Understanding Dog Bite Behavior or Don’t Blame the Dog When it Bites

Understanding Dog Bite Behavior or Don’t Blame the Dog When it Bites

Don't blame the dog when it bites.

Of all the dog bites that occur in the U.S., children are most often the victims. Did you know that when a dog bites, it’s usually due to human error and not because the dog is vicious? How you interact with dogs has a direct bearing on your safety.

As a Grandmother of seven and the owner of two dogs, I care very much about helping to keep you and your children safe around dogs. I would also like to lessen the number of dogs who suffer the ultimate consequence by unnecessarily and unfairly paying with their lives just because they’ve bitten. My focus will be on the most common reasons a dog bites (which may be quite different from you might think) and tell you how you can help yourself and your children to be safer around dogs.

Puppies are not born vicious any more than human babies are. A dog that can be fairly labeled as being aggressive is one that behaves aggressively with all humans and other animals the majority of, if not all the time and would handle every situation in an aggressive manner. There is also an extremely rare disorder known as “Rage Syndrome” which so far studies show is linked to genetics and other medical factors. The chances of encountering a dog with either of these issues in your lifetime are slim as are the chances of experiencing a dog bite in which the dog should be declared vicious and put down as a consequence. The “once a biter always a biter” is simply not true and dogs do not “thirst for blood” after they have tasted it. Even the friendliest of family pets may bite under the right circumstances but that doesn’t mean it’s become vicious or any more unsafe to be around than it was before it bit. In other words, just because a dog bites does not mean they’ve morphed into Cujo.

Generations of humans believe that that when a dog bites, it’s dangerous and should be euthanized. In most cases this could not be farther from the truth. If a normally easy going person with a “never hurt a fly” personality were to step outside their usual character and punch someone, this person is not then automatically considered violent just as one bite does not mean the dog should be labeled vicious.

There is a huge difference between a dog bite and a dog attack. The two phrases are not interchangeable and although some of the dynamics are similar they are also different and much more involved than I will go into. I do believe that if more people practiced solid dog safety, we could cut down on the number of dog attacks as well but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

It’s NOT the Breed or the Size its the BEHAVIOR

If a Rottweiler bares his teeth and growls he’s considered aggressive. If a four pound Yorkshire Terrier bares his teeth and growls he’s considered cute. Why the double standard? Growling and showing teeth is a dog behavior on which breed and size has no bearing. The Yorkie going crazy at your living room window when someone passes by is no different than the Rottweiler going crazy at your window. Granted, the Rottie can do more damage and is much scarier but the behavior is the same. People quite readily excuse little dogs from aggressive behavior while the big dog displaying the same behavior is considered vicious.

Neither the size nor the breed of the dog matters when it comes to practicing dog safety. A dog bite is a dog behavior most often resulting from fear and/or an attempt to protect itself or its family. Any breed of any size is not only capable of biting but will bite under the right circumstances. The circumstances may not make one bit of sense to us humans, but they make perfect sense to the dog and this is quite often what humans fail to realize when a dog bites.

FEAR is the #1 REASON a Dog Bites

A common name for this is “fear biting” or “fear aggression.” A fearful dog is a dangerous dog. Do not believe for one minute that every dog gives a signal such as a warning growl before striking. The truth is that most dogs strike silently, without warning and they’re fast as greased lightning. You have hands, feet and the ability to think and reason to help you fight off danger; a dog has but one thing … his teeth. If you’re afraid or in danger you’re going to use every weapon at your disposal and so will a dog. You are not euthanized for protecting yourself, but millions of dogs are every day.

There IS A REASON for Every Bite

After a dog bites its natural for both owner and victim to say things like “I don’t understand, there was no reason for the dog to bite.” They’re confused, scared, angry, hurt and totally thinking of the incident like a human which is exactly why they don’t get it!

Dogs do not bite just to bite. In the dog’s mind there was a valid reason to bite. In order for humans to understand what and why it happened for what it really is, they need to first understand dog behaviors and how a dog perceives and relates to people and situations. Notice I did not say “how a dog thinks” because dog’s don’t “think” like you and I do. There is ALWAYS a valid reason the dog has bitten but you cannot determine or understand it by thinking as a human.

The HUMAN FACTOR

Here’s the part that most people won’t like, don’t understand and definitely do not want to hear. Humans are responsible for most dog bites whether it be the dog’s owner, the victim or both. Like it or not, if you or your child suffers a dog bite it’s the victim and/or the dog’s owner who opened the door for it to happen. It’s the same principal as “driver error” when there’s been an accident. Nobody meant for it to happen but the fact is that someone goofed. Someone wasn’t paying enough attention; they made a bad judgment call or any number of other factors play a part with the bottom line being human error. In order to keep people safer and save more dogs lives, people need to learn to:

  • Understand, accept and respect dogs for what they truly are before they are anything else. No matter how much we humanize them, dogs are animals first and foremost, always and forever.
  • Dog owners need to understand that dog behavior is not the same as dog training. Learn the differences between them and how to quickly recognize what is a behavior and what is a training issue and then follow through accordingly.
  • Dog owners need to understand that dog behavior is not the same as dog training. Learn the differences between them and how to quickly recognize what is a behavior and what is a training issue and then follow through accordingly.
  • Whether you own a dog or not, they’re a part of our lives and you will have contact with them. Make basic dog safety a part of your everyday life and teach it to your children.

Language & COMMUNICATION

Dogs are social animals that in most cases enjoy and thrive on human companionship but they communicate in the language of animals which is very different from the human language. Dog to dog interaction takes place first through smell then through eye contact (which includes very subtle signals to one another) and finally through hearing. Most humans don’t understand dog language or behaviors so they don’t see these signals nor can they translate them into human sense. Dogs can learn to respond to simple human commands but they don’t grasp the human language as we do. They actually respond more to the tone and sound of our voice than to the words we use.

Think of yourself visiting France without knowing the French language. Perceptions and visuals become a huge part of communicating with the French population. Miscommunication, misunderstood visuals and misconstrued perceptions due to the language barrier are very similar as to why human actions or reactions can lead to a bite or help keep it from happening.

FEARFUL Humans

If you’re afraid of dogs the best thing to do is to stay away from them. Even though your fear may not be apparent to the humans around you, dogs sense it which makes it unsafe for you to be near dogs. Fear is instability to some dogs and may make them uncomfortable or fearful. Remember that a fearful dog is dangerous to be around. If you’re afraid of something are you not going to try to protect yourself from it? Remember that no matter how domesticated dogs are, they are animals first before they are anything else and they may revert to survival mode in order to protect themselves which is no different from a human when faced with danger.

I encourage you to work towards ridding yourself of your fear because not only are dogs wonderful creatures but you’re safer around dogs if you are not afraid of them. Please don’t attempt to do this on your own nor with strange dogs. Get some help from a professional dog behaviorist (not to be confused with a dog trainer) and make sure the dog(s) you work with have a very calm personality. You don’t want to try to get over your fear of dogs with one that’s high strung, excitable or anxious. A certified service dog is a good choice. As an example of behavior before breed, some of the best service dogs are Pit Bulls! One of the Michael Vick dogs (a Pit Bull named Georgia) has become a fantastic service dog, which is just another example of how people misunderstand and misjudge dogs when they judge strictly by breed reputation. It’s not the breed that’s important it’s the behavior.

Parents who teach their children to fear dogs are actually putting their child in more danger. A fearful child is a target. Their fear will stress them and they are likely to make bad choices which only escalate the danger level. Children are actually safer if they’re not afraid of dogs and learn instead to respect and interact safely with them. What you teach them now they’ll carry with them into adulthood. Remember that living in fear of anything is no fun, so consider what you’re saddling your child with if you teach them to be afraid of dogs.

AVOID DIRECT EYE CONTACT with Dogs

Some dogs interpret direct eye contact as a threat or confrontation and will react to protect themselves. One dog staring at another dog is a potential dog fight waiting to happen. Aren’t you uncomfortable when someone stares at you? So is a dog.

Young children have a normal tendency to stare and their height puts them at dog level. These two things put children at a dangerous disadvantage when encountering a dog that’s reactive to direct eye contact. If the child’s gaze happens to fall on a reactive dog’s face and particularly the dog’s eyes, this can be very dangerous. Most dog bites to children result in facial injuries.

If you see a child staring at a dog, do not speak to nor directly look at the dog. If the dog is leashed and can be safely removed from the area by its owner that’s perfect. But if that’s not possible then quietly and calmly divert the child’s visual attention off the dog. This will help to ease any threat the dog may perceive making the dog less likely to be a threat to the child. If you must speak to do this, keep your voice calm and in a low tone. An excited, nervous high pitched voice will excite the dog and the danger level. If there’s something handy that you could toss for the dog to play with like a ball for instance (but away from the child), this may help to redirect the dog’s attention and buy the opportunity to walk the child away from the situation. Walk calmly, do not run and do not pick the child up if at all possible. Picking up the child may make another target of the child because it may cause the dog to jump up on you and the child and the dog may try to grab at the child.

MEETING & GREETING a Dog

For your safety and protection and that of dogs everywhere, always ask the owner from a safe distance if it’s alright to meet their dog before approaching. If the owner grants permission then practice safety guidelines and any additional rules the dog’s owner requires when interacting with their dog.

Dogs meet first by smelling. It’s a common practice for people to stick their hand out for the dog to sniff and some are even looking directly in the dog’s face. This is like saying “Come on Fido, bite me!” How might you react if someone stuck their hand in your face and stared at you when you met them?

A safer way to meet a dog is to ignore the dog. Stand off-center or sideways with your arms and hands relaxed at your sides. This position tells the dog that you’re not a threat. The dog’s owner should sit or down their dog particularly if the dog is in an excited state. After you’re positioned in a non-threatening way and when (and only when) the dog is calm, the owner can then allow the dog to sniff you. Continue to ignore the dog as he approaches and sniffs; carry on a friendly conversation with the owner. Keep your voice calm and in a low tone. An excited voice excites a dog and an excited dog poses more of a bite threat than a calm one. When the dog and his nose have determined you are not a threat to them or their family they usually lose interest in active sniffing and then it’s safer to pet.

PETTING a Dog

If you are one to pet a dog on its head, stop this. Some dogs interpret a hand moving toward or down on their head as that they are going to be hit. The dog may become fearful and defensive because they perceive the human as a threat to their safety and so the potential for a bite increases.

Without leaning over the dog, pet under the chin or on the chest area and do not “thump” the dog. By thumping I mean slapping the dog on its side which seems to be popular with men. If you’re meeting a dog that came from an abusive situation thumping just might trigger some painful memories for the dog and he may react to protect himself. You may cause the dog pain or fear. I’ve seen some pretty heavy thumpers and I think how I would feel if someone would slap me on the back like that. I don’t like it, it stings!

HUGGING a Dog

Small children and teen-age girls love hugging and cuddling stuffed animals. What’s better than a stuffed animal? A live one of course! How many times have you seen an excited child run to a dog and hug it? I shudder every time I see this happen. Picture yourself being rushed by an excited stranger and hugging you. Are you uncomfortable? Don’t you feel a need to protect yourself?

Dogs don’t hug one another. Hugging is a comfort for the human not the dog. Like you, dogs have that “personal space” need and hugging invades these invisible boundaries. Although most dogs allow it without incident and many even appear to ask for it, dogs aren’t comfortable being hugged. Most humans don’t see the emotional discomfort hugging may cause a dog, even their own, because a dog calming itself is not obvious to the human eye.

MOVING FAST in the Presence of Dogs

This section is particularly important for children and sports minded people like joggers and bicyclists because this has to do with fast movement in the immediate vicinity of a dog.

Running towards a dog may cause him to interpret the runner as a threat and he may bite to protect. Running away from a dog may trigger any number of interpretations to the dog but a big one is prey drive. Prey drive is an instinct which is stronger in some dogs than others. Instincts cannot be trained out of a dog and this is one exception to behavior over breed where breed holds some importance.

Some breeds are bred for prey driven activities. Yorkies were originally bred for catching rats in clothing mills in the 1800’s. Australian Shepherds (Aussies) have herding in their genetic makeup. To help humans understand this, dogs relate to catching rats and herding sheep as their jobs. To some dogs, fast moving objects are something that needs to be caught, taken down or corralled. In the dog’s mind he’s only doing the job he was bred to do. Think about it, neither of these jobs can be done gently. A dog’s mouth and teeth essentially become their hands and a human may get bitten and the dog declared vicious and maybe even put down for doing his job.

STEPPING OVER a Dog

Most of us are guilty of this one. Never step over any dog including your own. Not only are you invading their personal space but you could be mid-stride and the dog could suddenly get up, knocking you over. You could misstep, lose your balance and land on your dog which might not only injure your dog but you as well. This will most definitely startle the dog at the very least and startling, scaring or hurting a dog may result in a bite. If someone sneaks up behind you and goes “Boo!” don’t you just want to slap them?

MEDICAL REASONS a Dog May Bite

There are a number of medical conditions that might cause a dog to act in ways that concern you and/or lead to a bite. Dogs can’t tell us when they’re not feeling well and they are experts at hiding pain and suffering just as a matter of survival. There are breeds, sizes and even shapes of dogs that are prone to various different ailments such as Hypothyroidism which may cause a dog to display inappropriate aggressive behavior. A simple blood test can diagnose Hypothyroidism and the medication for it is very inexpensive.

Please make sure to have your dog checked by a vet if it displays unexpected or inappropriate aggressive behavior. You may save someone from being bitten and you may save your dog’s life.

I hope I’ve been able to give you some tips on how to help keep yourself and your children more safe in the presence of dogs. I also hope that I’ve been able to show you that there are many reasons a dog may bite and that the instance of a dog being truly dangerous because it’s bitten is almost non-existent. Most bites can be prevented just by people educating themselves and their children. Dog owners need to educate themselves in the language and behaviors of dogs and get a little training or behavior modification help if you have concerns your dog may bite.

207 Comments

  1. Diane says:

    English Springer Spaniel Elliot.I have had him since he was a puppy. He was great went everywhere with us everyone loved him.after he was about a year and a half old he changed.Couldnt take him in the car any more,when anyone came near the car he would bark growl and bit at us.Then he got so he would go crazy if anyone knocked on the door he would bite at anything that was near. My kids would come visit i would have to put him outside because they were afraid of him.Then it got so he wouldnt go outside he would growl try to bite.Then he wouldnt let us outside he would bite at us.He sleeps in my bed ,if i move my feet and bump him he trys bitting them.He has bit me a few times causing me to have stitches 3 times twice in the leg.And just the other night i was going to sleep and must have touched him he bit my finger and thumb I had to have my thumb stitched I lie and say i cut myself.I think I might have to start going to a different hospital I dont want Elliot to get in trouble.I dont know what to do I know he isnt normal it is like something happens in his head and goes crazy.I love his so much but he is going to hurt someone other than me one day.I cant brush him,cant bath him cant put a muzzle on him it breaks my heart

    • Mom says:

      Hi Diane,

      This may not be behavior related but rather health related. When your dog’s behavior changes like this the first things you look for is health and physical problems. You need to get Elliot to the vet and have him checked out completely. A full physical including blood work, urine the whole nine yards. I’d have the vet do blood work to have his thyroid checked and ask him about any other physical conditions that might bring on this kind of behavior. Hypothyroidism can trigger aggression for example.

      I’d also ask the vet to check him over well for physical conditions that may be causing him pain which would then account for his grouchy demeanor. Neurological disorders of some types can cause this kind of behavior so I would take him to a neurology vet.

      I hope that helps, best of luck to you, your family and Elliot.

  2. Robyn says:

    Hi there, I’m hoping you might be able to help!
    I have a two year old springer/lab cross, male. This weekend he gave me a bit of a scare. I came into my home late at night, into the room where he was sleeping, and he started barking aggressively at me. When I tried to calm me down he snarled and went to bite. I understand that I woke and upset him, so left the room and thought no more of it. However two days later I went into him in the morning, the usual ritual to let him outside and to feed him. He was in bed, wagging his tail, and I went to pet him, but again, he snapped, catching onto my sleeve. Nothing like this has ever happened until now. I always got on so well with him, never any issues. He used to love being petted in his bed.
    I was interested to see that you shouldn’t look a dog in the eye, or try to pet his head, does this apply to your own dog too?
    Could really do with some help as I am now afraid of him, and nervous around him, and am afraid he will pick up on my emotions and become even more aggressive towards me. I live at home with my family (mam, dad, brother) and he doesn’t seem different with and of them.
    Kind regards,
    Robyn.

    • Mom says:

      Hi Robyn,

      Your comments lead me to believe there’s some kind of medical issue going on with your pup. A sudden change in behavior like this usually means there’s something physically and/or mentally wrong with the dog. I would take him to the vet and get a complete physical which includes a blood test for his thyroid levels, hypothyroidism can make a dog aggressive for example but so can other medical conditions.

      I found it very strange that you entered your house and you had to physically go to the room your dog was sleeping in and wake him up. That’s very very strange to me. Most dogs would be at the door greeting their owner if they recognize the sound of the owner’s car as most do. I can’t get in the door without moving my three out of the way they crowd me so much. Most dogs also will get up and go see whatever the noise is they’re hearing of someone is entering their home which leads me to think he needs his hearing checked thoroughly.

      Then there’s the thought of you having seemingly startled him so his eyes need to be checked, he may not be seeing everything coming due to an eyesight issue.

