavior. The training methods apparently used in such facilities are likely to do harm. However, I do not believe the attack resulted from the removal of the shock collar. It might not have interrupted the attack even if it was still on. [Emphasis added]

Lisa Mullinax of 4Paws University has posted an excellent article on her blog entitled Bad Rescue Hurts Dogs < http://www.growlsnarlsnap.com/single-post/2017/06/05/BAD-RESCUE-HURTS-DOGS >. I completely agree with t her article and would encourage you to read it in its entirety, especially if you are part of a shelter or rescue. The gist of Lisa’s article is that not all rescues and shelters are as knowledgeable about canine behavior as they would have you believe, and as a result, they end up placing dangerous dogs in inappropriate homes.

In her article The Perils of Placing Marginal Dogs Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC) Trish McMillan Loehr discusses her philosophy that “…that shelters should be where people come to get the best dogs, not to become expert trainers or to have their bank accounts drained.” < https://summer2016.iaabcjournal.org/the-perils-of-placing-marginal-dogs/ >

Almost every canine professional I know has a horror story to tell, in some cases many more than one, about the placement of a dangerous dog with severe aggression issues. Sadly, when this occurs, those adopters are unlikely to seek out a rescue dog again. That hurts those dogs without behavioral issues and shelters and rescues that are doing things well and trying to find forever homes for those dogs.

In conclusion, please understand that not all dangerous dogs can be rehabilitated and made safe. Shelters and rescues need to be responsible members of the community in which they rescue and rehome dogs and should err on the side of safety. If a shelter or rescue has knowledge to suggest that there is any probability of a dog being dangerous, then they should be prepared to accept full legal and financial responsibility for placing a dog that they knew was dangerous or suspected might be dangerous.

______________________________________________________________________________

Recommended Resources

Articles on Don’s Blog (http://www.words-woofs-meows.com)

Dog Behavior – Dog Bite Fatalities & Dog Bites – Parts 1, 2, and 3http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/08/15/dog-behavior-dog-bite-fatalities-dog-bites-parts-1-and-2/

Dog Bites – Dr. Sophia Yin – Canine Bite Levelshttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2017/01/17/dog-bites-dr-sophia-yin-canine-bite-levels/

Reward Based Training versus Aversiveshttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2017/04/25/dog-training-reward-based-training-versus-aversives/

Help! My Dog is Aggressive, Reactive, Fearful, Anxious, etc. – What do I do?http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2017/04/03/help-my-dog-is-aggressive-reactive-fearful-anxious-etc-what-do-i-do/

Tikken – Vaccines, Aggression & Homeopathyhttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2014/10/06/complementary-medicine-tikken-vaccines-aggression-homeopathy/

Adopting A Pet – Finding the Right Dog for You and Your Familyhttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2017/01/16/adopting-a-pet-finding-the-right-dog-for-you-and-your-family/

 

Other websites, blogs and Facebook

Woman in her 90s dies after Pit Bull attack in Virginia Beachhttp://www.13newsnow.com/news/local/mycity/virginia-beach/woman-in-her-90s-dies-after-pit-bull-attack-in-virginia-beach/444861256

Was It Just a Little Bite or More? Evaluating Bite Levels in Dogs – https://drsophiayin.com/blog/entry/was-it-just-a-little-bite-or-more-evaluating-bite-levels-in-dogs/

Dr. Ian Dunbar’s Dog Bite Scale (Official Authorized Version) – http://www.dogtalk.com/BiteAssessmentScalesDunbarDTMRoss.pdf

Bad Rescue Hurts Dogshttp://www.growlsnarlsnap.com/single-post/2017/06/05/BAD-RESCUE-HURTS-DOGS

Dr. Ilana Reisner on June 1st Dog Attack in Virginia Beach, FLhttps://www.facebook.com/ReisnerVetBehavior/posts/1355502811202275

The Perils of Placing Marginal Dogshttps://summer2016.iaabcjournal.org/the-perils-of-placing-marginal-dogs/

Rescue Decisions: The Dog, or the Community?https://paws4udogs.wordpress.com/2015/04/13/rescue-decisions-the-dog-or-the-community/

Rescue Group Best Practices Guidehttp://www.animalsheltering.org/sites/default/files/content/rescue-best-practice-guide.pdf

2015 American Animal Hospital Association Canine and Feline Behavior Management Guidelines – https://www.aaha.org/professional/resources/behavior_management_guidelines.aspx

The Guiding Principles of the Pet Professional Guild – http://www.petprofessionalguild.com/PPGs-Guiding-Principles

The Pet Professional Guild Position Statement on the Use of Pet Correction Devices – http://www.petprofessionalguild.com/Equipment-Used-for-the-Management-Training-and-Care-of-Pets

