Have you ever been told “YOUR DOG JUST BIT ME”?  In all honesty,  I believe the owner of the dog that bites feels much worse than the person who has been bitten and is yelling.  I am not talking about a bite that requires stitches, but a level one bruise with the front teeth.  I understand the yelling is to make the owner feel bad, but trust me, the owner is already upset and wondering if they are going to be able to keep their beloved furry friend with those sweet eyes.

Relaxing with guests in the house

When we choose to own a dog that we fear may bite someone, we need to first manage our dog so he cannot get himself into trouble.  But, many dogs get worse when only management is used.  For example, every time a guest arrives, Fido gets abandoned to the back bedroom, can you imagine being put in a room with a Grizzly Bear right on the other side of the door?  How would you feel?   Sure, when you open the door Fido will run through the house to see if the scary strangers are anywhere lurking, just to make sure he is safe and will not be ambushed and eaten! 

How sad is it that this Fido lives in real fear of the unknown stranger?  While many dogs can be socialized later in life with people and kids, there are some who just do not seem to improve.  Maybe your training is going too fast for the dog to cope, maybe you are changing the stimuli too often, maybe you are changing the environment too often, maybe your dog does not know how to relax, maybe he does not see you as his protector, maybe he has protected himself before using a snap and it worked. Maybe he is becoming more sensitized then desensitized.

Have you considered this scenario?  A mother dog is about to give birth, she is stressed and confined but hears scary noises nearby so she barks to warn off any intruders. Studies suggest her pups may feel her stress even before she gives birth.  Imagine the pups that are born in an empty lot, under a car, and all they hear for hours upon hours is their mother barking in frantic attempts to keep the humans away from coming near her or her litter.   These pups are more likely to grow up believing humans are something to be feared because their mother said so and she knows best.

Owning a dog who greets every new person in a defensive manner with a low growl, rapid barking, or lunging and snapping is certainly not for everyone.  But what if you have fallen for those sweet eyes already? Using management that feels good to the dog, counter conditioning in a positive way,  teaching our dogs to relax on cue, learning to understand your dogs body language when he needs space and talking to your vet about medication are all tools we use to help our dogs cope and stay safe. Remember: a dog that feels safe and less threatened, is also less defensive and less likely to bite!

Now ask yourself, would YOU go sky diving, bungee jumping, climb Mt. Everest, become a vegetarian,  give a speech on the fiscal cliff?  Why not?  Personally, I have my own fears like swimming in the ocean, I am terrified of drowning.  Yet, we push our dogs to do things that terrify them because we have some fantasy that our dogs must be perfect.  We are not and neither are they, so helping them feel safe and cope with their fears is better than thinking we need to change who they are.