      Some dogs are extremely sensitive to the direct eye contact thing, so to error on the side of caution I’d have to say yes … even your own dog. I can stare Riley down and he won’t do anything but he does display stressed behavior such as licking his lips and panting harder. He will most often turn away from me and give me his butt for a what we call “butt scrubs” at our house rather than have me hovering over his head.

      Best of luck!

  3. Downs says:

    Looking for options . . . Our 6 year old dog just recently bit a child on the palm, drawing blood. We absolutely know he is a highly anxious dog, but usually calm and fun loving in our yard with our children and others. Other than a couple dogs visiting our own home, he does NOT interact well with other dogs. Very aggressive in those situation, especially when out of his “comfort zone” (home). Cannot interact with dogs or humans when he is leashed for a walk. Even when we have had to take him to the vet, he’ll snip out of fear, then lick their hand. Very anxious.
    We would love to keep him and help him work through this, but it’s just not an option for our family. We have 3 young kids, and kids and families that visit often. He is 90 pounds, and not just a little dog you can crate out of the way during visits. We want to find a good option for him, but do not know where to start. He could be a great dog for someone. (He sees me as mom, and will still sit on my lap if I sit on the floor). We just cannot take the risk of a severe thing happening to one our children. Do you have any ideas for us on how to connect with someone that could accept him into their home/farm?

    • Mom says:

      Hi Downs,

      I can understand your concern but I’m still very sorry you feel he needs to leave. I always hate to see people give up on their dogs and turn them and their problems over to someone else. He’s been with you 6 years and a new home will be very stressful for him and making his behavior worse is likely.

      It doesn’t matter what size a dog is, confining doesn’t always mean a crate, it could be an entire room and even if it did mean “crate only” there is quite a variety of different sized crates available and then there are gates as well along with basements and garages. Our biggest is just under 80 lbs and we have a crate that suits her just fine and would hold a larger dog nicely. I understand everyone’s situation is different but in comparison … our Riley doesn’t always do well with other dogs either, but we deal with it by taking safety precautions and we don’t allow him around small children. It works for us.

      Have you tried a muzzle for stressful vet and/or visitor times?

      He does well with your children and some other dogs, that’s our Riley, too. Why are you worried he’s going to harm your children if he does so well with them?

      Have you looked hard at what you’re feeding your boy? Many commercial dog foods can contribute to or even cause this kind of behavior. Have you had his thyroid checked and a complete physical?

      But if you have your mind made up I know I can’t change it. Know this … if you take him to a shelter he’s pretty much got a sure death sentence hanging over his head. You can try a specific breed rescue meaning a rescue that deals with your breed of dog. If they can’t take him in they may allow you to put him on their website as a courtesy listing with you handling all the adoption work. They may know someone that is looking for a dog like yours and has the experience to deal with his issues.

      Please, please do NOT put him on Craig’s list or offer him free to anyone at all! Horrific things come to dogs on Craig’s list and other like-lists, such as dogs winding up as bait for fighting dogs or falling into the hands of people who torture animals. Be up-front and honest with anyone who’s interested in bringing him into their home, it’s not fair to your dog or his new family to not know what his issues are.

      Know that even if the perfect person or family come along, your dog is going to have a hard time adjusting. You can’t expect him to live for six years with his family and not have trouble in new surroundings especially since he already is uncomfortable outside his home base.

      We wish your boy all the luck in the world and if you re-home him, that you’ll take your time and wait until someone comes along that he is comfortable with.

  4. Jack Graves says:

    I have a Rescue female doberman. She is very protective. She does not like people just walking into the house she will growl and bark until she knows that that person is OK. She has never bitten anyone until today. My friend who she has never met came over to visit me. She nipped at him when he went out my sliding glass door and he pet her outside and told her he was a nice guy you know how people talk to dogs like their human. When he came in from the back door back into the house she immediately went for his upper thigh and bit through his pants and scratched his top layer of skin under his pants. She has never shown this aggression and never just went up to bite someone. I’m confused and scared for others that come over now

    • Mom says:

      Hi Jack,

      You may not be too crazy about my answer but I’ve warned readers numerous times that people who write for help may not like what they hear and that I’m not one to sugar coat a whole lot when it comes to dogs, their care and safety. You hit a nerve or two with your story. Your post leads me to believe that you don’t lock your doors and people come and go as they wish so that’s what I’m going with.

      It just boggles my mind that anyone would leave their doors open so that anyone and everyone can walk into their house. I have three German Shepherds and I still lock all the doors no matter what time it is. Although they’re protective breed dogs, I feel it’s my job to protect them and I hope I never wind up with myself or them in a position of having flip the switch to protect mode. A dog is no match for those who carry guns and knives, I’m sure you’ve seen tragedies in the news where even trained police K9’s are killed by the bad guy’s and their weapon(s). I much prefer it if my dogs alert me to danger with enough time for me to call the police so they can come and do their job and I have that with my dogs.

      Where I work we have no sympathy for people who leave their homes, cars, sheds, barns … whatever … unsecured and then call the police to report something bad happened. Some leave valuables in plain site in their vehicles. What self respecting crook isn’t going to take advantage of that? When these people report it, some are surprised it happened to them. Some are indignant as “How DARE someone enter MY property!” or “This is insert name of small town here, these things should not happen here. We moved from insert name of big city here to get away from crime!” Wake up folks, crime is everywhere! Some blame the police for not watching their house or neighborhood. In every one of these scenarios our silent response is: “Really? You’ve got to be kidding me!” Get real, there isn’t a city in the world with enough cops to sit on every single residence in their jurisdiction and it is not the fault of the police that you left your property open to begin with. Bad people look for easy targets, the easier the better and people that leave their property open make themselves targets by handing the bad guys opportunities on silver platters.

      Your girl is a Dobie, a protective breed dog and one that you already know is very protective. She’s been doing her job telling you over and over and over again she doesn’t like people just walking into the house but you didn’t listen to her warnings. No matter who comes into your house they are *not* ok unless *you* invite them in and your dog *sees* you invite them in and you perform a proper meet & greet. If you don’t know what that is read my How to Meet a Dog. Up to this point this person is an intruder even if they’ve visited you before. By not heeding her warnings you allowed this to escalate to the point where your friend got bit. I know that’s harsh but it is what it is, you needed to listen to your dog and have a handle on this a long time ago.

      It sounds like this is making her uncomfortable and anxious which stresses her out. My feeling is that as long as you have an open door policy you’re putting your dog in a bad situation not to mention yourself, your family and your dog in danger. Your girl should not be determining who’s ok to walk in and who’s not, that’s your job. When she decided that she didn’t want this guy in the house she disallowed it — translation she bit him. Yes, dogs have instincts but that doesn’t mean they should be given the responsibility to make adult decisions. On the other hand it’s possible her instincts said this guy is not ok. Dogs have the mental capacity of a 2-3 year old child, are you going to let your toddler be in charge of your door? I didn’t think so, then don’t let your dog.

      Some dogs have trouble determining what’s really danger and what isn’t which makes them unpredictable and volatile. What for sure this comes from I don’t know and could be any one or more numerous possibilities. Perhaps they have an unknown neurological problem or hypothyroidism, maybe they’re reacting out of fear whether it’s misplaced or not, perhaps they were taken away from Mom too soon and so they didn’t learn valuable social skills, perhaps you or the previous owner didn’t socialize her enough, or in the case when we don’t know our dog’s history we have no idea what they may have lived through that may have traumatized them. The list goes on. You must also remember that a dog’s perceptions are very different from human perceptions. What your dog perceives as danger may not match your own perception and she’s going to jump to her conclusion and react faster than you can blink your eye.

      My suggestion is that you first start locking your doors so that you have to physically answer it and keep your dog away from the door until you get the next part worked out successfully. Next pick a spot away from the door but in the same room or close enough she can see what goes on at the door. I like to gate ours near the door but not close enough to cause any damage to visitors. They can see everything but they can’t join us until I open the gate. Choose a command to teach her this is her spot. Something like, “bed” or “corner” or “rug” or whatever works. It doesn’t matter what command you choose what matters is that your dog learns it means it’s her spot. Once you have that down pat, teach her to go to her spot when someone knocks on the door and to stay there until she’s calm and you invite her to meet your guest.

      Your guest should not look at the dog, they should be looking at you and you both should be ignoring the dog except for of course you have to watch to make sure she doesn’t break the rules by leaving her spot. Give your girl some time to adjust to your friend in the house and to become calm before you proceed to the meet & greet. Generally this takes 5-10 minutes. The rest of the information you need is in my article that I’ve already linked above in this response.

      I really feel you need to take charge here in several ways and that you can turn things around with some proper training, management and common sense.

    • Alfredo says:

      I have a dog and his name is Borrego, witch translates to sheep in english, because of his poofy hair. And he has never showed any type of aggression towards anyone!! And today, I had reason to believe that his leg was hurt and I decided to check it out. So with the most caution possible, I moved him and he suddenly lashed out and he caught my lip and gashed it pretty badly. I’m not saying that he is vicious but I was wondering if it was because I hurt his leg and his natural instincts made him act to defend himself? He is a great dog and I need a little help. I don’t want to euthanize him or anything of the sort, but can I get some advice or input? Thanks

      • Mom says:

        Hi Alfredo,

        Some dogs will most definitely behave in this manner if they are injured or in pain and it doesn’t matter if it’s your own dog or someone elses. Your dog was in pain and very scared, this is normal behavior for some dogs and doesn’t make your dog vicious or aggressive. Remember, the #1 reason a dog bites is fear and I personally include being in pain. I hope you got immediate veterinary care for him and that he’s ok now.

        I honestly believe that none of my dogs would ever bite me under normal circumstances, however in a situation such as yours I would have first muzzled the dog to prevent injury to myself. I really don’t think my own dogs would bite me under emergency circumstances either but unless put to the test I will never know so better to be safe than sorry. If the bite is bad the human injury is likely going to delay emergency veterinary care which could mean your dog’s life ends depending on the severity of the dog’s injury.

        If you don’t have a real muzzle you can take a nylon leash and wrap it around the dog’s muzzle ensuring it’s not so tight to do more injury but snug enough to keep him from being able to open his mouth. Here is a great video on how to muzzle a dog in an emergency. So, even if you don’t use nylon leashes, have one on hand in case you ever need to muzzle your dog. A good idea would be to practice this with your dog during non-emergent times so that he gets used to this and won’t freak out if it ever needs to be used for real.

        The nylon muzzle they show in this video is not one that I would recommend under an emergency situation They’re velcro and even though velcro is darn strong, some dogs are stronger especially if one is in a hurry and doesn’t secure it properly. The leash is much safer in my opinion. Riley has managed to wiggle out of one of these nylon muzzles.

        In addition to this my dogs have been taught the phrase “Mommy help you.” or “Mommy help.” and they understand from this that whatever the problem is, I will assist them because I use it often for things like when they’ve got their leash caught under them or around their leg, I use it when Riley wants up onto the bed and he can’t do this on his own anymore because of his hips so I tell him “Paws up, Mommy will help you.” and he puts his front paws on the bed and I lift his backend up on the bed. I use a calm voice when I say this even when it’s not an emergency so that they learn to and remain calm.

        Muzzling your dog in an emergency would be especially recommended if you’re getting help from other people (lifting an injured dog for example) which may freak the dog out even more and he could bite one or more people.

  5. Tess says:

    Question, can anyone help me. My dog is 8 she have never growled or bite anyone until a few months ago.
    now she’ll come lay her head on my lap, when I go to pet her she’ll grow. Yesterday morning I woke at she had gotten into my bed, I said hi Maddie and reached to pet her, she growled, so I pulled my hand back, as I did she lungged out an bite me. I dont know when she is behaving this way. We have never mistreated her, if anything she is spoiled. Does anyone have any answers for me.

    • Mom says:

      Hi Tess,

      Have you had your furkid to the vet for a complete physical? I don’t mean the perfunctory routine simple go-over either, I mean a complete physical. There are many physical and medical reasons a dog’s personality can change like this. I would get the vet-works on her, everything including a blood test for thyroid, and seriously … I’d have her eyes and ears checked by a specialist. For example, it’s possible at 8 years old her eyesight and/or hearing are no longer working at 100% and the growling and snapping could be the result of startling her. Hypothyroidism can cause aggression and there are other medical issues that can cause this kind of behavior and more. She could be in pain somewhere in her body.

      You also need to take a good hard look at what you’re feeding her. Allergies to commercial dog foods can cause some unpredictable and serious problems, too. She could have an underlying skin irritation that you don’t see but is painful or irritating to her. Dogs are more likely to have allergies to foods that contain grains than grain-free. If you’re not feeding her raw but commercial dog food, please Google “grade your dog food” and you’ll get several websites on this. Here are a couple to get you started:

      An 8 year old dog that I’m assuming has lived with you for her entire life without this kind of behavior issue does not just suddenly behave like your dog is without a good reason. If you find out she’s not got any medical issues that would cause this kind of behavior *then* you need to dig deeper.

      I feel like a broken record because I say this so often when people ask for help. Always always always get your dogs a complete physical before assuming something like this is strictly a behavior issue.

  6. kat says:

    Hi there I enjoyed reading this post but I have a thing that I would like to share. I have a 7/8 year old mix breed looks like terrier and Rottweiler i think. Here is the problem shes lovely around the people she knows but there are times when she will go up to someone and sniff them and then out of the blue if the person goes to pet her she will snap. also I was walking along with her on the lead and she went up to this person and the person was going to pet her on the head and again out of the blue went for the person luckily she has never bitten anyone has only snapped but i worry that she might just take it to far. any ideas.

    By the way she did come from a shelter and could of had problems from the previous owners. shes just always been a little unpredictable even around other dogs she gets on with bigger dogs than her but if any dog that is small or to bouncy comes up to her she always snaps.
    Thanks

    • Mom says:

      Hi Kat,

      The key here in my opinion is that people are trying to pet her on the head. This is not a place (especially for a stranger) to pet a dog. Some dogs see a hand coming towards them and feel threatened so they protect themselves. Your dog quite obviously (to me) is not comfortable being touched on her head and she’s letting people (and YOU!) know this. You are lucky she’s not bitten anyone.

      You need to step in and tell people that your dog is not comfortable being pet on her head. Please read my How to Meet a Dog article for more information and please protect your dog from all uncomfortable situations.

  7. Landen says:

    Hey my dog has nipped children and drawn blood and has nipped tall people too. She has also attacked a dog that my grandparents had and drew blood(when I mean attack i mean full on attack we had to strangle her to get her off). Do we need to give her to the human society or can we keep. Please help us.

    • Mom says:

      Hello Landen,

      I’m sorry Landen, but there isn’t nearly enough information here for me to give you any kind of opinion at all. I believe each bite/nip has a trigger and you haven’t given me any triggers to go on. Your dog sounds like he’s got some major issues that can sometimes be worked through but again, there just isn’t enough info here for me to give you a decent reply.

      It is not our place to tell you if you should keep your dog or not, there is no way I would make this decision for anyone. I suggest you read all the articles, blog posts and all the questions, answers and input related to your dogs specific issues, contact a breed rescue or two for your dog’s breed to see if they can give you any suggestions and then make your own decision which is going to be based significantly on how much you love your dog and are willing (or not) to help her.

      The dog to dog aggression is not abnormal, some dogs just don’t do well with other dogs and your solution to that is either working hard to socialize her with other dogs which is an extreme lot of work and can be dangerous for people unskilled in dealing with this or keeping her safely away from other dogs.

      In all likelihood giving her to the humane society will be a death sentence. A majority of humane societies don’t have the funding for bringing in help for dogs that have bitten. They also cannot adopt out a dog with a bite history.

  8. Tracy says:

    Hi, great article even after several years. I’m grateful there a place we dog lovers can go to find answers to our concerns. I adopted a 6-month puppy and he is now 14 months. He’s a pretty good natured dog but is a little fearful. Early training was a little hard, as I had to be mindful of my tone as he would become afraid easily. After some time he became to trust me and my family. He still gets frightened by people he doesn’t know though.
    About a month ago we were in the front yard (unfenced) playing fetch and my neighbor two houses down was working in her yard. My dog suddenly went after her, barking and growling and his hair was up. Thank goodness she didn’t show any fear of him and I was able to get him before he bit her (her was about 1 foot away from her.)
    Then today he had been playing at the next door neighbors house and I went to retrieve him and all of a sudden he did the same thing to a woman that lives across the alley. I couldn’t get him to come to me, it was like he was in a zone. This worm, however, showed fear and he got right up to her and I had to run and literally pull him away. This woman nor the other, posed any danger to either him or me. I know it was my fault and will need to keep him leashed. I have owned many dogs in my lifetime and have never had this problem until now. Can you shed some light onto this behavior? What would make an otherwise happy young dog act in such a way? I don’t know his breed for,sure, but the shelter said he is a coonhound mix, thought I’m not real sure about that. He has the markings of one, but ears more like Rott, henweighs about 35#

    • Mom says:

      Hi Tracy,

      Thank you for your compliments, I appreciate them very much but I must remind you that my answers come from my own research and experience. I’m not a certified dog behaviorist or a veterinarian so I’m only giving my thoughts and opinions. Please do not consider what I say to be 100% gold, ok? Nobody can nor should claim to guarantee a fix for any dog issue.