The Pet Professional Guild Position Statement on the Use of Choke and Prong Collars – http://www.petprofessionalguild.com/chokeandprongcollarpositionstatement/

The Pet Professional Guild Position Statement on the Use of Shock In Animal Training – http://www.petprofessionalguild.com/shockcollars/

The Pet Professional Guild Position Statement on the Use of Dominance Theory in Animal Training – http://www.petprofessionalguild.com/DominanceTheoryPositionStatement/

American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) Position Statement on the Use of Dominance Theory in Behavior Modification of Animals – https://avsab.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Dominance_Position_Statement_download-10-3-14.pdf

American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) Position Statement on The Use of Punishment for Behavior Modification in Animals – https://avsab.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Punishment_Position_Statement-download_-_10-6-14.pdf

Podcasts from The Woof Meow Show (http://www.woofmeowshow.com)

<CLICK ON THE TITLE TO LISTEN TO THE SHOW>

Podcast – Dog Bites and Fatalities with Janis Bradley (Updated 15AUG16)

Yes! A Trend Towards Kinder and Gentler Professional Pet Care – Green Acres Kennel Shop’s “Pet-Friendly” Philosophy

Yes! A Trend Towards Kinder and Gentler Professional Pet Care – The Pet Professional Guild and Force-Free Pet Care with Niki Tudge

Yes! A Trend Towards Kinder and Gentler Professional Pet Care – Fear-Free Veterinary Visits with Dr. Dave Cloutier from Veazie Veterinary Clinic

Pet Behavior, Vets & The AAHA Canine and Feline Behavior Management Guidelines – Dr. Dave Cloutier – Veazie Veterinary Clinic

Finding the Right Dog for You and Your Family – Part 1

Finding the Right Dog for You and Your Family – Part 2

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Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop (greenacreskennel.com) in Bangor. He is a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP), Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC), Associate Certified Cat Behavior Consultant (ACCBC) and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA). He produces and co- hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, The Woof Meow Show heard on The Pulse AM620 WZON and streamed at http://www.wzonradio.com/ every Saturday at 9 AM. A list of upcoming shows and podcasts of past shows can be found at www.woofmeowshow.com. Don also writes about pets at his blog: www.words-woofs-meows.com.

©11JUN17, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved
<Click for Copyright and Use Policy>

Shared Blog Post – Treat or euthanize? Helping owners make critical decisions regarding pets with behavior problems

In this article from dvm360, Dr. Lore I. Haug, DVM, MS, DACVB, a veterinary behaviorist discusses factors to consider when evaluating a pet with behavioral issues. While written for veterinary and animal behavior professionals, I believe it will also be helpful to people with pets with behavioral issues. You can read the entire article at http://veterinarymedicine.dvm360.com/treat-or-euthanize-helping-owners-make-critical-decisions-regarding-pets-with-behavior-problems

 

©23SEP16, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved <Click for Copyright and Use Policy>

Podcast – Pet Stuff with Don Hanson & Dr. Mark Hanks

< Click to Listen to Podcast>

10sep16-pet_stuff_w-don_mark-400x400In this episode of The Woof Meow Show from September 10th, 2016 Don and Mark address several timely topics about pets and Maine, including; dog bites, the canine flu, and the criteria they use to select and recommend flea and tick products and pet foods.

< Click to Listen to Podcast>

 

 

©17SEP16, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved <Click for Copyright and Use Policy>

Dog Behavior – Dog Bite Fatalities & Dog Bites – Parts 1, 2, and 3

<Updated 11JUN17>

< Part 1 of this article was published in the July 2016 issue of Downeast Dog News, and Part 2 was published in the August 2016 issue of Downeast Dog News, and Part 3 was published in the September 2016 issue of Downeast Dog News>

Dog Bite Fatalities & Dog Bites – Part 1

On Saturday, June 4th, deputies from the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office responded to the report of a dog attack at a home in Corinna, ME. A seven-year-old boy died as a result of the attack.

Don and Muppy-Fall 2015-1As of a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant, the media often contacts me to comment on incidents where a serious dog bite occurs, and this one was no different. The following week I was interviewed on two radio stations and by reporters from the three major TV networks in Maine. Typical questions in this type of interview are; why do dogs bite or kill, is it because of the dogs breed, and how could this have been prevented?  Unfortunately, because of the way the news works, I felt my comments were far too brief for a topic of this complexity. Without adequate information, I do not see the dog bite situation changing, so I arranged to interview a national expert on dog bites on The Woof Meow Show and to also to discuss this issue here in a series of articles.

How “serious” of a problem are dog bite fatalities?

