As a writer, words are my tools of the trade. But words are also important to me as a dog behavior specialist. Take “nip,” for example. The phone rings. “My dog is nipping me and my wife, and yesterday he nipped our neighbor.” Those “nips” sound pretty innocuous, don’t they? Just a teeny pinch, nothing serious! But if a dog has truly nipped, as opposed to air snapping, that means his teeth have contacted skin. Granted, there is a vast difference between a dog who delivers a quick, fear-reactive bite meant to drive a person away, and a dog who actually attacks, causing puncture wounds and having to be pulled away. But a bite is still a bite, and the situation should be given the gravity it deserves.
Just the other day, I was contacted by a man who said his dog had “snapped at” his young child. In my mind, a snap is normally an air snap, a warning where no contact is made. But as the conversation progressed, a different picture emerged. The dog had not only made contact, but had bitten the child in the face to the point that she needed stitches. So yes, the dog did snap, but he also bit, and even caused considerable physical damage.
The hesitance of an owner to tell a trainer that their dog bites or to downplay the severity of a bite is understandable. I’m sure some worry that a professional might tell them to rehome or even euthanize their dog. Even admitting that a dog has a serious problem can be difficult. Still, it does no one any favors, the dog included, to downplay behavior when aggression is involved.
It’s important to note that one bite does not a bad dog make. The offending dog is not necessarily aggressive, even though in a particular instance he behaved aggressively. Behavior is much more complicated than that. But describing an incident as well as the dog’s actions as accurately and objectively as possible is the first step toward getting the dog the help he needs.