      Please please please do keep your dog leashed. An unleashed dog no matter how well behaved can be a hazard to other people and dogs. My article Don’t Make Me Spray Your Dog should give you some insight to this. And as you’ve already figured out the right trigger will make even the biggest “homebody” dog leave their yard and by doing so can they not only get hit by a car, unpredictable things can happen just like your recent experiences. At least around here you would certainly be held responsible had your dog hurt anyone because he was out of your control. Heck, he was out of control period!

      You must be one heck of a fast runner! Catching a running dog is definitely a losing proposition. In fact, it’s pretty much impossible. People just aren’t built to catch a running dog. My first thought on this is quite seriously … “If your dog really wanted a piece of those women he’d have had it.” There is no doubt in my mind on that one and I think your dog may have been acting crazy and scaring the living daylights out of these women but that he ran and then stopped just short of doing any damage. Aggressive behavior is not always followed by a bite, so he may have been acting aggressively but have great bite inhibition.

      It doesn’t matter how many dogs you’ve had, you are now dealing with this dog and that’s all that matters. Dogs are all individuals even if they were all the same exact breed and deserve to be treated and appreciated as individuals. We have three purebred German Shepherds and each one has a completely different personality from the others.

      In my opinion, something triggered your dog’s behavior, I believe there’s always a trigger. You were busy playing so you probably just didn’t see it which makes it extremely difficult to give you anything to go on. Even if you were monitoring your dog closely, it’s very difficult and sometimes impossible for us “untrained in dog behavior” humans to read the subtle almost invisible signals a dog displays and especially in time to react if necessary. When a dog has his mind set on something they’re pretty much in their own zone and it’s very difficult to snap them out of it. Just because your dog is normally a happy young dude doesn’t mean he doesn’t have another side to his personality and also doesn’t mean he’s no longer a happy young dog.

      At the very least, I would have his thyroid tested, hypothyroidism can produce some very bizarre aggressive behaviors. I would also have his sight tested. If there’s something going on with his vision that can also cause unpredictable and sometimes scary behaviors. I would also look very seriously at what you’re feeding him. A poor diet can also cause very unpredictable behaviors, he may be allergic to something in his food for example.

      I hate to see a dog chained up for long periods of time so please keep his tether time short and if you can it’s preferable to put up a nice high fence, 6 feet tall at least is the recommended height as far as I know. Keep anything in the yard he can use to launch himself over the fence out of the fenced area he’s got access to are my suggestions and do not tie him out in a fenced yard where he could hang himself trying to get over the fence.

  9. Cara says:

    Hello,
    I came across your page after feeling frustrated with some of my dog’s behavior. I read through older posts from owners about concern over their dogs biting and was really impressed at how caring and helpful you were (as well as your article that influenced all of the comments). I can only hope to get the same kind of support for my dog.

    My husband and I adopted a dog (the rescue said she’s part Chihuahua and part Corgi but it’s anyone’s guess!) named Shelby from a no-kill rescue center in Georgia about a year ago. We moved to Massachusetts (and took her with us of course) last July and although anxious at first (my sister in law came to the house to watch her for us soon after we moved and Shelby wouldn’t move or get off of the couch to eat or go to the bathroom until we came home the next day!), she now seems to be settling/adjusting well.

    However, our girl is very fearful (thunderstorms, fireworks, anything or anyone new really). Her typical response was to cower and tremble whenever faced with a new or “scary situation” but lately she’s been showing more signs of fear aggression. She used to act very odd at bedtime (wouldn’t look at us or interact and would not want to be touched) even though a few minutes beforehand she would play and cuddle with us in the other room. One time I noticed that she spit up near her bed (she sleeps next to us on the floor) but when I tried to clean it up and she snapped at me. Since then we’ve given her a treat in her bed so she can associate bedtime with positive things-that issue for now seems under control.

    Another time when she was sitting on the couch at night I tried to clean under her eyes (she had you know dried up eye-boogers there) and she bit my hand (sort of whirled around lightening fast and bit down) breaking the skin. I had cleaned near her eyes before (usually with a wet washcloth) without any incident so I didn’t think anything of it. I was really upset (it hurt!), confused, angry, frustrated (just like you posted in your article) and I automatically was afraid that because she bit me we wouldn’t be able to keep her (I grew up with the idea that bites are bad and it means there are problems you can’t solve). Since that incident I’ve stopped trying to clean her eyes and with the advice of my husband have resisted distancing myself from her out of fear, but now she’s been going after my ankles whenever I approach my husband when he’s sitting down. She’s only snapped at my husband once (he tried to take a bone away from her because it was making her gums bleed) but has snapped at me quite often. We both give her equal attention and affection and she seems to be bonded to both of us.

    She’s a really affectionate and loving girl and my husband and I have grown extremely attached to her. She hangs out with us on the couch, lives for belly rubs and loves our in-laws (after we had her “herd” them in our house so it was her decision to let them in and even then she gave them miffed barks whenever they got up to leave the room-but now excitedly barks and runs over to them for belly rubs-there’s hope right?!). We can’t imagine not having her as part of our family but we are concerned about not being able to know her triggers/understand what she’s going through so we can avoid provoking her. Money is an issue but we would be willing to get her professional training/socialization if any of this would help-we just don’t know what to do.

    Other helpful information: she has a fracture in her front leg and a bit of arthritis in her front knees because of it-she had the fracture when we adopted her (we didn’t know it until our vet pointed it out) and we were able to get her surgery with the help of the rescue. This tells us that she could have been abused-we don’t know her background and that she could frequently be in pain (we’ve visited the vet and tried to get her on some pain medication but the snapping/biting incidents are so unpredictable (to us) we don’t know what could be going on.

    Thanks in advance for reading this and for all of the ways you help dogs and their families.

    Cara

    • Mom says:

      Hi Cara,

      Thank you so much for your kind words, it’s nice to hear when people appreciate what I try to do to help people and their dogs. I’ll try to address your comments in order.

      First thing that comes to mind is that it’s a fact that little dogs are prone to bite quicker than big dogs and for more reasons. Thus the term “ankle biters” as you’re finding out. The smaller the dog the bigger the problem sometimes. I don’t know if your Shelby is more chi or corgi size but as I recall corgi’s are not all that big. Either way, try this … make a fist and hold it out in front of you and look at it. Then let your eyes begin to take in the surroundings … your fist seems pretty darn small doesn’t it? Now think of that in terms of your fist is a small dog and almost everything around them including and especially the humans are huge and perhaps overwhelming size-wise. Kinda scary isn’t it? They have to look up to everything that’s not at their eye level.

      Our Nissa has what we call “thunder phobia” because she’s afraid of thunder and fireworks and other similar sudden loud noises. I must have tried a dozen or more herbal/holistic calming “medications” for her. Until I found Pet Naturals for Calming none of them had any calming effect on her including the very popular Bach’s Rescue Remedy. So, this is a route you may want to take for helping calm her during stressful times. Please please please do not let your vet prescribe Ace for her. My article Why I Won’t Give My Dogs Acepromazine AKA “Ace” for Thunder-Phobia or Fireworks will tell you why. Now, keep in mind that probably no calming remedy is going to make her completely 100% calm, but you may find one that at least give her some obvious relief. You might also look at a Thundershirt for her. Although we didn’t have any luck with thundershirts, they are known to work for many many dogs. Our dogs loved wearing them, I think they felt all “snuggly” or something but we did send ours back because they unfortunately didn’t help our dogs.

      Sounds like the treat in the bed was a good idea, she may have been resource guarding her vomit feeling she left it there so it’s hers. Some dogs also like to eat vomit (gross!).

      If you’re walking quickly towards your husband when the ankle biting begins try slowing down your steps.

      As for cleaning up her eyes, when I have to clean our dogs eyes I call them to me and tell them “Come on, let’s wipe eyes!” in a happy voice letting them know what’s going to happen. They learned the phrase after just a few times so if you’re not announcing your intentions, try that. If the time you got nipped you perhaps startled her rather than giving her a bit of warning that would account for the bite. Maybe your cloth isn’t moist enough and it hurts or try to be a little more gentle taking a tad bit more time to accomplish the task. Those disgusting crusty things are usually stuck on the fur and the few hairs around the eyes and if they cloth isn’t damp enough removal can be painful. Think “plucking your eyebrows” and you probably know that’s painful. I would try wiping once or twice and treating her with some high value treats then walk away. Wiping the eyes doesn’t have to be done all at one time. If you show her that she gets yummies for allowing you to do this eventually you should be able to clean the eyes completely then treat her once at the end, but work into it slowly. Talk softly but confidently to her while you’re working.

      I think you probably both know that your hubby got nailed because he tried to take a bone away from a dog. I know it’s common for humans to give their dogs bones but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea, that’s just old very bad habit that’s been passed down the generations. I would like to ask you to please not give your dog cooked bones or Nylabones, both splinter and are very dangerous. If her gums are bleeding that’s an indication there are sharp edges and she’s cutting her gums on the bone. You can cure the gum bleeding and cut down on the resource guarding bites by just not giving her bones.

      I love the “herding the in-laws” into the house! Very creative!

      You may not know her triggers now, but learning dog triggers and behaviors (although not easy because many times they’re very subtle) can be done. The book On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals is a great place to start to learn to recognize when a dog is uncomfortable. I urge you to give it a try, it’s a simple quick read and an easy reference.

      Have you had her thyroid checked? Hypothyroidism can trigger sudden aggression.

      You may be very right on the possibility of previous abuse and because of her leg and knee issues I would suspect she is in pain which of course would be a contributing factor.

      Here are a couple of links that I feel would be beneficial to you. The first one is Victoria Stillwell’s article on resource guarding which is what I’m thinking is a major part of your dog’s issues. I would also follow up with more research into resource guarding. You might also want to look into Nothing in Life is Free.

      As always, we wish you luck and hope you get your special girl’s bad habits under control!

  10. Randy says:

    This article is very helpful and will hopefully help us with our Mastiff/Labrador mix, Bruno. When I am home Bruno is a completely different dog as compared to stories I hear from my wife and kids when I am not here. Bruno can get very excitable when people come to the door and at 115lbs that is a lot of excitement. When people enter he will walk over to greet them but when I’ve been here there has not been a ‘bite’ incident. While I am at work my wife has said on a few occasions when our kids’ friends stop by as they enter the house he will walk over nip their hand and walk away. He doesn’t rush over and after that he’s acts fine with them in the house. He has growled at others when they go to pet his face but has no problem with them petting his back. While I am here he is a lot more docile and I have never witnessed one of these bite incidents. Any thoughts on what may be causing this or how we can help prevent it?

    • Mom says:

      Hi Randy,

      I agree 115 pounds is a LOT of excitement! Which is the very first thing I’m going to address. You have a very large dog who you know is excitable at the door. Why are you letting him near the door until the visitors enter and you all make your greetings and the people excitement has calmed down? When someone comes to the door you put Bruno in a crate, another room or better yet on the other side of a gate. I like when the dog is able to see the people greeting to help them get used to that common people behavior.

      After probably 5 minutes or so of people going about their business Bruno will have had a chance to calm down. When he’s totally calm you can allow him to mingle but have the visitors ignore him or at the very least do not greet him excitedly because that will just ramp him up again. It doesn’t matter if these are kids or adults, the calm behavior should be promoted the same for either age group.

      Allowing an excited dog to greet people at the door is a bite waiting to happen so it’s your job to avoid it by taking precautions and teaching Bruno a better way to greet guests.

  11. Stephanie says:

    As I write this, my boy Bentley is being quarantined at the shelter for attacking my mom. My husband and I are devastated and I don’t know what to do with myself. He’s the child I never had. I love him so much, and he’s very special to me. I saved his life many times, and we have a bond like none other. I have three dogs. He came to me last. I have A Pug/chihuahua mix who is 9, and I’ve had her since 8 weeks old, a shepherd mix who is 7 (we found her on the road around 9 weeks old, and a pit mix. Bentley is my pit. We found him when he was 6 months old, severely emaciated, infested with whip worms and contracted parvo several weeks later from the shelter. He survived all of it. I have no idea what happened to him the first six months of his life, but he was extremely timid, and it took me half a day to get him to come inside with food when he showed up on my porch one Sunday afternoon. At first my husband said we couldn’t keep him since we had two already, but I left him at the shelter two days and had to go get him. That’s when he contracted parvo, but he pulled through. He’s always had food aggression, but has improved over the years, since he eventually learned he would get two meals a day, but I was always cautious when I fed him with the others, since he would jump on them if they looked at his food. To me, it’s common sense not to put your hand in their food or bother them while they are eating, but he’ll let me…only me and my husband. For the first 6 months to a year I had to work with him so that he would not attack my other dogs when they approached me. He was very protective of me, and did not trust men at all. I can’t tell you how many fights I’ve broke up between him and my female shepherd mix. It’s been several years since I’ve had to but it took them a while to be good together. It took him several years to not back away from my husband, and I had to work with my husband even more in how to react to him before that even improved. Now he doesn’t hesitate at all to come right to my husband, he trusts him 100%, but no other male. Loud noises have always made him anxious, any kind of loud vehicle, makes him go nuts, and when he ran through the electric fence chasing the trash man, we placed a chained link fence for them. That’s been 3 years ago. Any time we have company, I had to put both big dogs up, because my other dog (female) was very territorial and it was like they fed off of one another. I don’t trust them around anyone they don’t know which is not very many people. Mostly I don’t trust humans to understand their behavior and react accordingly. I have sheltered them. Everyone is terrified of them. My female shepherd mix has bitten before, but rightly so, when my father in law pulled up in a vehicle foreign to her and she warned him several times lunging and growling not to get out but he did without acknowledging her and she broke the skin on his shin. This was about 4 years ago. When a vehicle drove up they immediately would fight one another (more mouth than anything for several seconds and would stop) never drew blood from one another as if they were competing with who would protect. Bentley would bite tires if he could get to a moving vehicle. After about three years, the two larger dogs grew quite fond of one another, would both submit to the other at times, and were pretty much inseperable. Bentley would mimick anything my female would do and you never saw one without the other. Where she goes, he goes outside. Where she lays, he would lay. The only people they were familiar with was my mom and my husband’s parents. Which that’s my fault and my ignorance. Until I saw behavior problems in both I then educated myself on the importance of socialization, and by then I didn’t trust them with anyone and feared they would hurt someone if I tried. So when we went on vacation one of the two would look after them, my mom, or my husband’s mom. What I’m about to tell you I blame myself for. For not being educated on dog behavior and not socializing them early. Not being the responsible dog owner they deserved. I’ve done them a horrible injustice, when I thought I was doing my very best by loving them, taking care of them, preventing heartworms, fleas and ticks, and making sure they were fed well but I failed all of them by not giving them a well balanced life by educating myself so they could be trained well. Bentley is 6 now. We have recently sold our house and moved into a rental, while our house is being built. It’s been a little over a month. It’s my mom’s house we moved into since she lives in another town. This past week we went camping and my mom came to stay with them while we were gone. Now my mom is not a dog lover, but my female large dog loves her and we’ve never had any incidents all the other times she has watched over them. But my mom is ignorant to dog behavior and she has always been scared of Bentley because he’s a pit, had one white eye, and he can look scary to some. Letting her watch over them was one of my biggest mistakes in all of this. She came home, said she fed them, apart, on opposite sides of the deck, while my little one was inside eating, and she said Bentley was finished eating, and she reached for the water bowl (which she said was not close to him) and he attacked her upper thigh, which then set my female off, responding to Bentley like she would to protect him or now seeing my mom as a threat because he did. My female them attacked the other leg, leaving two very large gashes that had to have stitches. From there she said Bentley attacked her other leg and they pulled her to the ground. She said Bentley went for her neck, and she blocked him with her arm, where he bit her, and the only way she said she got them both to let go was there was a metal mop laying on the deck beside her and she beat them off of her. She called me once inside the back door petrified and I was 45 minutes from her. I couldn’t understand anything she was saying but I knew something went wrong called my grandmother down the street from where she was and she went and got her and took her to the ER to be stitched up. I’ve never been so scared in my life. So many emotions running through my head. My mom is hurt, I don’t know how bad, my dogs are now going to be taken away. All the while knowing they didn’t attack her for no reason. It’s a nightmare. She’ll be out of work for at least a week, because of where the wounds are and she’s convinced Bentley would’ve killed her if she hadn’t of gotten away. I’m in a very difficult spot. I know for a fact my female would not have attacked her as well if Bentley had not of. She was responding to him. He’s a part of her pack and she did what she had to do. Bentley also attacked for a reason. It’s hard to explain that to my mom though. I mean she had a near death experience because of my dog. But it’s because of several reasons. He was in an environment he was not used to. The only other place he’s ever been is our old house. He was already stressed from the other dog at the neighbors house, being able to see it through the fence but not being able to get to it. He was very dog aggressive. She reached for a bowl he associated with something he needed, and he responded. In his mind he did what he though he had to do. On top of the fact that he probably senses her fear of him, which makes him anxious, and like you said a fearful dog is dangerous. I feel like I have no choice but to put him down, and it’s tearing me apart. How can I take the chance of him doing it again, but it might be much worse next time, knowing the issues he has. I feel pressure from my family, and I know he has many issues, and that it would be a miracle to find anyone willing to work with him and give him what he needs. He will always be a liability. And I blame myself, for not giving him the professional training he needed early on, letting her watch over them knowing she is clueless about dogs, although I’ve tried to teach her things to watch for. My mom agrees my female was reacting to him biting her and only has told the officials it was Bentley who bit her. My husband and I are going to work hard with her and get training and help with her to try and control her better and understand how to help her with her aggressive behavior towards strangers. I can’t put her down, knowing what I do about her, and if I admit it, not training Bentley has made her worse. My Ben, to me he’s the most loving dog…we don’t know what else to do but to put him down. I don’t know what else I can do at this point. Next Thursday will be the end of the quarantine and we are trying to make the right decision. I want to wake up from the nightmare, but it’s not happening.I want to do what’s best for everyone, but I’m not 100% sure what that is at this point.