Janis Bradley is a professional dog trainer, author and the Director of Communications & Publications for the National Canine Research Council. Her first book, Dogs Bite, But Balloons and Slippers are More Dangerous was written as a result of an especially horrific dog attack and fatality that occurred in San Francisco in 2001. At the time, Bradley was working at the San Francisco ASPCA, teaching professional dog trainers and working with what would be considered ‘high-risk” dogs, yet she nor none of her colleagues had experienced a serious dog bite. Yet, both the local and the national media were giving extensive airtime to this incident using phrases like “dog bite epidemic.” As a result, Bradley started researching the academic literature on dog bites because she wanted to understand the seriousness of this issue. What she learned was that there was not much reliable research on dog bites. Thankfully, due to Bradley’s efforts, we have a better understanding of dog bites and fatalities today.

Dog bites resulting in fatalities to humans in the US are thankfully very rare. Over the last decade, there were about 30 human deaths per year due to dog bites.   That is about one person per 11 million people. While this is an extremely tragic event for all those in some way connected to the victim and the dog, statistics indicate that you are far more likely to be killed by other causes. For example:

  • You are1000 times more likely to be killed in a car accident or an accidental fall.
  • You are 500 times more likely to be murdered by another human.
  • You are 1.5 times more likely to be killed by a lightning strike.

The Center for Disease Control has stopped tracking dog bite related fatalities because they are so rare and cannot make any useful conclusions from the data.

While death by a dog bite is tragic, such deaths are exceeding rare, and it is their rareness and often the horrific nature of the incident that attract a disproportionate amount of media attention. Add to that the response by people on social media, and it is understandable how misinformation is created and circulates.

I want to thank the Penobscot County Sheriff’s office for their responsible release of information for this particular incident.

Next month I will address non-fatal dog bites and what we think we know and what we really know.

Dog Bite Fatalities & Dog Bites – Part 2

Last month I started a series on Dog Bite Fatalities and Dog Bites due to the death of a seven-year-old boy on Saturday, June 4th. My July column dealt specifically with fatalities from dog bites and the fact that while they are tragic, they are also quite rare. You are 1000 times more likely to be killed in a car accident or an accidental fall than to die as the result of a dog bite.

There are some common factors in dog bite fatalities. A study published in The Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) in December of 2013 identified several controllable factors that played a part in dog bite fatalities. Four or more of these factors were present in at least 80.5% of the dog bite fatalities examined.

No able-bodied person was present to intervene to attempt to stop the attack. In 87.1% of the cases reviewed, it is quite possible that an attack could have been prevented or interrupted if another person were present. This is why all interactions between a child and a dog should ALWAYS be closely monitored and supervised by a responsible adult. The same applies to an adult who may not have the physical or mental capacity to interact with the dog.

The victim had no relationship with the dog. In 85.2% of the incidents, the victim did not have an established relationship with the dog for at least ninety days. They were not necessarily a total stranger, but they were not part of the immediate household or one who interacted in a positive manner with the dog on a regular basis.

The dog had not been spayed or neutered in 84.4% of the incidents. The decision to spay or neuter a dog has many variables, and it is not as clear cut as it was a few years ago. In some cases, people delay a spay/neuter due to medical reasons or the cost. However, the benefits of spaying and neutering from an animal welfare and a behavioral perspective are also well established. An individual who does not choose to spay/neuter should consider that their decision may increase their dog’s probability of biting.

The victim was physically unable to manage their interaction with the dog or defend themselves due to their age or physical condition (77.4%). – For purposes of the study, “Victims were deemed unable to interact appropriately with the dog if they were < 5 years of age or they had limited mental or physical capacity that increased their vulnerability (e.g., dementia, alcohol intoxication, impairment from drugs, or uncontrolled seizure disorders). As noted above, dogs must be supervised when they are left around those who may not be able to control the dog.

The dog was not a family pet, but lived on the property, often kept outside and often kept in isolation from people, resulting in little or no regular opportunities for positive interactions with people (76.2%). It does not surprise me that dogs that are considered to be part of the family, and thus have a closer bond with people are less likely to bite as opposed to a dog that is mostly consigned to an outdoor kennel or being tied-out on a rope or chain. The study described the latter as “residential dogs.” Those that keep a residential dog as opposed to a family dog, should make sure that said the residential dog is contained to limit any possibility of interactions that could result in a bite.

There was a documented history of inadequate management of the dog (37.5%). In this case, there was evidence that the owner of the dog had allowed the dog to be a danger to others in the past as indicated by previous bite incidents or allowing the dog to run at large.

The owner abused or neglected the dog (21.6%). Neglect by an owner included the dog not being given access to shelter, food, or water or having an untreated medical condition. Abuse constituted cases where the dog was used for fighting or where there was clear evidence of deliberate physical punishment or deprivation.

