Dog bites can be scary and painful, and can cause major damage. No one in their right mind wants to be bitten! But as a canine behavior specialist who also observes human behavior, I’ve seen people who, unfortunately, seem to be in pursuit of that goal. And so, if you’re in the market for sporting some impressive teeth marks, allow me to share with you a few strategies that might well result in a bite:
1. When a dog growls at you, keep right on doing what you’re doing.
A growl is a dog’s early warning system. It broadcasts, Stay back. If you push me, violence may follow! I would much rather be around a dog who growls to share his feelings of discomfort than one who has been punished for growling; the latter are often the ones who bite without warning. At the moment a dog growls, the wisest course of action is to stop what you’re doing, whether advancing toward or reaching toward the dog, trying to brush, clip nails, or whatever. Diffuse the situation until everyone is calmer. Then, if it’s your own dog, address the underlying issue with the help of a professional if needed.
2. Show dogs affection by kissing them on top of the head and giving a nice, tight hug!
Okay, before you say it, yes, you may be able to do those things with your own dog. Perhaps your dog even enjoys them. But there are many who will not appreciate either of those things, and may bite to convey their distress. Hugging signifies affection to humans, but to dogs, it’s a form of restraint. Ask any vet tech how much dogs love being restrained. It’s true that there are some dogs who are fine with being hugged, but many more simply tolerate it; and some won't. When being hugged, a dog may show subtle stress signals such as lip licking, turning away of the head and or gaze, or yawning. If those signals are not heeded, the dog may proceed to growling or even biting without warning.
As far as kissing a dog on top of the head, I have known of more than a few children and even some adults who have been bitten in the face for doing it. Dogs are naturally nervous about things descending from overhead. No doubt you’ve seen dogs who actually cringe when someone reaches to pet them with a palm down over the head. Approach dogs by petting the chest or other safe area first, and even better, let them approach you. As far as kissing, only put your face close enough to kiss a dog you know very, very well.
3. Take your dog’s food away regularly. After all, you’re the one in charge!
Creating a resource guarding issue really isn’t that difficult. Here’s an example that involves my very favorite food; pizza. (And while we’re at it, make that New York pizza. Sorry, Chicago!) Imagine that I’m enjoying my personal slice of cheese heaven. You approach and take it from me. Hmm. I’m not very happy about that! You proceed to do this often when I have a slice of pizza in my possession. Very quickly, I learn that you approaching me means I am going to lose the thing that is so valuable to me. So, the next time I saw you coming, I might say, “Hands off the cheese, please!” If you kept moving toward me, I’d say it again in a stronger tone. If you still didn’t back off, things might get ugly! You get the point. Getting back to your dog, giving him a super tasty bone or other chew item and then trying to prove you’re in charge by taking it away is a great way to create a resource guarding issue where there might never have been one. And going back to point one, continuing to push it when he warns you is also a great way to get bitten.
4. Teach your dog that you’re the boss by rolling him on his back or giving him harsh physical corrections.
Ooh. This one really gets my hackles up! Yes, you’re most likely bigger and stronger than your dog. That doesn’t give you the right to treat him roughly. Violence begets violence, and if you’re doling out harsh physical corrections or trying to “dominate” your dog in a way that frightens him, you really can’t blame him for using the tools at his disposal—his teeth—to defend himself. And why use force anyway? Love, respect, and cooperation foster trust and get much better results. Trainers of exotic animals work with huge, strong animals who could injure or even kill a human. Have you ever seen someone jerk a dolphin around on a choke chain, or try to wrestle a bear into submission? I didn’t think so. Again, just because you can doesn’t mean you should. I worked with wolves and wolfdogs for many years and all my body parts are still intact. I certainly wasn’t trying to show them who was boss; it was a matter of cooperation, not coercion. Treat your dog with respect and he’ll do the same.
Well, that’s it. Now you know how to go about getting bitten…and how to avoid it. Stay safe!
©Nicole Wilde www.nicolewilde.com Sign up to be alerted to new blog posts!