    • Mom says:

      Hi Stephanie,

      I’m so sorry this happened. It sounds like it was an absolute nightmare. I think you have it all pegged what happened and why so I’m not even going to comment on the behaviors, you have it down to a tee in my opinion. I totally agree with you why they attacked your Mom and I hate the word attack. Really hate it, unfortunately it does sound like what happened.

      You are like me, not dog behavior educated enough in the beginning. I knew nothing about socializing dogs and all the other things you mentioned and still blame myself for things that happened before I became more knowledgeable and that includes health issues, too. I’d love to say “don’t blame yourself you did your best” but I doubt that’s going to take away the guilt – it doesn’t for me when someone says the same thing. I think part of this is because we know that the dogs pay for our mistakes and that seems so very wrong.

      Sometimes people can work their butts off to help a dog which sounds exactly like what you did. You gave it your all but there was still mistrust of others in Bentley, he did what dogs do instinctively and of course he sensed your Mom’s fear of him.

      I really hate to say this because I am one that believes if you raise a dog well it doesn’t matter the breed. But I cannot get away from the cold hard fact that whenever you hear of dog(s) attacking people all too often it’s a pit. The only conclusion I’ve been able to come to is that because of all the dog fighting and in-breeding that some of them just snap sometimes, their genetics or something has been damaged. They can be the very best dog in the world and then one day something in their brains just goes willy-wonky and they attack. It’s kind of like the health nut who does everything right, walks a lot, jogs, eats all the right foods, takes the best care in the world of themselves and one day out of the blue they drop dead of a heart attack. I just think in some cases there is nothing anyone can do, there truly is no warning.

      I don’t know what your decision was, you’re welcome to share if you like. I hope whatever it was that you and your family are ok and that your Mom healed well. My heart goes out to you, I would be a basket case myself as well.

  12. J says:

    I have a one year old dog who is pretty big, about 85 lbs. I was standing on the corner with him on his leash waiting for my kids to get off the bus (I was at least 25 yards away from the kids getting off the bus). A bunch of kids get off and one boy starts running straight towards me. I turn to start to move away from the child but didn’t turn fast enough and my dog lunged and bit the boy on his hand quite hard causing a deep puncture wound. I am extremely upset. My dog has gotten excited before when my kids run but he has never biten them. My trainer assures me he is a good, friendly dog and he only did this because he thought he was protecting me, but I am still so upset about how hard he bit the child.any advice?

    • Mom says:

      Hi Jen,

      I absolutely and totally agree with your trainer. What needs to happen is that children need to be taught proper behavior around all dogs not just yours. Your dog did what he was supposed to do – protect. A child’s hand is small and the skin more tender than an adult thus the injury is going to seem worse. That was a warning bite in my opinion. If your dog really wanted to hurt that child believe me it would have been a whole lot worse! Please don’t be upset with your dog for doing his job and doing it well.

  13. Alex says:

    What a great, well-written article! We are currently struggling over here. We have had our 10 year old peke a poo since he was a few weeks old. He came from a reputable, “breeder” (he is a mixed breed), very sweet woman who always had her nieces and nephews in the home. He has been a wonderful little dog in many ways. However, we did notice that following a major move about 8 years ago, he became more anxious and displayed protectiveness and a general sense of “not knowing his place in the pack” (thought he had to protect me from my husband, not letting us kiss, etc…). Over the past few years, we have had 2 kids (6 and 2), and we have found that our dog has become more “fear aggressive”. He has bit my husband, father-in-law, and one little girl who was crawling around his bowl pretending to be a dog. All minor (level 2-3) bites. He has also “nipped” or “warning bit” various other people, most notably when they are at our home and get up to leave. We have seen a vet behaviorist and made some changes (no more sitting on the couch, in our bed, crating when we have company, etc..)
    Last weekend, my 6 year old gave him a treat and then bent down and hugged him while he ate. He bit her face, leaving about 4 puncture marks but little to no blood (level 3 again?). We have taught our children how to behave around the dog. She said that she knew it was wrong, but did it anyways. I can’t really fault her as she is 6 and this is what 6 year old’s do!
    My husband has just about had it with the barking, the nipping, etc.. and has said that if he ever bit our children that he would be gone. Now he did and my husband wants us to find a new home for him. I am beside myself with grief, guilt, confusion, sadness…. I would rather get him a muzzle and a good trainer, but also don’t know if I’m jeopardizing my children’s safety. I have no idea what is the right/best thing to do in this situation and I don’t feel that my husband is on the same page at all! Please help, what would you do? Thank you in advance for any advice that you can give!

    • Mom says:

      Hi Alex,

      I can’t say I blame your husband, he’s only protecting his babies. I give him HUGE credit for NOT being the kind of person who just takes the dog out into the woods and a) dumps the dog or b) shoots the dog. He’s wanting to rehome your pup and that’s a big man in my book.

      You’re right, kids are kids and will do things that they know they shouldn’t. I have a feeling your little one learned a good lesson, unfortunately a painful one. I’m quite happy there was not serious injury.

      Small dogs are more likely to bite than bigger dogs and quite often are considerably less tolerant of children. I go more with the size of the dog than the breed when it comes to stories like yours and although my own children grew up with Yorkies and no incidents, having learned what I know now I’m not crazy about small dogs in homes with little children. When people ask for my input when they want to get a dog and they’re talking small dogs I am very honest with my feelings about this. When it comes to dogs and kids I much prefer and trust more (but never 100%) at least a 35-40 pound dog and up with children. Not to say little dogs can’t work and do, but for me it’s a “better safe than sorry” situation.

      It sounds like your little guy for some reason was somewhat traumatized or at the very least not happy about your move and add to that he’s 10 years old now. If you’ve read at least some of the other posts here, you should have seen that at 10 he’s likely to have health and/or sight issues contributing largely to his current state of mind. Get him to the vet is one thing I’d do, have his sight checked as well.

      I really really really hate to think of rehoming a dog that’s lived in the same home for 10 years. That alone is a huge emotional trauma to a dog but he can’t live his life in a muzzle either. There’s probably a lot of stress and nervousness going on in your home when your dog is interacting with your children and the dog can sense this which is only adding to his stress and it’s a vicious circle that isn’t going to stop unless a comfortable solution for everyone and the dog is found.

      You’ve tried really hard to help him but seems there’s something going on preventing success. Wondering if maybe there’s a Gramma or Grampa or other adult only home who would love a little pooch to cuddle with? One that knows your pup would be the best and going to a home that he knows the people already would somewhat lesson the trauma of moving which you already know doesn’t sit to well with him. I would not however, expect it to be easy just less hard on the dog. If your pup is good with other dogs, an added benefit would be a home with a furry friend which might help him to adjust a little better. Someone furry to interact with might help keep his mind off his loss.

      I do hope you find a workable solution no matter which way you go. But before you do anything – the vet and the eye doc would be my first stops. Don’t forget possible food allergies which can lead to things like what are going on at your house.

  14. Nicole says:

    Hello,

    My name is Nicole and my boyfriend and I adopted a 6 year old poodle-terroir mix from a rescue in October. He has been a great addition to our family. He is loving, likes to play and go for walks.

    We noticed a couple weeks in that he seemed to be a little protective of me when my boyfriend wasn’t home. He has growled at some of my family who have approached me while I sleep. We corrected the behavior when it happened and made sure to limit his time on the bed. As well as worked on properly introducing him to people on his leash. He seems more confident on the leash.

    These incidents were in November of 2014, and we had been incident free since then. Until yesterday. I had two maintenance workers come to fix a couple things in our apartment. When they first came I kept him in the bedroom with me and kept him calm. They had to leave and get more parts so I let Remi (the dog) back out in the apartment. He seemed relaxed. When the maintenance people returned I let Remi smell them and he let them pet him. He seemed calm and the maintenance people were comfortable with him being out. I was returning with him to the bedroom when a maintenance worker walked by me and Remi grabbed his paint leg. I immediately grabbed Remi and took him in the bedroom. I came back to the guy who seemed shocked but shook it off like not a big deal. He had a little wound but nothing major.

    I felt so bad. I apologized several times and asked if I could do anything. Right after it happened I realized that I had set our dog up for failure. I should have left him in the bedroom. When the men left I broke down and cried. My boyfriend and I have both lived with dogs but have never had one on our own before and I felt like a failure.

    When my boyfriend came home we called the shelter we got Remi from and got their advice. we took him to the vet but the vet said it was behavioral and told me it was because Remi does not see me as the pack leader. He recommended a couple of trainers that we are waiting to hear back from.

    I found this odd but it may be true. My boyfriend works shifts offshore so I am home alone with the dog for weeks at a time. He listens to me (sits, stays, comes) and I am the only one who constantly makes him behave. I wonder if it is because he knows the male of the family is gone and he feels he needs to fill the role.

    I am not sure what it is but we are seeking out help. I am not at the stage where I find myself afraid to have friends over when I’m by myself. I didn’t think he as capable of this. I was very confident with him before yesterday and now I am doing the worst thing I can do- worrying and replaying yesterday over and over again in my head. I know my energy is relaying to Remi which is not good.

    Do you have any advice on how to effectively move on from this? I’m beating myself up and finding it to be exhausting and not helpful. Googling dog aggression and protectiveness is stressing me out since he doesn’t show complete signs either.

    Thanks in advance and your article has helped a lot.

    • Mom says:

      Hi Nicole,

      If you took Remi to the vet and he blew you off *without* examining him *completely* including a thyroid test, I’d be looking for a new vet. I’d be out the door so fast it would make his head spin. Any vet who draws a line between medical and behavioral issues doesn’t have a clue in my book and has no business in the veterinary field. That is really old school medicine. Medical issues *do* cause behavioral issues and if your vet doesn’t know this he needs to learn it.

      A dog doesn’t have to show “complete” signs of anything to have something be out of whack. That’s like getting a nasty cut on your hand and sticking a bandaid on something that probably needs stitches but waiting until it gets fully infected to do something about it. It sounds to me like Remi may be displaying resource guarding behavior. That’s where I’d start with him if he were my dog (after clearing him of any potential medical issues that is).

      I do a lot of beating myself up as well, and like you know it’s not going to help but that doesn’t mean I can just flip a switch and turn it off. I’ve found that making myself move in a constructive direction will help me get past it at least to the point that I can help my dog because part of what I do is jump into researching the issue and then putting what I find to work.

      Because of things that have happened in the past, we do not allow our dogs out when contractors/workers come to the house. You already figured this out, so for starters make it a rule that Remi can’t visit with them. It’s just not worth the risk. They’re there, they do their thing and then they’re gone probably never to be seen again so it’s not like Remi has to make friends with them because they’re going to come back and visit. Even on a long-haul job contractors are busy doing what they’re doing they don’t need to be thinking about how to behave around a dog.

      Until you get a handle on Remi’s behavior and turn it around I suggest you also come up with a safety-first plan and attitude no matter who’s coming to the house. Friends have been known to turn on friends if they get bitten by their friend’s dog which is just something to keep in mind.

      I believe that one of the reasons Riley took on his self-designated guard dog role is not only because it’s part of his shepherd genetics but also because at the time we adopted him I didn’t know about socialization and it was just him and me about 95% of the time.

      Good luck and let us know how it goes!

  15. kate says:

    We adopted a 2ish yo mix (shar pei and something else…possibly rottie) in July. Last night, he bit me, my fiancé was returning home from the store and had his hands full. He hit the door to let me know he was home and the dog lost it. I grabbed his collar to pull him back. That’s when I got bit. My philosophy is that this was my fault, as he was escalated and pulling him made him upset. My only other concerns are that he has snapped at me once before, after he jumped into our bed and I tried to move him.

    Does one bite mean he will always have a problem? I have had dogs all my life and have never had this happen. We do want to have children in the next few years and this worries me. I love my sweet boy (seriously–he’s snoring on the couch right now). He does not usually get aggressive. His hackles go up a lot when he is overstimulated and excited. We are working with a trainer and I am hopeful we will make some progress so this may never happen again.

    • Mom says:

      Hi Kate,

      To answer your question first, Riley’s Place does not believe that “once a biter always a biter” which if you’d read my original article is one of the reasons I wrote it and why I respond to people. Too many dogs are put down because of this old-school belief.

      Your dog does seem to be quick to bite, if he’s truly got Rottie in him this would make sense because Rottie’s are protection bred dogs but on the other hand Rottie’s properly raised and socialized can be fabulous family pets. I’m not at all familiar with the breed characteristics of a Sharpei so I’ll have to let that part go.

      It also seems that he’s high strung and/or a nervous dog from what you’ve told me. He gets excited and ramps up to the max with very little encouragement. Being quick to bite can also come from not having had enough socialization as a puppy and/or continued lack of socialization.

      You are correct (in my opinion) that the bite was your fault, trying to grab a dog in that state of mind is likely going to get a person bit. Your fiance hitting the door likely startled your pup which is what you already know was the initial trigger and of course neither of these actions were intentional to cause stress to your dog. The fact that he snapped at you previously for attempting to move him is not what I like to hear especially considering the fact you’re looking to add babies/children to your family. Since this is in the future though, you do have time to work with your boy and hopefully he’ll settle down some as he gets older and settles in more to your family.

      I know it seems like July was a long time ago but some dogs do take a long time to truly feel comfortable especially those that have been re-homed. Since your dog was 2’ish when you got him, I can only assume he had at least one previous home and maybe even multiple homes which is going to add to the time he needs to settle in and feel secure that he’s not going anywhere anymore.

      Sounds like you are on top of things noting that he does get overstimulated and excited easily. Some of the things I’d do would be of course the full medical exam including thyroid levels and I would also look hard at what you’re feeding him. If he’s got an allergy to something in his food or for some other reason his current diet doesn’t agree with what his body needs, this can make/add/contribute to his excitable nature.

      I hope your trainer can help you but remember that training is different than behavior. Another thing to keep in mind is that a dog that gets over-excited quickly and seems to be nervous or anxious is not the best combination for a home with children unless you’re able to give him some more time and help your boy to relax. I almost never like to see a dog rehomed because it just adds to their lack of security and makes more lack-of-trust issues for them. Our goal is always to work out the issues whenever possible but I’m sure you already know that there are dogs good for homes with little ones, dogs that are best in homes with older kids only and dogs that are best in an adult-only home.

      Wishing you all the best, let us know how it goes!
      Deb

  16. Krystal says:

    I am sorry this is so late it has been so busy! I just wanted to let you know that Sammy is staying with a friend of mine from our rescue and he is doing leaps and bounds better! She has accomplished so much with him that he actually allows the husband to interact/pet him! You were right with the no children and she has none just two other small dogs and they all get along. Thank you for the advise we still get to visit him as he is only a short distance away, Take care and hope the New Year brings you all much happiness!

    • Mom says:

      Krystal that is amazing news!!! I’m so happy for all of you and especially for Sammy having a home he’s comfortable in! Yeee haaaa!

  17. Vivian says:

    I have a one year old Greyhound/Wolfhound and perhaps Great Dane, he was rescued at 6 weeks, which I’m aware is way too young, but the mother was also taken away far too early, he has been to puppy classes, he has had one on one training with a behaviorist, for the most part now he is pretty good, I won’t bore you with how we got here, it was not easy, we almost surrendered him to the SPCA, but then I thought, he didn’t pick us, we picked him, so I wasn’t willing to give up.

    So here we are, when we are playing, for no reason he grabs my arm and clamps down, doesn’t draw blood anymore but it bloody hurts, if he did this to anyone else he would be deemed dangerous. He’s a big boy so when jumps to greet which I know is not good he will knock you over. I have tried everything that I know to stop these behaviors but any advice would be greatly appreciated. He’s a very big one year old puppy, so I need help. Thank you for your time, by the way his name is Parker.

    Vivian

    • Mom says:

      Hello Vivian,

      As our website states we don’t respond to personal emails asking for assistance. We are about trying to help dogs and their owners and educating people. I had to choose where to publish your inquiry because you inquired about more than one topic. I decided to put it on our dog bite blog page, although I don’t really believe your dog is biting in the true sense of a dog bite so please don’t take it as such.

      I was very happy to read that you take your pet responsibilities seriously. I love that you understood that Parker didn’t pick you, you picked him and that you decided to step up to the plate and try to make a good home for Parker rather than surrender him.

      About your pup’s jumping behavior, I addressed in an August 2012 article regarding dogs jumping when greeting people which you may wish to read. Here is another one you may wish to read that may apply, it talks about dogs lunging at people and greeting guests politely.

      You titled your email to me “dog still bites” but from what you’ve explained this is not what I would consider “biting” behavior as such. At one year old Parker still has a lot of puppy in him and as you communicated, unfortunately he missed good dog to dog socialization interaction at a critical age.

      It sounds like Parker may see your arm as a toy and due to his age I wouldn’t rule out teething as part of the mix. If Parker were mine I would research ways to redirect this negative behavior to positive behavior. You might start with looking up redirection techniques. Victoria Stillwell’s article The Value of Redirection should give you some good information, some starting points and ideas. I do have one more article on our website that may be helpful to you which discusses what (lovingly!) I call Jaws Syndrome.