So what about the breed of dog? This same study reported that the breed of the dog which had killed could NOT be reliably identified in more than 80% of the cases. Sadly, when a dog bite fatality is reported, often the first question from the public and media is “What breed was the dog?” Far too often the dogs breed then becomes the focus of local authorities who then propose new laws centered on breed (Breed Specific Legislation [BSL]) when the dogs breed is not relevant. This paper discusses other studies that have demonstrated that breed-specific legislation has not been effective at reducing dog bites or dog bite fatalities. That is why “…major professional bodies (e.g., veterinary associations in the United States and Europe, the American Bar Association, the National Animal Control Association, and major humane organizations have not recommended single-factor solutions such as BSL.”

Clearly, reducing dog bites is the responsibility of all of us. Next month I will address some of the things that I believe we could all do that would help do just that.

1 Gary J. Patronek, Jeffrey J. Sacks, Karen M. Delise, Donald V. Cleary, and Amy R. Marder. Co-occurrence of potentially preventable factors in 256 dog bite–related fatalities in the United States (2000–2009). Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, December 15, 2013, Vol. 243, No. 12 , Pages 1726-1736.  (doi: 10.2460/javma.243.12.1726)

Part 3

Even though statistically, dog bites are not a serious societal problem, a dog bite, no matter how superficial, is a traumatic event for the person bitten, the dog and the dog’s owner. We need to do everything we can to prevent dog bites and it is going to take all of us if we want to be successful. We also need to understand how dog bites are classified by canine professionals, the legal system, and insurance companies. You can learn more about canine bite levels by downloading this poster from Dr. Sophia Yin <Click Here>

Here are my thoughts on what we can do to decrease the incidents of dog bites. First of all, we need to accept some basic facts.

  • All dogs, irrespective of breed or how good they have always behaved in the past have the potential to bite.
  • Misinformed beliefs about canine behavior and the continued use of aversive training tools and philosophies (choke, prong, and shock collars and the dominance construct) are a major reason for behavior problems such as aggression and dog bites which often result in a dog’s death.1
  • Most dogs give ample warning before biting, and if people would learn these signs, many dog bites could be prevented.
  • Not all dogs will like all other dogs nor will they like every person just because that is what we want.
  • If you have a dog that is aggressive and has bitten or has almost bitten, seek out professional help from your veterinarian and a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant immediately. The longer this behavior continues, the longer you delay, the lower the probability of changing the behavior. Biting is often an emotional response and training alone will not make your dog feel emotionally safe. There is no evidence to suggest that dogs will outgrow this behavior.
  • Not all dogs with behavioral issues can be rehabilitated.

Prospective Dog Owners – Do not get a dog on impulse nor should you get a dog without first meeting it in person. You will hopefully have your dog for many years, probably longer than you keep your automobile and perhaps the home where you live. You are making a lifetime commitment, so it is essential you choose wisely.

Do your research before you start looking for a dog, Seek advice from trained professionals such as veterinarians, dog behavior consultants, and dog trainers. These individuals typically have knowledge and experience with a wide variety of dog breeds and temperaments and can provide less biased information than someone trying to convince you to adopt/purchase a dog.

If you are unsure of your ability to evaluate a puppy/dog, consider hiring a qualified pet care professional to assist you.

When you do agree to adopt/purchase a dog, make sure you have the return policy in writing.

Breeders are often criticized, and shelters and rescues are often given a free pass; judge both critically. In the past several years we have had more clients complain about bad experiences with rescues than with breeders or pet stores.

For my information on finding the right dog or puppy <Click Here>

Puppy/Dog Owners – Attend and complete a pain-free, force-free and fear-free dog training class with your puppy/dog, taught by a dog training professional accredited by either The Pet Professional Accreditation Board, The International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants or the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. In my experience, most of the dogs that I see for aggression and other serious behavioral issues have never attended a training class and were often not properly socialized during the critical period between 8 and 16 weeks of age. Taking a training class with your dog will further your understanding of their behavior and needs and will strengthen your bond. For information on what to look for in a reputable trainer – <Click Here>

If the training class you attend does not thoroughly discuss behavior, canine body language, and dogs and kids, seek that knowledge elsewhere. You can find many articles on my blog (http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/),

Those Selling/Placing Puppies – Please make sure your puppies stay with their mother and siblings until they are 7 to 8 weeks of age. Puppies that do not have this opportunity to learn are often more likely to develop behavioral issues.

When you sell or place a puppy, make sure that you inform the new owners of the importance of properly socializing that puppy between 8 and 16 weeks of age. If you keep the puppy longer than eight weeks of age, make sure that you are properly socializing the puppy daily. Emphasize the importance of pain-free, force-free and fear-free training classes specifically structured for proper puppy socialization. For more information on puppy socialization <Click Here>

Shelters/Rescues – Rescue dogs, and I have had several, can be wonderful companions; however, they often have a rough start in life and thus have a higher probability of behavioral problems. Do your best to assess a dog’s behavior and to be completely and totally truthful about what you learn or suspect. Do not omit any information, even if you believe it will make the dog less adoptable. You are not doing your organization, or the dog, any favors when you adopt out a dog with a history of biting or aggression.

Thoroughly assess, in-person, any potential adopter. Please make sure an adopter is physically and mentally equipped to care for the dog. Be especially careful with adoptions to the elderly who may have been able to care for their 12-year-old sedentary Doberman, but will find a young, hyperactive Doberman with behavioral issues beyond their capabilities, despite their best intentions.

Understand that placements do not always work out. If a dog you have placed is threatening people in its new home or bites someone, be proactive in removing the dog immediately. Do not attempt to shame the family into keeping the dog by telling them that it will be euthanized or require that they keep the dog until you find a foster home.

All Pet Professionals (Veterinarians, Dog Behavior Consultants, Dog Trainers, Boarding Kennel & Daycare Operators, Groomers, Shelters & Rescues) – Read and make sure you understand the American Animal Hospital Association 2015 AAHA Behavior Management Guidelines and adopt an official policy statement demonstrating your support of these standards. Ensure that you train all staff and volunteers on the basic premises of the guidelines as well as canine and feline behavior, canine, and feline body language, and the standard definition of bite levels. Commit to pain-free, force-free and fear-free pet care and make that philosophy a core part of your educational efforts in your community.

1 American Animal Hospital Association, AAHA 2015 Canine and Feline Behavior Management Guidelines, https://www.aaha.org/professional/resources/behavior_management_guidelines.aspx

 

Thank you to colleagues Mychelle Blake, CDBC, Gail Fisher, CDBC, Tracy Haskell, CPDT-KA, and ,Melissa McCue-McGrath, CPDT-KA for their input on this column.

Recommended Resources

Articles on Don’s Blog (http://www.words-woofs-meows.com)

Adopting A Pet – Finding the Right Dog for You and Your Familyhttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2017/01/16/adopting-a-pet-finding-the-right-dog-for-you-and-your-family/

How to Choose a Dog Trainer http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2017/01/08/how-to-choose-a-dog-trainer/

Puppy Socialization and Habituationhttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/06/27/dog-behavior-puppy-socialization-and-habituation/

Pet Behavior as an Essential Component to Holistic Wellnesshttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/10/28/pet-behavior-and-wellness-pet-behavior-as-an-essential-component-to-holistic-wellness/

Canine Body Language – How To Greet A Dog and What to Avoid – Dr. Sophia Yinhttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/04/04/canine-body-language-how-to-greet-a-dog-and-what-to-avoid-dr-sophia-yin/

Dog Behavior – Introduction to Canine Communicationhttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/01/16/dog-behavior-introduction-to-canine-communication/

Canine Behavior – What Should I Do When My Dog Growls?http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/07/18/canine-behavior-what-should-i-do-when-my-dog-growls/

Understanding, Identifying and Coping with Canine Stresshttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/11/01/canine-behavior-understanding-identifying-and-coping-with-canine-stress/

Behavior Consulting – Management of An Aggressive, Fearful or Reactive Doghttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/04/04/behavior-consulting-management-of-an-aggressive-fearful-or-reactive-dog/

 

Podcasts from The Woof Meow Show (http://www.woofmeowshow.com)

 Podcast – Dog Bites and Fatalities with Janis Bradleyhttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/06/24/podcast-dog-bites-and-fatalities-with-janis-bradley/

 

Web Sites

Was It Just a Little Bite or More? Evaluating Bite Levels in Dogs – https://drsophiayin.com/blog/entry/was-it-just-a-little-bite-or-more-evaluating-bite-levels-in-dogs/

Dr. Ian Dunbar’s Dog Bite Scale (Official Authorized Version) – http://www.dogtalk.com/BiteAssessmentScalesDunbarDTMRoss.pdf

Dr. Sophia Yin Canine Bite Levels Posterhttp://info.drsophiayin.com/download-the-bite-levels-poster

Dog Bite Preventionhttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/dog-bite-prevention

 

©11JUN17, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved <Click for Copyright and Use Policy>

 

Podcast – Dog Bites and Fatalities with Janis Bradley (Updated 15AUG16)

<Click to listen to podcast>

11JUN16-Dog Bites and Fatalities-Janis Bradley-A 400x400On Saturday, June 4th, deputies from the Penobscot Sheriff’s Office responded to the report of a dog attack at a home in Corinna, ME. A seven-year-old boy died as a result of the attack. In the following week, there were numerous reports and interviews circulating through the mass media and social media discussing this tragedy. I was interviewed numerous times and what frustrates me as a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant is trying to respond to questions that do not have simple answers and that do not fit nicely in short sound bites. I truly believe that reporters and listeners do want to hear useful information that will help prevent tragedies like this from occurring again which is why, on June 9th, I interviewed Janis Bradley, a nationally recognized expert on dog bites and the Director of Communications & Publications for the National Canine Research Council. Janis is the author of the books; Dogs Bite, But Balloons and Slippers are More Dangerous, Dog Bites: Problems and Solutions, and The Relevance of Breed in Selecting a Companion Dog.