      Hope this helps!

  18. Nicole says:

    Thank you for your reply. We did end up returning him, pretty much for the reasons you listed.

  19. Kate Mauri says:

    Hello there,

    I have just come across your site after searching for some advice and was so happy to see that someone actually responds to individuals questions! There are too many times where I am looking at websites or blog posts and no-one responds so thank you immensely for your time, effort and patience in giving advice. I have a neutered Border Jack – i.e. Collie x Jack Russell named Tai, who got attacked yesterday by a dog that came on to my parent in laws section uninvited. He has just come out of surgery this morning. A whole host of things went wrong. My partner and I pride ourselves on being good dog owners, we use clicker training, positive reinforcement and when meeting new dogs we follow the protocol of “is your dog okay to play/meet” etc require both dogs to sit/stay and then leashes are removed or we just walk the other way if its not meant to be. In this instance, we were at my parent in laws small holiday home where my dog had been scent marking most of the day. A friend of mine unexpectedly called in and her husband has 3 pig dogs – I live in New Zealand, and some farm dogs are bred to hunt pigs. We were going to introduce our dogs for the first time on the beach i.e. “a neutral zone”. However, as I was leaving the doorway of the house (or doorway of the adopted den) with my dog on lead, I saw her husband cycling past on the road with 2 of his dogs off lead and thought – where is the third dog, and as I turned it was right behind me coming in low at my dog which lunged on his lead, and then boom that was it. Am feeling that I didn’t do my job and protect my pack member, so my main concern is A) how do I move past this as I don’t want to transfer my emotions to my dog and B) how should I behave towards him whilst my dog is recuperating as he seems to be very nervous now and C) what can I do post-attack to help him – how do I build his confidence and trust up when socialising with dogs again as well as my own (trust and confidence). He is a fantastic dog, great with children, happy go lucky, and I just dont want my energy to make his psychological recovery worse for him as I do not want him to develop defense aggressive behaviours.

    I would dearly love your input,

    King regards,

    Kate

    • Mom says:

      Note to readers: I responded to Katie privately with some questions that I need answers to before I respond to her post. I have not heard from her so I will not give any feedback on her post unless I hear back with answers. Sorry!

  20. Nicole says:

    Thank you for this article. We are in the process of adopting a pom mix from the local shelter. We are a 6-member family, with four kids 2-9. I would not have considered a pom but this guy was playful and non-aggressive when we saw him at the shelter. He went up to all my children and engaged them, and let my husband and I hold him. My kids are VERY well behaved with him, my 2 year old is reserved. It has been less than a week and overall, he is very well behaved and is picking up on training quickly. However, we have some concern. He bit my 2 year after she tried climbing into my husband’s lap (no warning given). My daughter had made it a point to go around the dog and to the side. After your article, I think it may have been a prey driven bite (her leg “appeared”). Initially, the dog did do warning growls to the kids as we’ve gotten to know one another but after a few days, he seems ok with them. He did show “aggression” in two other instances but wondered if this could be trained out of him. The first is when my 5 year old went to hug grandparents. The dog went after the grandparent. The second was a little girl (not ours) running up to him outside. This one I definitely understand is not the dog’s fault and I could stop it. However the girl did twirl back into the dog’s face (after already warning her) so quickly that he bit at her and tugged her skirt. So the concern is whether this will be a forever-behavior that we are always stressed about in our own home or with training and precautions, he can become a member of our family. I am really torn. We tried to adopt a puppy a few years ago who was very dominant/aggressive (the previous owner said she was “sweet, but took too much time”) and this new dog is nothing like that. I would keep him in a heartbeat if my child’s safety wasn’t a concern. (Since the bite, we have been on guard 110% and he has acted very well around her.)

    Thank you for any response and the time it takes. It’s wonderful that you continue to respond to questions.

    • Mom says:

      Hi Nicole,

      The answer to your question is yes, it’s possible to work with a dog and turn things around but that’s not a guarantee. Heck, if Michael Vick’s fighting pitbulls can become service dogs (several of them achieved this!) this means there’s hope for many dogs. But in order for the Vick dogs to do this they had very skilled behaviorists and trainers and it took a long time for them to achieve this.

      In case you’re not aware, small dogs are more likely to bite than big dogs. Granted they normally can’t do as much damage when they do but they are more likely to bite. You have small children and you’re not a dog behaviorist. If I were you, I would not bring this dog into my home. To work this kind of thing out of a dog is not an overnight process and can take a very long time. It’s a risk and a gamble not only with your children but for the dog. In the meantime your children are involved so my thought is why risk it? Find a dog that does well with children, one that’s more medium to larger size. I don’t mean giant either. Research breeds and breed bite records. You can’t judge every dog on this kind of information but you can certainly get a good all around education from it.

      It’s my personal opinion that meeting a dog at a shelter pending adoption is a wonderful thing, however one meeting does not a family dog make. If you were to adopt a child, the child’s going to be on his or her best behavior if they want to be adopted by you right? Then you take the child (dog) home and once they feel comfortable their true colors may come out and what was pink, warm and fuzzy may turn red and ugly or you may have just adopted the best dog ever. There is no way to tell ahead of time. Example: That guy you met and chatted with on the corner waiting for the bus, he was just the nicest guy, right? You couldn’t tell he was a wife beater could you? Same principal — you can’t judge a book by it’s cover.

      I don’t think it was prey drive it sounds more like the dog was startled. Your daughter wasn’t running, she was walking correct? Prey drive normally involves some kind of chase activity.

      It also sounds like no one listened to the dog who was obviously sending out warning signs by growling. You got lucky, most dogs just bite they don’t warn first. This dog didn’t want to bite, but someone kept pushing his buttons until he realized nobody was going to heed his warnings and leave him alone. He finally got fed up and had the last words which were ” You people just didn’t get it that I was trying to be nice and let you know I didn’t like what was going on. You pushed the last button, rubbed the last raw nerve I’m able to tolerate so NOW leave me alone!”

      There are some dogs (no matter the breed) who just simply don’t do well with small children. People can take them in and work with them but seriously, why would you want to take the chance? Why would you want to put yourself in a position with small children of having to spend a lot of time working with a dog who has known issues? You’re only adding more stress to the stress of being a Mom to little ones which the dog is going to sense and it’s going to be a very long haul which in the end may or may not be successful. Then if the dog bites, you’ve put the dog in the position where your city might require the dog be put down because it bit. This to me would be totally the adult’s fault in your household. You knew ahead of time this dog was uncomfortable yet you took him in anyway and now look what happened?

      This is not fair to the dog (or your family) and neither is putting the dog in a home where he’s stressed to begin with. Dogs with issues need people who are skilled in dealing with the issues. The situation you described is like taking on a dare … I dare you to fix this dog … and if you can’t who’s going to suffer? Think about it. Do you want to live “on guard” the rest of the dog’s life wondering if the dog’s going to bite today? I can tell you from personal experience it’s a very trying, stressful lifestyle. I’m very grateful that you want to adopt and there are many dogs in shelters who need homes who are more suited to living with small children than this dog who sounds like he’d be a whole lot more comfortable in an all adult household.

      I hope that helps and best of luck to you, your family and the dog!

  21. Lorna says:

    Hi, I’m hoping you may be able to help with some advice.

    I have an 9 year old border collie who we have owned since he was a puppy. He’s always been a bit nippy, usually if he’s trying to herd us. Over the years he’s snapped at my partner a few times and drawn blood on a couple of occasions, normally I’ve been able to identify a trigger; he was startled, etc. In the last couple of weeks he’s bitten my partner 3 times and he is at the hospital as I type having a nasty bite treated, that happened this morning. He’s also begun to bark every time we talk to each other from different sides of the room, or if my partner calls upstairs to me. He has sometimes been aggressive to my older collie who has recently gone blind with diabetes. He has never bitten me, or anyone else. I’m sure its a pack/alpha thing but my partner is now at the “it’s me or the dog” stage. He’s also quite fearful around my dog now and I think this is adding to the problem. My dog is absolutely fine with my cats, he’s never shown aggression towards them, he is not protective of food or toys either. He has only ever bitten my partner when I have been there too. Protecting maybe? Have you any tips or advice that can help me to sort out this situation? I’m desperate to work all of this out.

    • Mom says:

      Hi Lorna,

      Sorry, I have to disagree with you. I don’t think the pack alpha thing is what’s going on here. Your pack was established a long time ago and after all these years without the introduction of a new pack member you have a significant behavior change on one of the members.

      Your dog is 9 years old now, have you had him to the vet, the eye doc and/or the hearing specialists? What I’m visualizing from what you’re telling me is that he may be having unchecked sight and/or other health issues. Other than being herding-nippy changing to biting, your dog is now acting differently than he has for all these years including being afraid around a dog it sounds like he’s known all his life.

      In my mind there’s a health issue causing this change in him. It might be sight, hearing, something painful, something else or any/all of the above. He could have something going on that caused sudden changes to his sight and/or hearing abilities and/or is painful for him.

      For example, if he’s hearing voices “bounce” when you’re talking to your partner from across the room he may be frightened or maybe he’s experiencing pain if you’re talking loudly to one another. In order to talk across the room or call upstairs it’s likely your voices are louder than normal conversation and an ear condition may be making the voices or volume distorted or painful.

      I feel like a broken record but I’m going to say it again to everyone, when a dog displays changes in normal behavior please get him to the vet for a full exam and a full exam means a complete exam including blood work for uncommon things as well as common, an *extra good* look in the eyes and ears, more than a perfunctory touchy-feely tummy rub and a quick stethoscope check of the heart.

      I hope your partner is ok, that he will indulge a good veterinary visit before he makes good on his ultimatum and that your dog will be ok.

  22. Krystal says:

    Hello! I recently decided to help my friend out by taking her dog in for a year. Yes a year. Now this dog is a rescue dog and she only owned him for two months. I have a lot of experience with dogs of all breeds and normally I can handle virtually anything. I fostered dogs for a little over a year for a rescue. When I first met Sammy (Corgi/lab mix) he was shy/fearful of me she assured me he wouldn’t bite well I didn’t want to take the chance. My friend’s mother was supposed to take care of Sammy well after a week that all changed. He is severely afraid of men and anyone who is new. My friends mother and father took Sammy to the park the mans leg brushed up against Sammy he reacted so violently he pulled his collar off and bolted. He growled at an 87 year old man (the grandpa) while he was sitting at the table. My friend (name is Sam) asked if I could help as she was leaving for Egypt in less than a month. I said yes and I would work with Sammy as best I could in the year that I have him. So I have a four year old daughter who is exceptional with animals I have worked with her since a baby that animals are to be treated kindly and gently. Now she is used to some large dogs who love to play and aren’t afraid to wrestle, but we explained (husband and I) that Sammy is different. My g/f sam said Sammy was great with kids and other dogs. Now I realized she didn’t have him long enough to really know that. We have had him now for three months and so far he has attacked two dogs ( a husky and boxer) they were a little too in his face though I will admit that and hates my husband still. Actually the only person person he likes and allows near him is me. He is afraid of everything I tried keeping a steady routine of going to my mothers and introducing him to her dog which he actually doesn’t mind they just ignore each other. He still won’t let my mother near him. I don’t know what to do about this because I have never actually had a dog this afraid before. He refuses to learn anything he may “like” me but he doesn’t trust me. I tried to teach him sit and normally that’s the easiest command to teach a dog. He ignores me most of the time he barely eats unless he can steal my cat’s food. The only thing I have accomplished with him is staying down. He would come from behind and jump all over me. I have a newborn on the way in two weeks actually and I honestly don’t know if I can handle this. I am afraid he will bite my baby because of the baby crying or something silly. Sammy is not a family dog at all he really should have been in a home with no children. I feel like I have failed my friend but this was not a responsible decision for her to adopt a dog two months before a deployment. We thought his fear of people would get better but it’s not getting better at all we have people over and he stays in his kennel or hides under the table if anyone talks to him his ears go back tail tucked and freezes. We tell everyone to ignore and allow him to come out at his own pace but that never happens. I have been very patient with him and never pushy at all he has never been in a situation where someone tries to pet him with me not there. Any suggestions would be great as I am at my wits end.

    • Mom says:

      Hi Krystal,

      First I’d like to thank you for fostering and teaching your daughter how to behave around dogs, thumbs up to you on both counts!

      I totally agree that if your friend knew she was going to be deployed she was absolutely irresponsible to adopt a dog at this point in time. This was not only irresponsible but beyond being unfair to the dog. Unfortunately for too many dogs, your friend isn’t alone. I’ve seen similar situations several times with people in the service and wish they would just get their selfish heads screwed on straight and wait to adopt until they return and know for sure they’re not going anywhere or at least (please!) have their own live-in family for the dog when they do have to leave, that way the dog doesn’t have to go elsewhere when it already just did. Most if not all dogs up for adoption are already under tremendous stress. To adopt them and barely have a chance to get to know them before they have to leave them with someone else just adds to the dog’s stress. They feel abandoned and confused all over again and probably haven’t even begun to feel any stability in it’s adoptive home before it’s moved somewhere else.

      Also in total agreement that two months’ time is not nearly long enough to get to know *any* dog enough to assure anyone he won’t bite. You seem to already know there is *never* a 100% guarantee any dog won’t bite so in my mind *anyone* telling someone their dog won’t bite (no matter how well they know the dog) is in the wrong. To top it off, this dog sounds way beyond being simply fearful, he sounds terrified which pretty much automatically makes him a bite candidate. If I were in your shoes I’d be mighty ticked off at my friend to say the very least.

      Some of the major things this dog needs are stability, boundaries and to be with someone who has the time and environment to help him work through his fears successfully. Under most circumstances I would give suggestions for working with a fearful dog but in good conscious I can’t do that in this case. We need to get totally real and honest here. You are a young mother with a 4 year old and a brand new baby. It’s just a fact that you simply just do not have the time or energy to devote to this dog’s needs. This dog is emotionally stressed to the max, he’s going to need significant time to get comfortable with anyone. My feeling is that as much as you want to help both the dog and your friend, due to your own circumstances you can’t give this dog what he needs at this time in your life and you *must* think of your children’s safety first and foremost. Even though your 4 year old does well around dogs, she’s still just 4 years old. It’s not fair to expect your 4 year old child to have to deal with this dog like a pro in order for you to keep the dog.

      A new baby is quite likely to really stress this dog out and I too, would be very concerned about the children’s safety. You don’t want to have to make this dog live in a crate for a year either.

      I don’t feel you failed your friend. Seems to me your friend was missing some respect for you and your friendship by even asking you to take this little dude on considering the fact you have a little one and baby on the way. I just can’t believe that she didn’t see even in the little bit of time that she had him before she left that this dog has issues and my thought is she should have considered your children. She needed someone in a hurry because of her own bad decision and you stepped up because you’re a dog lover and a rescuer. That’s what people like us do and unfortunately we don’t always think things through either when a desperate situation is in our face.

      Telling people to ignore and let him come on his own is good, but it sounds like you’re expecting quicker results than this dog is capable of producing. He didn’t get like this overnight; you can’t expect him to go the other direction in a matter of weeks. Helping a dog to move past these kinds of issues takes considerable time and a stress-free, low key environment. A house with small children is not such a place.

      So, ‘nuff said about the current situation. My suggestion is that you contact your friend and let her know what’s going on and that for the good of the dog and safety of your family you need to make a change in the living arrangements. I don’t say this will be easy but this is how I would handle the situation. If she can’t understand this then I have to wonder how good a friend she is.

      You can then contact one or more of the organizations that offer foster homes for service people who are on deployment. Be brutally honest about the dog’s issues, not only for the sake of the person who may take him on but for the good of the dog. He doesn’t need to be moved around anymore than he’s already been and if they’re not aware of his issues, that’s what’s going to happen. These people may be able to help you.

      If they can’t, contact some rescues. Because it’s a mix you may not have a lot of luck with breed specific rescues but they are the ones who can point you to other rescues who do take on mixed breeds. Again, always be honest. There is a HUGE network in rescue with feelers all over the nation. They are all pretty much always in need of foster homes because no matter how large the network, there are still never enough foster homes. Make it clear you’re not surrendering the dog, but asking for help with foster care. A rescue may just have (or can help you find) the perfect foster home for him with someone who has the experience to deal with his fear and stress and who doesn’t have munchkins living in the home.

      I think you’re right; this dog would do better in a home without children. He needs a calm, stress-free environment with someone who can give him lots of time to work through his issues for the best possible results in helping him. This poor little guy runs around tied in knots and looking for the safest corner he can run to. This is no way for him to live, I don’t foresee him being able to de-stress in a home with little ones and in fact my guess would be it’s only going to make him more stressed and more fearful. If something isn’t done to help him very soon I feel the potential for him to bite is strong.

      I hope this has been of some help to you and that you find a good solution for the dog and your family.

  23. Sommer says:

    Hello-

    I found your site through a google search. July 3rd of 2014 we rescued a 14 month old handsome, wonderful German Shepherd named Chaplin. My husband grew up with German Shepherds and has loved the breed ever since. I on the other hand grew up in a pet free home and had never owned an dog until Chaplin.

    We have a 12 month old beautiful, smart, adventurous daughter Eleanor. My husband works and I work from home. I am basically a stay at home Mom. We regurally walk Chap morning and night. At the very minimum once a day. We take him to the dog park off leash & take him to the school yard by our house to run around. We live in a dog friendly area. We have a large spacious back yard that Chaplin can run around in however he prefers to be inside with us.