In the interview, which aired on The Woof Meow Show on WZON on June 11th, we discussed dog bite fatalities, how often they occur, common factors and how they can be prevented. We then addressed dog bites in general and why the statistics on this topic are not always reliable. We addressed whether or not the dogs breed is a significant factor in dog bites and attacks, it is not, and lastly; we talked about what people can do to minimize the probability of a dog biting. I encourage anyone interested in this topic and anyone who has been commenting on social media about this matter to listen to this podcast.

Watch my blog www.words-woofs-meows.com and my column, Words, Woofs, and Meows, in Downeast Dog News (http://downeastdognews.villagesoup.com/ ) for future articles on this topic.

You can hear The Woof Meow Show on The Pulse AM620, WZON, and WKIT HD3 at 9 AM every Saturday. If you are not near a radio, listen on your computer at http://www.wzonthepulse.com or your smartphone or tablet with the free WZON 620 AM app. A podcast of the show is typically posted immediately after the show, and can be downloaded at www.woofmeowshow.com and the Apple iTunes store.

<Click to listen to podcast>

Recommended Resources

Articles on Don’s Blog (http://www.words-woofs-meows.com)

 Dog Behavior – Dog Bite Fatalities & Dog Bites – Parts 1 and 2http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/08/15/dog-behavior-dog-bite-fatalities-dog-bites-parts-1-and-2/

Behavior Consulting – Management of An Aggressive, Fearful or Reactive Dog – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/04/04/behavior-consulting-management-of-an-aggressive-fearful-or-reactive-dog/

Canine Body Language – How To Greet A Dog and What to Avoid – Dr. Sophia Yin – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/04/04/canine-body-language-how-to-greet-a-dog-and-what-to-avoid-dr-sophia-yin/

Dog Behavior – Introduction to Canine Communication – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/01/16/dog-behavior-introduction-to-canine-communication/

Canine Behavior – What Should I Do When My Dog Growls? – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/07/18/canine-behavior-what-should-i-do-when-my-dog-growls/

Web Sites

Dog Bite Prevention – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/dog-bite-prevention

©2016, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved <Click for Copyright and Use Policy>

Doggie Kissing Booths – Good Idea or Unkind to Dogs?

The concept of a “kissing booth” as a fundraising attraction at a carnival or some other event is not new. However, doggy kissing booths, where a person pays to give a kiss or hug to a dog or to get a kiss from a dog, is a relatively new trend. As a dog lover and Certified Dog Behavior Consultant, I find the idea of a doggy kissing booth very disturbing. When I privately shared this concern with a group organizing a fundraising event for a local dog park, the leader of the group publically labeled me a “jerk” on the groups Facebook page. If caring for the wellbeing and safety of dogs and people makes me a “jerk,” then I will gladly wear that badge with honor.

So, why am I opposed to dogs being put on display at a doggie kissing booth? The answer is quite simple. Unlike people dogs do not enjoy being kissed and hugged. Any qualified dog behavior consultant will tell you the same thing. In fact, kissing and hugging a dog, even by a child in its family, is often what initiates a dog bite. Putting dogs in a position to be hugged and kissed by complete strangers, in a carnival like atmosphere, is going to be extremely stressful to most dogs, further increasing the probability of a bite. That’s not smart, not kind and not something I would think any dog owner would knowingly do to a dog they truly cared about.

Secondly, but equally important, a doggie kissing booth sets a very poor example for children because it models, promotes and encourages inappropriate behavior by humans towards dogs.  Dog bites are a serious issue and Green Acres, like other pet care professionals throughout the country, works hard to educate children and their parents, teaching them how to and how not to interact with dogs. Do the organizers and supporters of events with a doggie kissing booth want to be responsible for a child being bitten in the future because that child saw adults kissing and hugging dogs at the event and therefore thought it is something that is okay to do?

Lastly, having a doggie kissing booth is a potential legal liability for the owner of the property where the event is being held, the organizers of the event and the individuals that are allowing their dogs to participate in the kissing booth. All would be wise to consult with their attorneys and insurance companies before participating in such a venture.

If you want to learn more about canine behavior, canine body language and appropriate human-canine interactions sign up for one Green Acres Kennel Shops dog training classes or seminars. You might also want to investigate the following books and web links.

 

On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals, Turid Rugaas, Dogwise Publishing, 2006, An excellent book on understanding a dog’s body language. Includes descriptions of how you can use your own body language to better communicate with your dog.

Stress in Dogs, Martina Scholz and Clarissa von Reinhardt, Dogwise Publishing, 2007, This book outlines the physiology of stress in dogs, signs of stress, and how to make your dog’s life less stressful. It emphasizes that more activity and involvement in dog sports is often not the answer to reducing stress in dogs but can be a major contributing factor. This book is a must read for anyone with an anxious or hyper dog.

The Other End of the Leash – Why We Do What We Do Around Dogs, Patricia B. McConnell, Ph.D., Ballantine Books, 2002, An information-packed, immensely readable book. In it you will learn how to have a better relationship with your dog through better communications. Dr. McConnell clearly explains the manners in which dogs and their people communicate.

Calming Signals – Turid Rugaas –  http://en.turid-rugaas.no/calming-signals-photos.html

Poster – Body Language of Fear in Dogs – Dr. Sophia Yin –  http://info.drsophiayin.com/free-poster-on-body-language-in-dogs/

Poster – How Kids Should and Should Not Interact with Dogs – Dr. Sophia Yin –    http://info.drsophiayin.com/download-free-poster-how-kids-and-pets-should-not-interact/

Poster – How to correctly greet a dog – Dr. Sophia Yin  –  http://info.drsophiayin.com/how-to-correctly-greet-a-dog-free-poster/

Video – How Kids Should Greet Dogs – Dr. Sophia Yin  http://drsophiayin.com/resources/video_full/dog-bite-prevention-how-kids-should-greet-dogs?

Video – Why Dogs Bite and What to Avoid – Dr. Sophia Yin –  http://drsophiayin.com/resources/video_full/dog-bite-prevention-psa-why-dogs-bite-and-what-to-avoid

Book Review – Smooch Your Pooch – Dr. Sophia Yin –  http://drsophiayin.com/blog/entry/smooch-your-pooch-a-cute-childrens-book-with-unsafe-suggestions

 

©2015, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved <Click for Copyright and Use Policy>

Dog Training – Biting and Bite Thresholds

OBJECTIVE: To teach your dog to have a gentle bite that does not hurt, if he ever makes mouth contact with you or any other person.

No matter how much training you do and how gentle your dog is, under certain circumstances any dog can be provoked to bite. Biting is an act of defense for a dog; it is often an instinctual response to specific situations. There are a variety of reasons that a dog may bite and contrary to popular belief, few bites are committed by “aggressive” dogs.

All dogs have what is referred to as a bite threshold. A bite threshold can be either low, high or anywhere in between and is individual for every dog and will be variable depending on what else is happening in the dog’s environment at that particular time. The best way to think of this threshold is to equate it to the “snapping point” in people. Some individuals are more tense and quicker to react in a situation than others. Virtually everything going on in the world around them will contribute to where a dog is at that given moment in time in relation to their bite threshold.

Hypothetically, a dog with a very high threshold (less reactive) who is well socialized, well fed, well rested and just kicking back around the house playing a bit and being petted will typically be unlikely to bite the mailman, unless the simple presence of the mailman puts this dog over threshold. The same dog, that is hungry, tired from all of the company that has been visiting, sore from the extra exercise and whose routine has been completely thrown out of whack would be more likely to bite that same mailman. All of these factors play into where the individual dog is at on the continuum. As humans, this should be pretty easy to understand; if we have had a bad day and have a headache, we tend to be grumpier than usual. With this in mind, we believe that it is important to first help a dog learn to inhibit their bites before we work on teaching them to not bite at all. The ultimate goal is that if your dog is ever put in a situation where he/she feels a need to defend itself, it will inflict only a minimal amount of damage.

Bite Inhibition

We strongly discourage the use of traditional methods to teach puppies to not bite. These include, but are not limited to scruff shakes, cuffing the puppy under the chin, pinching their lips against their teeth and even the infamous “alpha wolf rollover.” Often people find that when using these methods the puppy bites harder, becomes fearful of hands around its mouth and head and damages the trust the puppy has in its guardian. Aggression on our part results in more aggression from the puppy. The method we describe below works very differently. With this method you can minimize biting and any damage if your dog should ever be placed in a situation where it feels it has no choice but to bite.

Your puppy, even at its young age, has strong jaws and sharp teeth. As your puppy matures, its jaws will only become more powerful. An adult dog has jaws and teeth that are fully capable of ripping apart a carcass and cracking bones. Dogs developed such well-built apparatus because they needed them to survive in the wild.

Dogs are very social animals and because their jaws are such an incredible and potentially dangerous weapon, they have created a ritualized form of aggression to prevent serious injury to one another during altercations. Every puppy is born knowing how to bite; yet they do not automatically know how to bite softly. They can however learn to bite softly through their interactions with other puppies, dogs and us. However, learning how to control their bite with other dogs helps them with other dogs. If you want them to learn how to control their bite with people, you need to teach them.