    I was a bit apprehensive to get such a large seemingly “scary breed” but put full trust in my husband knowing he would never put his daughter in harms way. I love Chaplin and know he is a good dog.

    As a first time parent and dog owner I have made mistakes. Today was one such mistake. You are going to gasp when I admit this but I let my daughter feed our dog and she often will touch his mouth almost has a fascination with his mouth. There has been times when she has taken chew toys away from him and has given him toys as well. Today he was on the ground playing with his toys she was right there next to him. I left them alone to go to the restroom and ran out when I heard my daughter screaming. He had nipped her thumb and she was bleeding. It was very scary for me as a mother. I firmly told Chaplin “no” then rushed to treat my daughters hand. She ended up needing no stitches and she is fine. I take full responsibility for this. I know this was my fault and that this was an accident. That being said, I know something needs to change in our household. We have talked about a baby gate for the hall. That would separate the two but still allow Chaplin & Eleanor to be close to us. Also we entertained the idea of crate training. My daughter is to young to understand to give the dog space.

    I know it was my fault. This incident has me left with mixed emotions. We are not going to do anything harsh but would greatly appreciate any advice or guiadiance. We do not plan on getting rid of our dog. Please help. I want wants best for our entire family. I don’t want any regrets. I am so distraught over this. Thank You in advance for your reply.

    Just a side note we have had him in a basic manners obedience class and he did well. He is easily distracted. We intend to further educate him. I feel like there is not many friends or family I can talk to because they don’t have pets or children with pets and feel like German Shepherds are already a discriminated breed.

    God Bless-
    Sommer

    • Mom says:

      Hi Sommer,

      I give you a lot of credit for taking on being a GSD mom coming from a no-dog background. It’s clear to me that you love your entire family including Chaplin very much. I’m very impressed to know that you “get it” enough that you didn’t jump to “The dog’s gotta go!” after he nipped your baby. I’d also like to thank you for rescuing Chaplin, I love that!

      You are correct, I was not happy to read that you let your baby touch your dog’s mouth and take his toys away from him. I can also tell you that since there was that time-frame between the nip and you telling Chaplin “no” he associated what he was doing at the moment you told him no as being what he was being told no for. So, for example if he was laying on the floor doing nothing at that “no” moment he understood you to tell him he wasn’t supposed to be laying on the floor doing nothing. Correcting a dog has to happen when the dog is doing what you don’t want him to do or within like 1-2 seconds. After that they understand the correction as being corrected for what they are doing right then at that moment.

      I am happy to hear that there was minor damage and your little button is fine and that you understand the responsibility is yours. It’s always nice to hear when a human understands this part of the dog bite issue which doesn’t happen nearly often enough.

      Your daughter is too young to understand without being taught — but she’s not too young to be taught. At one year of age children are learning to comprehend the word “no.” This is a wonderful age to begin teaching a child how to behave around and respect dogs. If you don’t start now and if she hasn’t already, she’s going unknowingly to be doing a lot more things every day that could trigger a bite. Pulling a dog’s ears or laying on them for example. Because you could not see what happened when he nipped her, you don’t know what she did to provoke the nip. Did she take the toy? Did she pull his ear? Did she poke his eye? Nobody knows and without being taught a baby doesn’t know what’s acceptable and what’s not. If you find that Chaplin seems to be possessive of his toys then please look into how to best handle and redirect resource guarding which unchecked, can become worse and even dangerous.

      You’ve probably seen photos plastered on Facebook of babies laying all over a dog, pulling a dog’s ear, touching their eyes etc … and the dog taking it without reacting. The parent taking the pic or video think it’s soooo cool and cute and want to share share share — these people have no clue the danger they may be putting their child in. They think they have the neatest most patient understanding dog and the cutest baby in the world. Well, maybe they do but those of us who can plainly see the stress signals the dog is so obviously displaying and know the horror that can happen in the blink of an eye shudder and get very angry at parents who allow and even encourage their children to disrespect dogs like this because it’s so cute they want to keep the camera rolling. These same parents are going to be the first ones to get rid of, hit, beat, reprimand or in some other way abuse the dog if it so much as growls at the child even though they’re allowing their child to literally entice the dog to bite! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “Any dog that so much as growls at my child is a dead dog!” while letting the child do everything it wants to to the dog! If a child is too young to be taught how to behave around a dog, keep the child away from the dog until they learn and learn it well.

      You’re allowing her to take toys away from your dog, which is not good. You can teach Chaplin to “give” a toy to you and you give it back, then once he’s learned this you can teach him to give the toy to your child and teach your child to give it back. I suggest that whenever possible when Chaplin gives the toy that same person should be the one to give it back so he learns that it’s ok to give it because that person will give it back to him. If you let your daughter take take take but you give it back each time he learns only that a child takes his toys away. Not good.

      GSD’s can be very gentle and the absolute best dog with children but they are also well known for being very quick to bite. Some dogs are just true naturals with little ones while others are not and need some help learning. Your dog doesn’t sound like a natural or this nip probably would not have happened but that’s not 100% either. There is no 100% guarantee against a dog bite.

      In my opinion if you begin teaching your child now how to give space to and respect a dog, you won’t have to confuse her learning later when she’s say 2 that what she was doing all this time is no longer acceptable and that now she’s got to do things differently. This not only confuses the child but puts stress on you to reverse things. It’s harder to unlearn and relearn than it is to learn the right way in the first place is my thought.

      A gate would be a very good idea and for safety’s sake, the dog’s comfort and the child learning to give space — a crate and positive crate training is mandatory in my mind. When purchasing a gate, I personally would make it a very high gate and not one with bars where the dog can get his nose and teeth through. Some GSD’s are quite adept at jumping and you don’t need your daughter being able to put her little hands through, on or over the top of the gate. Your child can be taught that when the dog’s in the crate that is his space and she is not to go anywhere near it. You can put a gate up several feet from the crate to help your daughter learn the boundaries are at least several feet away. You could tell her that Chaplin needs a nap and that since she doesn’t like to be woke up from a nap neither does Chaplin. Chaplin goes ni-night, finger up — shhhhhh — and daughter goes to watch tv or play or whatever leaving Chapin to his space. Make sure when you crate train that you never use the crate as a punishment. Whenever possible that crate door should be left open to help the dog learn this is his safety zone and that he can access it whenever he needs to get away. If you see your dog in his crate to me that means he needs some alone time. Make sure he gets what he needs.

      If you have to leave the room, take baby with you even if it’s to the bathroom. Close the door so Chaplin can’t wander in when you’re in a compromising position where it would be uhhhh-hmmm “inconvenient” shall we say to move quickly to interrupt a potential pending danger.

      You’re right, German Shepherds are a discriminated breed and many people fear them just because they’re GSD’s. I totally understand not being able to talk to family and friends about these things. I have a t-shirt that says “Crazy German Shepherd Lady” and some who know me take it quite literally and think I’m a nut case. I assure you I’m not, I love the shirt and wear it because I love pretty much anything GSD but will admit I might be a little nuts for having three of them, LOL! The people that think I’m a nut case? They aren’t pet people for the most part or they’re more “it’s just a dog” people so they don’t get it.

      Chances are if your friends and family knew what happened they’d be pressuring you to get rid of the dog and some are not nice about it. People who don’t do pets and/or don’t have children really don’t get it nor do they want to. They wouldn’t understand it even if you looked them in the eye dead serious and took the blame. You could tell them up, down and inside out why the dog does not have to go just because he nipped your baby — but they’re not going to agree with you unless they, too, really understand and that’s pretty rare. It will be the dog’s fault in their eyes. You don’t need your child being talking age and tell your less-than-understanding friends or family members that Chaplin bit her. She’s too young now to utter words and I seriously doubt she’s going to remember the nip by the time she can, but if you continue believing she’s too young to understand and not teach her now how to behave around and respect dogs, this kind of thing could happen again when she is old enough to talk and young children don’t understand the consequences of what comes out of their little mouths. More importantly, she could also wind up with an injury much more serious than a nip on the finger.

      If you’re going to allow the little one to feed/treat your dog, please make sure she’s doing this with the treat/food in the palm of an open hand. She needs to learn to be calm when she does and very important, Chaplin must be calm and sitting quietly before he gets his treat/food. This probably won’t be easy for one so young but if you are consistent with showing her how and teaching Chaplin to take food/treats easy I don’t see a huge problem with it as long as it’s supervised. Daughter should not pull her hand back and/or then stick it in his face again either, a dog can take this as teasing and might just snap at it to get the treat and hurt her by accident. I would not allow this until you yourself can give the treat/food to Chaplin consistently in the same manner so he knows how this works. He may learn a little more patience with your daughter this way. I would not let daughter approach him with the treat, he should come to her and sit calmly before receiving any goodies.

      I urge you to give your daughter some credit for being able to learn simple basics now and please begin teaching her. She’s smart, remember? She can do it with your help! Good luck!

  24. Claire says:

    Hi there. I adopted a 6 year old Harrier Hound from the dogs home last Sunday. He had been sent back three times since May due to destructive behaviour and separation anxiety. This I figured I could deal with as i do not work and can take him for lots of walkies though I invested in some toys for him to play with. He seemed to settle in with us ok (myself, my 22 year old son and my 8 year old son) although understandably slightly nervous. It was the following Wednesday night when Alfie the hound was asleep on the couch and my eldest son was sitting next to him, when Alfie attacked my son for getting up from the couch slightly disturbing him. He caused a puncture wound to his little finger, one to his back and a bruise to his leg. I was so shocked and upset so decided to take him back to the dogs home on the Friday morning. I miss him like crazy and feel so guilty wandering if I did the right thing. I’ve been scouring the internet for lots of advice and looking into local dog trainers as I soooo want him back. Would it be safe to have a dog that has already bitten? Would training help?

    • Mom says:

      Hi Claire,

      I’m so sorry to hear about this and hope your son is ok.

      It sounds like Alfie bit him three times with the third one not puncturing the skin which in my opinion is more significant than “a” bite. There is no surprise this dog has issues with what he’s been through. Being shuttled around from place to place like has been can cause significant stress and his separation anxiety doesn’t surprise me one bit. I doubt seriously he has any sense of security whatsoever and is under a lot of emotional distress.

      It sounds like one of the things that happened is that like most people you bright Alfie home and just let him make himself to home. I know that things like letting him up on the couch, or in the bed or anywhere the dog wants to go and loving up on him is the way humans feel they give this to dogs. You didn’t do anything out of the ordinary, this is common and we’ve been guilty of the same things ourselves. All dogs need to feel secure and safe and dogs with Alfie’s background need this even more. But they don’t get this from humans treating them this way they get it from things like consistency, knowing their place in the house pack, knowing what’s expected of them, not being left to their own devices and knowing who’s the boss (that not being the dog). Alfie likely got his destructive behavior pattern due to boredom and not having the feeling of security before. Nobody gave him what he needed so he learned to emotionally fend for himself.

      We don’t believe in the “once a biter always a biter” here and we do believe that there’s always a reason for a bite. It sounds like Alfie reacted to being startled and/or perhaps unknowingly when your son got up he squished Alfie’s tail or foot or some body part accidentally causing Alfie some pain. The progression of events may have nothing to do with your son specifically, but may have been triggered by a past painful or traumatic event that this incident replicated. Alfie may have unknown medical issues which contributed to the bite. I don’t believe Alfie bit just to bite, he bit in reaction to *something* but it is quite concerning to me that he bit more than once especially since you have a young son in your home. With the right help I believe Alfie can be just as safe as any other dog but remember that no matter what dog – there is *always* the potential any dog can/will bite. This is not me telling you to bring Alfie home! The key here would be finding Alfie the help he needs including giving him his emotional, medical, activity level and very important structural needs.

      Because of his baggage, Alfie sounds like a huge very-time consuming job to take on and the average person just isn’t up to that. This isn’t a training issue in my opinion, it’s a behavior issue tied in with Alfie’s emotional stress. Someone who’s a strong confident figure who’s really in-tune with dog behavior with the ability to “think like a dog” I believe can help Alfie, I have no doubt of that but *finding* that special person is likely not a simple task. The more I get into dogs the more I believe that one must have the ability to think like a dog in order to best understand them and to deal well with problems that come up. It’s taken me years to get to the point I’m at and I don’t for one minute believe that I “know it all” but I do feel I’m much better at “the dog thing” than I was nine years ago.

      I’m not going to tell you to bring Alfie home nor am I going to tell you not to. Can it work? Yes. Will it work? I don’t know but a lot would depend on you and your family. If you do bring Alfie back to your home, I would suggest that without fail you put some safeguards into place (especially for your 8 year old) and set your mind to learning with the mindset that you will not stop educating yourself and your family. Be ready for and truly accept this will probably take a considerable amount of time, effort and perhaps significant cost. Consistency with all family members is hugely important for every dog but more so for dogs with issues and negative, painful histories. It may help you to read and practice NILIF (Nothing in Life is Free). Check out the resources link on the Bound Angels website.

      Also remember that as much as you love Alfie and want him back, sometimes the dogs we fall in love with are not the dogs that belong in our home because they need more than we can give them. I think you need to take a good hard objective look at both sides of the big picture before making your decision and don’t simply let emotions drive you. Good luck, and I would love to know how it goes.

  25. Angelo says:

    very interesting article! thanks very much for posting this.

    I was hoping for some insight into my current situation. I was at the dog park with my dog and my wife. There was another dog there with his (somewhat elderly) owner. The dog had a paper coffee cup in his mouth and the owner was trying to take it away from him but the dog was too quick. So as his back was turned to me i grabbed onto him to stop him getting away and he turned and bit my arm. I UNDERSTAND 100% THAT THIS IS MY FAULT. I place 0 blame on the dog and i feel terrible. I didn’t want to go to the hospital, so i went home and cleaned the wound. But I woke up in the middle of the night and my hand was killing me. I had to go to the hospital for antibiotics because it was obvious that i had an infection (plus i needed stitches, but they refused to stitch it b/c the wound was now infected). Now, the hospital has called animal control services, who contacted me saying that I MUST report the dog. I really do not want to. I am 100% to blame. the dog and his owner are both fantastic and i feel stuck and this is really stressing me out! Please help!

    • Mom says:

      Hi Angelo,

      Wow, that’s pretty cool that you realize what happened and don’t blame the dog. I’m proud to meet you!

      Unfortunately in most if not all places, when a medical facility treats a dog bite, by law they must report it. Where I live, if a bite comes into our hospital they call the police department. It’s not up to them to pick and choose which ones they report or don’t report. No matter what you say or do, no matter what the circumstances surrounding the bite — they have to follow the law. I’m not real clear if they left it up to you or what’s going on with that, no matter what animal services already has at least a basic report on it so the entire process is already at least in first gear.

      On your end about all you can do in my opinion is to make sure the statement you make to the police and/or animal control includes what you’ve told us here. Talk to the dog’s owners and explain the situation as it was explained to you, that you didn’t want to do this but the hospital by law has to report it etc … if they are truly the good people you believe them to be they won’t hold this against you because they should realize it’s not your fault what the laws are. Hopefully, you live where the law doesn’t require automatic euthanasia or some other serious consequences to the dog.

      Chances are the dog will have to be quarantined for 10 days but that’s to check for rabies. It’s not fun for the dog or the owner but my guess is it will be required. We were allowed to keep Riley confined at home for the 10 days because we have a fenced yard and I could prove he was current on his rabies. I could not walk him for those 10 days either. He also had to be vet-checked I think it was 3 times during those 10 days. The vet had to document that there was no sign of rabies during that time. It was a long 10 days for Riley without walks but much better than some of the archaic deadly alternatives still in effect in some areas of our country.

      Best of luck, I hope you’ll drop by and let us know how this sitation resolves.

      • Angelo says:

        Update:

        thank you very much for your reply. I followed your advice and spoke to the owner about what was going on. They said that they wanted to handle it through the proper channels and follow up with the town. I told the enforcement officer that I provoked the attack, so it is definitely not the dogs fault.She told me that it is still in my power to take action against the dog, but i said not a chance! In the end they just quarantined the dog for 10 days and now he is back at the park happy and healthy and I am relieved. it turns out the dog has all his vaccines and shots up to date and the owner took him to be vet checked and quarantined. All is good now. Thank you so much for the advice and keep up the great work!

        On a personal note; my arm is healing up nicely (although it is going to have a pretty decent scar). Ive finished up my antibiotics and am feeling almost 100% again.

        thanks again!

        • Mom says:

          Hi Angelo,

          This is some of the best news I’ve heard in a long time, I’m so happy it worked out well and thank you so much for letting us know. It’s encouraging to know that there are some understanding bite victims, dog owners and city officials. You are amazing yourself by understanding what really happened and not blaming the dog! Glad to hear all you’ll have is a not so pretty scar. You made my day, thank you!