When we see a litter of puppies playing, we see them exploring one another with their paws and their mouths. This play is fun for the puppies, but it is also an important part of learning. Much of their play involves biting one another. This play is part of how they acquire the skills necessary for ritualized aggression.

While puppies are playing with one another, they are also learning bite inhibition – how to control the strength of their bite. When two puppies are wrestling and one bites the other too hard, the puppy that has been bitten will yelp or snark and stop playing. The puppy that did the biting has just learned that if he bites too hard, his littermate stops playing with him. Eventually the one that was bitten too hard will return to play and the biting puppy will have learned to have a softer mouth. When we take a puppy away from its litter, we also are removing it from a school where it learns much about bite inhibition. If taken into a home without other dogs, and if its new people do not allow play biting, the puppy will no longer have opportunities to learn how to inhibit its bite. This is a huge issue for puppies that are taken from mom and the litter prior to reaching eight weeks of age.

Unfortunately, many outdated dog-training books actively discourage play biting. They infer that if the dog is allowed to play bite it will think of you as a littermate and will try to dominate you. In reality, play biting is an important part of your puppy’s development and something that should be worked with, not against, if you want your puppy to develop a soft mouth. Our goal is to teach the puppy to inhibit this natural canine behavior before they are adults and can cause serious injury.

It is also important to understand that “play biting” is a very different behavior than “chewing” While you dog uses their teeth as part of both behaviors one involves mouthing a living, breathing playmate that will react and interact while the other involves gnawing on an inanimate object that does not interact. This is why giving the dog a toy when they are play biting does not typically stop the play biting behavior.

Teaching Bite Inhibition

It is important to setup opportunities to teach your puppy bite inhibition instead of just trying to teach them when a bite happens. Pick times when the puppy is not all wound up but is more relaxed. If the puppy is in the midst of “the puppy zoomies*” when you try to teach this they are likely to bite harder and are less likely to learn.

*Puppy Zoomies – those times during the day, usually early morning and early evening, when your puppy runs around with great gusto and enthusiasm, almost as if they are possessed.

When teaching bite inhibition, you want to initially target the hard bites. Setup a play area for yourself and the puppy. Make sure that there is absolutely NOTHING in this area that the puppy can play with other than you. No other people, dogs, toys or anything they can mouth. Play with your puppy allowing him to mouth your hands while monitoring the pressure of his bites.

  1. When the puppy bites too hard, say “ouch” as if he really hurt you. This word will become the conditioned stimulus which the puppy learns to mean “playtime ends.” Note: you want to use the same word every time, as does everyone else in the family. Some puppies may be overly stimulated by a “yelp” so you may need to tone down the volume.
  2. Immediately stop play and get up and leave the area for 30 seconds. You must completely ignore the puppy. Do NOT look at, touch or speak to the puppy, just walk away. Make sure the puppy has no toys or other people they can interact with. We are teaching the puppy that when they bite too hard their friends leave and ALL of the fun in the universe comes to a screeching halt.
  3. After 30 seconds return and resume play. When the puppy eventually bites too hard again (and he most likely will), repeat steps 2 and 3.

The above cycle will need to be repeated several times for the puppy to learn. Every day or so you will reduce the amount of pressure you tolerate so that in time your puppy learns that you have very soft skin and he can only mouth you very gently. Think of this like the 1 to 10 pain scale used by doctors. On day one you yelp at 10, day two at 9, and so on. Be careful of moving to a soft pressure too quickly. If your criteria are too high, you are setting your puppy up to fail.

If you try teaching bite inhibition and it turns into the “puppy zoomies,” quietly and with much positive energy, pop your puppy in their crate for a brief timeout.

Some puppies will follow you and nip at your heels and clothes when you stop play. If this is the case, the bite inhibition exercises should be done with the puppy on a leash that is tethered to something like a table so the puppy cannot follow you.

The amount of time it takes your dog to learn how much pressure is okay will vary from dog to dog. The retrieving breeds generally pick this up quite quickly as they have been bred to have very soft mouths. Who wants to have their duck brought back all full of holesJ. On the flip side, it may take a bit more time to help your terrier become soft-mouthed.

Children should not participate in the bite inhibition training. While children and dogs often become the best of friends, young children frequently send dogs all the wrong signals. They scream, flail their limbs, run and fall down. All of these behaviors trigger your dogs hard-wired prey drive as they are essentially the same thing wounded prey would do. If the puppy gets too revved up, a timeout is necessary for both the puppy and the kids.

NOTE: If bite inhibition training was not started when your dog was a puppy (between 8 and 12 weeks), it may not work as well as you would like. If this is the case, please talk with one of the instructors for other ideas on handling biting issues.

Related Podcasts

Available as a podcast at: http://traffic.libsyn.com/woofmeowshow/WoofMeowShow-2013-01-12-TYDM_Playbiting_Chewing.mp3

 

©2015, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved <Click for Copyright and Use Policy>