          Deb

  26. Olivia says:

    I apologize if a similar question has already been asked/answered, but there were a lot of responses to read through and I’m desperate! I have a bullmastiff who is a little over a year old. He is a great dog–very snuggly, knows basic obedience, very, very sweet. However, he has a couple of behaviors that are not so great. Sometimes he will jump on our bed and sort of play bite. We’ve been working to correct this, but it has never been aggressive, and it happens infrequently so we haven’t worried too much about it. Last week, I noticed he was scratching his ears a lot and seemed sensitive about it when I tried to touch them. I took him to the vet and we learned he has yeast overgrowth in his ears. To treat this, we need to pour a generous amount of a liquid the vet gave us into his ear, rub it in for a minute, and then wipe his ears out with a tissue. Unfortunately, our dog was very anxious at the vet and snapped at the vet when he tried to get near him to look in his ears. It took four people and several attempts at muzzling him/bite attempts before we were able to get him to stop moving enough for the vet to show us how to use the liquid. The dog was very upset, and was very stressed out after that experience. The vet sent us home with the liquid and instructed us to do the same thing we had done together every other day for a month and once a week for the rest of his life. Again, my dog is very sweet, he lets me handle his paws, ears, face, I can kiss his snout, hug/squeeze him, and he tolerates all of it. The minute he sees the bottle of liquid, he immediately becomes stressed out, barks at me, and won’t let me near his ears. I tried muzzling him, putting treats in the muzzle, he got more stressed, and ran away from me. I eventually attempted to just force the muzzle on quickly (he needs his medication!) and he got really upset and aggressively bit my arm. I feel really stuck and have no idea how to manage this behavior. I understand that he’s scared, so what do I do? Help!

    • Mom says:

      Hi Olivia,

      Thanks for joining our dog bite discussion. I’m first going to touch on one of the things you wrote which you weren’t overly concerned about and that’s your dog jumping up on your bed for a play-bite session. This play time may seem totally innocent but I would put a stop to this immediately. Our dogs are not allowed to put teeth on skin for any reason. It’s too easy for something like play-biting to turn dangerous quickly. Allowing teeth on skin in play may not be translated by your dog correctly and he may therefore think teeth on skin is just flat out ok at any time.

      Ear infections are something I’m quite familiar with as Nissa used to get ear and urinary infections 3-4 times a year until we switched her to a raw diet. She had one ear infection a few months ago but that was traced to her ears having gotten wet. If your dog continues to get ear infections he could be allergic to something in what you’re feeding him now so you may want to have a good hard look at what he’s eating and try a different dog food. Check out the Grade Your Dog Food list to get some ideas of some good foods or better yet, consider going raw.

      When Nissa was experiencing ear infections she only had to be on the liquid-squirt medication for X number of days (10-14???). There was never any long-term or permanent use. You might check with your vet, there is a medication for ear infections which our vet gave Nissa for her recent infection. I don’t know what it’s specific name is but it’s a mixture of Enroflaxin, Ketoconazole and Triamcinolone. Our vet tech squirted this into her ear with a syringe minus a needle and then rubbed her ear to work it in. I took her home with instructions to keep her ears dry for at least 14 days, no additional meds needed. By the next day she was feeling better. On the downside this medication is sticky greasy stuff and with her long coat it looked like the area in and around the outside of her ears was covered with the hair goop that Fonzie used on his hair but it was a very small price to pay for the results. She hated the liquid squirt stuff and I’m pretty sure one reason is that some of these liquid ear meds sting especially if they contain alcohol.

      You found out first hand that when a dog is cornered and/or scared he’s very likely to bite (even his beloved owner) and that forcing the muzzle won’t work. It just makes for a negative experience that your dog may never forget and always react badly to muzzling but with some work you may also be able to bring him around so you don’t have problems if the need to muzzle arises.

      So, what I’d do is get back on the phone with my vet to inquire on the gel ear medication that I mentioned. I also would want to know the reason for keeping him on the liquid medication permanently for an ear infection. I’m not a vet and maybe there’s more to your dog’s ear infection than I’ve ever had to deal with but it just doesn’t seem like a necessity to keep him on the liquid forever, which seems extreme to me – but again I’m not a vet.

      When you get his ear infection cleared up, then a few months on down the road you can go back and work on him slowly to accepting the muzzle using positive reinforcement techniques. I believe it’s a necessity for every dog owner but particularly large dog owners to get your dogs to the point of accepting a muzzle just in case there is ever an emergency or situation that would require him to wear it. You want to be able to slip it on and not worry about it or about anyone getting hurt to get it on him. Being that he’s had a negative experience with it, you’re likely going to have your work cut out for you to turn this around. A basket muzzle is the most recommended style and Baskerville makes a great basket muzzle. We have one that we used when we were introducing Gracie into the pack but that’s the only time we’ve needed a muzzle and that was as a precaution because Riley isn’t always good with other dogs, he’s picky about his dog friends. Turns out we didn’t need it but we used it at first as a precaution.

      If your vet is willing to go the gel route, you might talk to him about just this one time sedating your boy to get the job done or at the very least some calming tabs to relieve his stress pre-vet visit. There are at least two kinds of sedation I know of, one being to put the dog fully out asleep, the other is like a twilight sleep which is not as dangerous and he’ll come out of it much quicker. The twilight sleep might be enough and I hope you do not allow the vet to give your dog ACE to accomplish this.

      I hope I’ve been of some help to you and that you’ll let us know how it goes. Best of luck!

  27. Karen says:

    We have adopted a two year old shih Tzu from a rescue place. It was said that he is aggressive which we just found out after we came home and saw it written in the papers that he bites.

    Well, my husband was the one who brought him home and introduced him to our other shelter dog (Lhasa apsa) we just got a month before. The hell broke loose, but we managed that the dogs got along after a few days.

    But Max, the shih Tzu bit sometimes just out of the blue when you patted him, or when driving in the car one dog sitting on my lab and he beside me biting like crazy .it felt and was like an attack. Yesterday he was sleeping beside me and I just put my hand out to pat him and he attached me again. My husband grabbed him and he wanted to bite him. He is very fearful and we thought that he might have been abused by a woman, because he is lashing out more to females than to men. And he has a big scare on his back. He knows that he did something wrong and tries to make it up and lick me. What can we do to stop this.

    • Mom says:

      Hi Karen,

      First I’d like to thank you for adopting this little dude! But more importantly I’d like to thank you for looking for answers rather than giving up on him!

      The rescue REALLY should have addressed his biting issues with you at great length. I find that to be very lax and irresponsible on their part for not doing so. Many rescues will not take in nor adopt out a dog with a bite or aggression history. They should have worked with him a lot before allowing him to be adopted out. Just telling you a dog is aggressive and noting this in the paperwork is not nearly enough. They not only should have discussed it with you but given you some help options for seeking out ways to help him. It sounds like you weren’t even there for the adoption which if that’s the case is really wrong. The rescue should require meeting with all family members including your other dog and doing a home visit as well. Without knowing all that transpired I can only comment on what you’ve told me so some of what I’m saying about the rescue may not be relevant.

      In my opinion I think you need to find all the dog’s triggers and then act on them accordingly. This blog post is absolutely a wealth of information on triggers to biting. I suggest reading all the information contained here and think hard about what situations fit your dog the best and then follow through with my suggestions on how to deal with his triggers. It does sound like fear is a big part of the little guy’s issues but no matter what, when you bring a new dog into a home it takes time for all of you to get to know one another. I mean months, not days or weeks and sometimes it’s many months. The dog has probably been through a lot and has no sense of security which all dogs need very much.

      Good luck to you! Let us know how it goes?

  28. Cheryl says:

    I read your articles with high interest; you have some very good insight. However, my situation seems different, and I’m wondering if you have any thoughts.

    We’ve raised Bernie (a 6 year choc lab – pedigree, hunting line) since he was a puppy with 3 boys. The youngest boy is not 8. Bernie has never reacted negatively to any of the children.

    About 4 years ago Bernie bit my husband in the hand, my husband had previously provoked the dog by growling at it, which scared him and he would always run to me.

    About 2 years ago Bernie gained access to a room with a mother and baby guniea pig, and ate one of them that he could get to. After I tried to remove him from the situation to protect the little animals, and Bernie bit me on the hand. I was half asleep and very angry with the dog as I tried to pull him out of the room to protect the other guinea pigs. He did not break skin, and was fine as soon as he was away from the guniea pigs.

    About 2 months ago, a friend stayed with me and she tried to pull Bernie in the yard when he got out and he growled and snipped at her. This was a surprise, as there was no warning. Luckily she reacted quickly enough, and my young son went and was able to get the dog in the yard with no problem. Now, this friend is a total dog lover, and slept with, walked and cared for my dogs.

    Then this last weekend I was crawling around the floor on all four, like I do often when playing with my kids, and Bernie approached me, wagging his tail, then started licking me. He was wagging his tail as he licked me, but Bernie never licks me so I moved my head and started to lean away because I was uncomfortable.. but he growled and latched on to my face tightly ripping my skin (10 stiches, many other scratches and lacerations). I had to pull his jaw apart to get away, and then went into shock.

    You should know that I am the primary care taker for both our labs. I walk them, feed them, bathe them, and they always follow me around the house and lay at my feet. They even follow me to the rest room. Wherever I am the dogs are laying right next to me.

    So, this bite is a total surprise. Do you have any insight as to why this happened? Or do you have any suggestion where I might be able to give up my dog in a new home? I am terrified to have him around my children going forward. He is extremely well behaved, listens better than any dog I’ve ever known, and walks behind me or on my left side.

    Thank you for any thoughts or advice. My husband wants to keep him, and kennel him up outside as he says he is not a house dog. However, I’m afraid he will get even upset with this treatment as he’s always been around the family. I also will be the one to have to care for him, and quite honestly, I’m a bit afraid of him, especially not knowing what I did wrong. My husband says it’s my body language, but I don’t know what that means or how it was perceived, especially since the dog approached me.

    • Mom says:

      Hi Cheryl,

      Four years ago when Bernie bit your husband, it sounds like your husband had it coming. I don’t mean to sound crass, but this proves that growling at or provoking a dog in any way can result in a bite especially if the provocation or action causes a fear reaction in the dog. Fear is the #1 reason a dog bites. Enough said on this.

      The guinea pig – some dogs have very high prey drive and should not be allowed around small animals. There is no reason to be angry at a dog who has prey drive, it’s an instinct that he cannot change and neither can you. If my dog’s prey drive has been triggered, they are not going to listen to me come hell or high water. Prey drive makes a dog highly excited and so you getting your hand bit to try to keep him away was caused by his excitement. My guess is your hand got in the way. My suggestion is to completely prevent Bernie from getting near small animals such as behind closed doors or gates in between.

      Before I go any further, hopefully by now you’ve read this entire page and have seen something I continue to repeat and repeat and repeat … have you taken Bernie to the vet and gotten a complete physical including things like having his thyroid levels checked? Labs are on the list of dog breeds prone to hypothyroidism which can cause aggression. This is very important, there could be a medical reason for some of his behavior excluding things like prey drive and husband harassing/scaring him and the fact that Bernie is a dog and will behave like a dog. I just get a strong feeling that there is a medical condition at the bottom of Bernie’s problems.

      Moving along to when Bernie bit you when you were on the floor … sounds like you had very good instincts here … Bernie never licks you so you felt something was up. This part of your story right here is what triggered me to think that there may very well be something medical wrong with Bernie. This is odd behavior but on the other hand it’s not. When your instincts kicked in so did fear (and understandably so) and dogs can smell fear, some will react to it with a bite just as Bernie did. However, I still lean more towards something medical being at the bottom of this.

      Until you have him fully vetted and I do mean fully — the works, not just the all to common casual look-him-over exam. Your vet needs to get down and dirty with blood work, things that might be causing Bernie pain I would not allow the children around him. Unfortunately, keeping him from his family (which is his pack) will cause him anxiety and that’s not good either.

      Have a hard look at what you’re feeding him, allergies to dog food ingredients can cause some really bizarre behaviors and painful physical conditions as well. We are huge on a raw diet here which has absolutely been one of the best things we’ve done for our dogs.

      Locking him away in a kennel is not the answer and is only going to bring more stress and anxiety to Bernie. There are many many hunters who believe like your husband that hunting dogs are not house dogs. I can’t possibly agree with that but I also can’t change it. Dogs are pack animals no matter what breed they are and they literally need their pack, especially a dog that’s had a good size pack — your family and your other dog.

      I agree with your husband on your body language. You’re afraid of Bernie and considering what happened it’s natural for you to be afraid of him. Bernie knows you’re afraid of him, he can sense that. This is adding to what’s going on between you and Bernie and has become a vicious circle that needs to be broken. Please get him to the vet and especially get his thyroid levels checked and have your vet check for other medical/painful reasons that can cause aggression in a dog that has never been aggressive before.

  29. Krystle says:

    Hi ,

    I have to GSD’s one Intact male 2 1/2 years old and the other Spayed female 1 1/2 years old. They both have gone through training and continue to train everyday. Barrett the male has his CGC but all that doesn’t matter because they have both started a nasty habit of biting (and I say biting because theyre drawing blood) the kids and the kids friends when they are playing around them. Xuber the female used to keep her ears back and approach the kids correctly but the longer she’s been around the male, now theyre both doing it. It worries me not only for our two children ages 12 and 10 who have both been active in the training of the shepherds, including going to their classes, but more so Im worried about all their friends the shepherds have been biting. We will lose our home owners insurance if we’re reported. This is a desperate issue. I will do whatever it takes. Please help me help them.

    • Mom says:

      Hi Krystle,

      You didn’t give me much information to go on so I’m having to wing it here.

      I suggest that you read this entire article starting at the very beginning and all posts/responses on this page. There are a number of posts that address the issues you’re having with your dog such as herding instincts/behavior which it sounds like your dogs may be participating in. Pay attention to my suggestions on what you’re feeding your dogs, health check-ups and potential medical conditions. Remember that kid skin is more sensitive than adult skin so drawing blood is going to happen easier on kids. There are also tips on how to handle helping your dogs to not behave this way when kids are running around.

      I don’t know why your male is still intact and I can’t say with 100% certainty if neutering a dog changes behavior, you’ll find beliefs on both sides of the coin if you research it but we do believe in neutering and spaying for obvious reasons even though your female is spayed there are plenty of other females in your area that aren’t I have no doubt. Our main reason for this is that the world doesn’t need any more puppies. There are so many dogs that need homes and not enough homes to go around. If this were my dog, I would say it’s worth a try, you’re not going to hurt your dog by neutering him especially due to his age, he’s an adult so you won’t wind up with the common growth & emotional issues neutering too soon causes. Unless you’re a reputable professional breeder (and it sounds like you’re not because your female is spayed) there is *no* reason good enough in our opinion to have an intact male.

      Until you figure things out and have solutions, for safety reasons there is no reason to allow your dogs around children and there’s no point in jeopardizing your homeowners insurance just so your dogs can play with the kids.

      Hope this helps!

  30. Jessica W says:

    Hi, This article sounds like it might be very helpful. I have a chihuahua dachshund mix named Chica that’s 5 years old. This is a new problem that just started over the last 2 or 3 months. She does have separation anxiety that is being worked on with a trainer along with me, along with her barking, howling, etc when I leave the apartment. That’s not the recent issue though. I live in a high rise apartment complex and am in an electric wheelchair. Lately she has become suddenly aggressive towards men, even ones who are big dog lovers. Some she doesn’t trust and will run after barking like she’s gonna attack them and goes towards their feet. Other ones, she will go up to wagging her tail to greet them, smells their hand then goes after. She hasn’t actually bitten anyone yet, though she has come very close. She is always on the leash and I’m able to pull her back as soon as it starts. I pull her back quick, say NO!, and pull her back onto the footrest of my wheelchair where she sits between my feet. About 6 months ago I had a bad break up with a guy who was staying with me. e id used to rough house with her too much, which I had to break him of. Even now though, when she sees him, she runs up and greets him, happy to see him, no problem. She is fine with men she has known for a long time and trusts. Since the break up, and others before that, I myself have grown a distrust for most men, which she might sense. But as I said, this has started with her just in the last 2 or 3 months. And she’s even doing it with guys I myself know and trust. Even with the maintenance men in the building, one of whom is a really big dog lover who wants Chica very much to like him. When they are sitting she is mostly fine. If they are sitting and she goes up to them and they immediately pet her, they made a new friend. I think you are right about the eye contact and putting out their hand because if they are sitting (or especially if they’re standing or even squatting down), because if she does go up to them to greet them, and all they do is look at her or offer their hand to sniff, she turns into Demon Dog and suddenly turns from happy friendly puppy, into Doberman attack dog LOL. If they give her a treat, she’s fine.. until the treat is gone… This is really scaring me and upsetting me because I’m so afraid the building is going to tell me I have to keep her muzzled all the time OR WORSE, that I have to get rid of her. OR Even worse than that, somebody makes a dreaded phone call. PLEASE HELP!!

    I little history, I’ve had Chica since she was a puppy and got her from a breeder I still know to this day. No man that I’m aware of has done anything in the past to her or in the last 6 month since my ex left, but I can’t say for sure what all he did and do to her, but as I said before he left 6 months ago and this just started in the last 2 or 3 months. She goes to the groomers regularly and they just told me she has very healthy teeth, she is up to date on all her shots but is due for her distemper shot which I’m taking her for this month. She is litterbox trained since I can’t take her out in the wintertime, but I do take her out for a run (she runs along side or in front of my wheelchair on the leash) whenever I can.

    • Mom says:

      Hi Jessica,

      The first thing you need to understand is that you have a small dog and small dogs are more likely to bite than big dogs. This is something many people don’t think about. Big dog bites are (in part) sensationalized in the news because their bites cause more damage than a small dog big. Secondly, yours is a mix of two of the top breeds most likely to bite. So at least part of your dog’s new behavior problems is likely genetic in nature.

      A few more links regarding Chihuahuas and Dachshund biting habits:

      Chihuahuas Bite Vets Most

      Sausage Dogs are the Most Aggressive Dogs

      I agree she’s sensing your unfortunate newfound distrust in men which is likely adding to the problem and is something you can work on.

      Dog owners everywhere no matter what the breed need to educate themselves in dog behavior and owners of breeds on the “most likely to bite list” have a responsibility to know their dog’s triggers, take additional precautions and to learn & practice management techniques.

      German Shepherds are on all “quick to bite lists” but since I learned to respect my dogs, to practice things like the proper way to meet a dog and understand more why dogs bite so that I don’t make the mistakes that people make that winds up in a bite, we’ve had no issues. Just knowing reasons why dogs bite isn’t enough, one must live the respect and management techniques every day.

      Because I’m confused by your comments “She’s fine with men she’s known for a long time and trusts.” Then you go on to say “She’s even doing it with guys I myself know and trust.” I’m going to pass on commenting and skip to some things I’d do.

      First and foremost as I tell everyone – a full vet exam as explained in other posts here should be done in case there’s something medical causing or contributing to her issues. I’ve no doubt your groomer sees a lot of dog teeth but she’s not a veterinarian so I’d not take a groomer’s comments as gold. Other potential contributing factors are what you’re feeding your dog, venturing into raw feeding and too many vaccinations.

      Then read my How to Meet a Dog article. Follow the technique(s) consistently Inconsistency confuses a dog.

      It sounds like you’re letting things get to the point where Chica is already reactive. You shouldn’t have to be pulling your dog back to you after she gets worked up. I don’t let it get to that point because I don’t want my dogs to bite anyone and in an excited state a bite is more likely to happen. It’s much easier to prevent the excitement than to have to deal with its aftermath.

      You suspect your dog is sensitive to and thus reactive to direct eye contact and hands reaching towards her. Respect your dog and stop this from happening. Some help for how to do this is in the previously mentioned meeting a dog article. You said she’s fine if people are sitting down and Chica goes to them. That’s the correct way and it doesn’t matter if it’s a stranger or a person Chica comes in contact with every day. Your dog is trying to tell you she doesn’t like it when someone approaches her (and maybe you as well). She needs to go to them which is what dogs need to do. To a dog, each meet & greet is a new experience so treat it as one.

      The easiest and safest solution to Chica’s reactivity after someone gives her a treat is to not allow others to give her treats, at least until you get her behavior under control, permanently if you can’t.

      Best of luck!

  31. kathy says:

    I should also say that my dog goes to work with me every day and is socialized with lots of different people . He also goes out with a sitter / trainer with other dogs several times a week for socialization. I’m nervous that he might do this again, only with one of my clients.

  32. kathy says:

    My dog was playing catch with a friend last nite. My friend sat down, and my dog jumped up and bit him in the lip.
    My dog seemed to be playing happily. What happened?

    • Mom says:

      Hi Kathy,

      I wasn’t there and there isn’t a whole lot of information you’ve given but there is a difference between a bite and a playful nip. If your dog was excited and wanted to play more it could have been a nip to try to get your friend to continue playing. That’s one of the things dogs do with one another.

      Deb

  33. Racheal says:

    I am looking for answers as we are concerned about our 16 week old puppy.
    We have always had dogs and have trained two Labradors previously and both were extremely well behaved loved and just perfect so it was inevitable that when our lab passed away that we would get a new one.

    My lab is not like any other dog I have managed before, her biting is becoming increasingly hard to control.
    Indoors we have managed to curb it slightly and now when she is over excited she will grab a toy to stop herself from biting.
    My dad gets the worst he cannot sit down without her jumping and lunging at him.
    My mum she is not so bad with but me it is on and off.

    I took her for a walk in the evening last night and she picked up some rubbish I told her to give which she growled she then completely turnt like I have never seen before. There is play biting and fearful biting and it looked like fear the whites of her eyes were showing she made a sound which I had never heard before and she was bearing all teeth not just the front ones, she bit my hand quite hard drew blood and continued to jump and bite at me including the backs of my legs she just would not calm down until I put her on a short leash and let her attack my handbag. Once she was on the short lead she completely changed back to her old character. I am confused as to why she went like this it was like Jackyll and Hyde and I am extremely upset. I do not want my dog to be fearful we are disciplined with her but teach commands and consider ourselves good with dogs. We have never had a god like this and really need advice,

    • Mom says:

      Hi Racheal,

      As always, first stop is the vet for a complete physical including thyroid testing. Most vets may balk at this test saying she’s too young to have hypothyroidism and they would be wrong.

      Next, look hard at what you’re feeding her. She may be allergic or sensitive to one or more ingredients in her food which can make some dogs hyper or she may be getting too much or not enough of something in her food.

      Remember that puppy teeth are very sharp and pretty much any contact with puppy teeth is painful. So, let’s just not forget that is all I’m saying.

      People can have dogs all their lives and always had well behaved dogs and felt they were doing everything right. Some will not open their eyes to new things or new ways to do things. I’m living proof positive that I made a whole lot of mistakes with my previous dogs and that being a lifelong dog owner does not mean that I was a good dog owner, trainer or dog-behavior-smart. It wasn’t until Riley came along that I went on my learning adventure into dogs and what an eye opener it’s turned out to be. I had to rethink just about everything dog-wise I’d been doing and believing all the previous years. It was a hard pill to swallow that I didn’t understand dogs for squat!

      It sounds like whatever you folks are doing you may be promoting her bad behavior rather than curbing or redirecting it. Example: she went nutsy on you and wouldn’t calm down until you let her attack your handbag. What you did here was to give her your handbag which is no different than giving her a reward for her unwanted behavior. If you’re going to be doing trades with her, don’t give her something that you don’t want her to chew on in the future. You basically told her “here, chew on my purse” so now she believes it’s ok to chew on your purse. Only trade for things that she is allowed to chew on but remember if you give her an old sock that’s ok for her to have, she’s going to think all socks are fair game. Tie a knot in the middle of the ok sock so she knows the difference.

      If your folks are making excited sounds such as screaming at her to get off the excitement in their voices will serve to increase her excitement. They need to use calm, stern words, nothing with excitement in their voices.

      Dad and Mom sitting down and allowing her access to their laps is giving her what she wants. Some things they can try is to ignore her, turn away from her OR stand up and move towards her without speaking to her in a “crowding” manner which backs her away from them and preferably into a corner or up against a wall so she gets the idea. If you have a habit of talking with your hands, cross your arms so you’re not doing this.

      Allowing her on laps now is cute and fun, but she’s also learning that getting up on your laps is an ok thing to do and when she weighs 50 pounds or more do you really want her climbing up on your lap? What you teach her now that is ok, is not something she’s magically going to realize in six months “oh I’m too big to get up on their laps now” and so then you have to teach her she’s not a lap dog which is only going to confuse her. It was ok before but now it’s not? And people wonder why their big dogs think they’re lap dogs? Because they showed them when they were puppies that they were!

      My guess is your pup is Jeckyll and Hyde because she’s confused. Re-evaluate what and how you’re teaching her every step of the way. Go back to the purse thing – you were telling her no but she took it as being rewarded. Corrections and redirections have to be immediate for a dog and especially a pup to understand what’s being said to them. It sounds like the purse incident took place over a matter of at least several minutes; you tried to calm her, didn’t work so you got a short leash and then gave her your purse. All of this took time and gave her mixed signals.

      A few things I’d do until this behavior is under control is:

      1. Not wear clothing around your pup that allows access to skin so that scratches and bites don’t hurt so much.

      2. Sounds like she maybe feels more secure on a short lead. I would go with that for a while and slowly work into longer leads as she gains confidence.

      3. Teach her to sit so she knows what sit is, then use that command when she’s jumping up on you or otherwise misbehaving. She doesn’t get what she wants until she sits. You can add holding your finger up in front of her face like you’re shaking your finger at a child meaning “no-no” but I would not shake my finger. Just hold it up in front of her face and sternly look her in the eye. Start with using the word “no” and once she understands it you can slowly wean her off words until she understands the gesture. You have to be careful with this, however because some dogs will take direct eye contact as a confrontation.

      4. Think in terms of redirecting your dog instead of disciplining your dog with the biggest key being everyone in your house must do the same thing for each of the behaviors you want to change. Being consistent is probably the highest priority to un-confuse your pup. Dogs don’t come pre-programmed knowing the basic commands, they must be taught.

      5. Join a good puppy obedience class with her and better if every family member can participate to learn the same techniques from the class so that you keep consistency going.

      Hope some of this is helpful and best of luck!

  34. Diane says:

    Your right it is because he does NOT like face to face contact. and as he is turning 4 he is doing it a little more.. now I worry about my young son who is very good with him. but I do worry so im schooling my family more about this with him… he does NOT do it with me or my husband, so im traing the people more to know what to watch for. thank you all for your help…..

  35. STEPHANIE LYNN MASON says:

    MY FATHER WAS IN PRISON FOR 17 YRS . CHILD ABUSE. I WAS AM AM MENTALLY ABUSED NOW HE YELLED, HIT ABUSED DOGGIE,KAYLA. SHE RETALIATED. THEY WANT TO PUT HER TO SLEEP NO, NO, NO,, WHAT NOW////////?????????? i’m dying of cancer, broken foot, cerrosis of the liver. help pls i am terrified

    • Mom says:

      Hello Stephanie,

      Both you and your dog need to get away from your Father is my opinion. If I were terminally ill I’d be finding a new *safe* home for my dog now rather than leaving it up to others. Your father should be on parole having just gotten out of prison. I would call his parole officer and tell them what happened, they can revoke his parole any time they darn well please which will get him out of the house. Your dog had every right to protect herself. I hope you find help, this is all I’m able to do for you. We wish you the best for everything.

  36. Thank you for publishing this article.

    I rescued an anxious 2 1/2 year old golden retriever that could not be trained. She was food aggressive, dog aggressive, and not good around children. With the little ones, she would body-slam them and nip their hands while stealing food from their fingers. She nearly killed the previous owner’s poodle over what Rylee thought was a piece of kibble on the floor. Her attacks were aggressive!

    She was adopted three times before coming to me, because nobody could handle her. I’ve never met a more anxious dog. I was concerned about putting her in the car and riding for 2 1/2 hours together. I saw great potential for her to back in a corner and try to attack me.

    We took a few practice walks and a couple of car rides before I brought her home. We formed an instant connection, and the ride home was wonderful. In the past, she always vomited in the car. Our first rides were good, and now she loves car rides more than anything else. That transition was all about positive experiences.

    When friends brought their dogs over (with a stern warning on my part) Rylee would snarl with the side of her face that I could not see. Literally, she was two-faced to establish dominion without me seeing her. Or Rylee would sit at my feet under the kitchen table, and silently snarl at the visiting dog.

    With extensive training based entirely on my intuition, she has become a wonderful, happy, safe and loyal dog.

    And, I understand her triggers! I am amazed that people will bring their children and their dogs into my home, and not watch them or respect Rylee’s boundaries. I’ve gone to the bathroom, and come out to find a toddler hugging her hard around the neck. I warn people to manage their dogs and children while she is eating – particularly when the peanut butter bone is being filled. And yet they sit on my couch, buried in the phones, leaving me to manage Rylee, their dogs, and their children.

    I’m amazed that there hasn’t been an accident. Rylee is loyal and intuitive, and has several dog friends that she loves dearly. But the most important rules include watching her body language, showing her respect, and following the advice in your article. You did an excellent job of outlining the most basic and most effective guidelines for establishing a relationship with a dog.

    Rylee now has more friends than I do, and she is very popular on Facebook. She is sweet and loving and pretty and loyal. She is now 7 years old, and she can read my mind. Seriously.

    Thanks for your article. I was Rylee’s last hope. It was hard work, but in the end I have a wonderful companion that brings me great joy.

    https://www.facebook.com/RyleeSmiles

    • Mom says:

      Mary, you are an amazing dog lady! My hat’s off to you for what you have been able to accomplish with a dog who so desperately needed someone to understand her! I’m totally in awe of what you’ve been able to do for and with her and quite honored that you found my article helpful and so nice that you took the time to let me know. Thank you so much for sharing your story. Success stories like yours help me keep going with my work. I’m 9 blog posts behind as I write this and your comments absolutely made my day!

      Big hugs to you and Rylee (love the spelling by the way!)

      Deb

      • Your work is important! Keep going, and never slow down. There is so little awareness of the basics of dog behavior. You are saving the lives of animals if humans – especially parents – pay attention to the basics.

        I have been taming difficult animals since I was 4 years old. It has always come naturally to me. The rewards are fantastic! I cannot tell you the number of times that people have been AMAZED when their crazy or fearful dogs approached me. And little dogs that are biters or fearful would jump right into my lap! All covered in your article – and it comes so naturally if people would just LISTEN. Dogs all have their stories to tell.

        I never say that I own Rylee. It is not possible to own a soul. I never say that I’m her mom. I didn’t give birth to her. She is my partner, and we love each other very much. Like any relationship, it can only be successful in an equal and respectful partnership.

        A little bit of effort from each of us has been rewarded a hundred fold. Rylee will hold smoked bacon in her mouth while I shoot 20 pictures for her web site. She knows the reward is near, and will do most anything I ask of her. She is my muse.

        You made me smile. Thank you so much for your kind reply.
        Mary

  37. CAt says:

    I always hear “there was absolutely no provocation,” or “the dog bit without being provoked!” I disagree, there is ALWAYS a provocation. It may not have been an acceptable reason but there was something that made the dog bite.

    • Mom says:

      Hi Cat,

      You are RIGHT ON! Thank you so much for your input, it’s fabulous!

      The provocation is not always something people view as provocation, but as you well know dogs perceive things differently than humans and people need to know and understand this. Then there would be more people who would understand what you’re saying. Thank you so much!

  38. Meredith says:

    Hi-
    This is a great article and I think everyone should read it. I am personally struggling right now with the possibility of euthanizing my dog due to a bite. He is a 2 yo German Shepherd/Aussie cross. He is very protective of use which only became an issue the last month or so. He bit our neighbor when she approached him while my teenager had him on leash in the yard. It broke the skin. I thought it was odd and was more careful with and finally began obedience training with him (I have trained many dogs and was working with him at home). He was great at obedience, no signs of aggression at all. However, the next day he charged my daughters friend, twice, in my house. This is a girl he knows very well, she babysits for me and has come into the house and walked him before. I know he thinks he is protecting us. My brother came over and he just lays on the floor and relaxes because he doesn’t need to protect us anymore. I’m not sure how to each him he doesn’t need to protect us so much, my landlady wants him gone. I am having trouble finding a rescue that will take him because he bit. I know he would be fine in a different situation than ours, which is stressful and he doesn’t get enough exercise. I’ve only had him since November. I am just heart broken because he is amazing with my 2 yo daughter and my niece and nephew. He just loves kids.

    • Mom says:

      Hi Meredith,

      I’m glad you like the article, I wish everyone would read it and others related to it as well both here and wherever this kind of information can be found.

      I’m so sorry to hear about your dog’s behavior, this is scary to say the least. Before I would be entertaining euthanasia I would be looking at medical causes. His behavior changed suddenly from what you’re telling me. This is not normal and certainly not normal protective behavior if he’s charging people he knows that have been in your house before. Not normal at all. I think something may be going on medically, hypothyroidism can cause sudden aggressive behavior. That’s the first thing I’d look into, sheps are prone to this and your dog is part shepherd. Aussies can act a bit wild and crazy, they’re very active dogs most of the time so you’ve got a mix that can be high strung.

      Most rescues can’t take him because of his bite history, unless they have the kind of insurance that will allow them to or they risk losing everything so you can’t blame them for that.

      I hope you find a safe solution for him, we wish you the best of luck and hope you’ll come back and let us know how things are going.

      Deb

  39. Carla says:

    Question: In the Fearful Humans portion, do you mean therapy dog or service dog? I have a feeling you really mean certified therapy dog.

    • Mom says:

      Hi Carla,

      I don’t think in this case there is any significant difference, both must be stable dogs so it really doesn’t matter as far as I’m concerned.

      Deb

  40. Heidi says:

    Hi,

    We adopted a 3 year old Pug x English Staffy a few months ago. The issue we have been having is that she jumps up on new people when excited and if they’re not giving her enough attention she has nipped. This has happened a couple of times. She also nipped my father in law when he was running around playing with my 2 kids. I think she’s getting over excited but we need to stop this nipping. I’ve made the ‘AHHH’ noise and put her outside when she’s done it but it’s still happening. What else could we do? Thanks.

    • Mom says:

      Hi Heidi,

      Just so that everyone understands, nipping in the manner your dog is behaving is not considered biting, at least in my dog book it’s not. This should need nothing more than re-directing her nipping behavior. Taking her outside is probably not an immediate enough redirect for her to “get it.” Dogs need *immediate* consequences (redirection) or it won’t do any good.

      If this were my dog, I would choose a behavior that I would prefer she do instead of what’s she’d doing. My choice would be to have her sit and wait for a greeting from the person she’s meeting. In other words when she displays her current behavior you teach her to sit instead. The person she’s greeting must ignore your dog’s misbehavior and as soon as your dog is sitting instead *then* you praise like crazy, give her a treat or two and your person may then love her up. She’s 3 years old meaning she’s been doing this for 3 years so don’t expect immediate results and remember you must be consistent in your redirection. Even one time that you fail to redirect her tells her that her misbehavior is acceptable.

      Deb

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