at one time or another, most breeders have or will re- ceive a call from the owner of a dog that she bred say- ing that the dog has bitten someone. as training direc- tor for an obedience club that offers training classes to the public, i get many calls seeking advice for what to do with a biting dog, and i will share here some of my experiences and thoughts on this subject.
dogs bite for a number of reasons, and one’s course of action in dealing with it may differ according to the reason. Puppies mouth and bite as part of their teeth- ing, playing, and social development. Some dogs bite while guarding something they value—whether it is a cushy place to lie down, food, a toy, or their own- er. Some dogs bite because someone, often a child, hurts or teases them. Some dogs have a very high prey drive, and chase and bite moving targets such as children running and screaming or people riding by on bicycles. Some have been allowed to get caught up in the “mailman scenario,” whereas a dog barks at a mailman, visitor, garbage truck, or people walking by the dog’s yard or window. The “intruder” continues on its way, and the dog is emboldened with his success in driving the intruder away. This sometimes escalates into a biting frenzy if someone attempts to calm the dog, or if the “intruder” is a guest that comes into the house or yard. Some dogs have learned that biting will keep someone from forcing them to do something they don’t want to do, such as being picked up or leashed, going outside or into a crate, or being groomed. These are typically ambitious dogs that have been paired with wimpy owners. Some dogs, thank goodness a minority, are simply what i call “psycho dogs.” They are just mean dogs, and their biting is completely un- provoked, unpredictable, and savage.
if someone calls me with a biting problem, i ask a number of questions that are designed to lead to a course of action. how old is the dog? What kind of dog is it, or what size dog is it? are there children in the house? under what circumstances does the dog bite?—describe an incident. Who does the dog bite? has someone been seriously hurt by the dog?
i don’t worry about puppy mouthing. i advise people to take the dog to puppy training classes to learn how to deal with this. Children must be supervised in their interactions with puppies.
if there are small children in the house, then the biting dog needs to be removed from the house. Period. if the dog owner were savvy enough about dogs to know that small children and dogs must alWayS be supervised closely and never left together unattended, then the problem would not have gotten started. Chil- dren, no matter how bratty, are alWayS more impor- tant than dogs, and their welfare must be considered first. Children must not be put in danger, regardless of whether the dog was simply defending itself from the child. Children tend to lead with their faces when ap- proaching dogs, and the chances are great that if they get bit, it will be in the face. admonishing a child to leave the dog alone simply makes the activity more inviting. if a breeder has called me, i tell them to go get the dog. if the dog owner calls, i advise them to return the dog to the breeder, or if that is not possible, to contact a rescue group, or board the dog until a suit- able course of action can be decided upon, but to get the dog out of the house. in many cases, simply plac- ing the dog in a home where it will not have access to children will solve the problem in cases where chil- dren were hurting or tormenting the dog, or the dog was chasing running, screaming children.
The size or breed of the biting dog is an important consideration. obviously a 4-pound toy poodle with a nasty disposition is a different problem entirely from an 80-pound standard poodle with a chip on its shoul- der. almost any reasonable adult can learn to manage the first if he wants to, but not necessarily the second.
learning under what circumstances the dog bites can sometimes suggest some fairly simple remedies if the owner is otherwise happy with the dog, and is will- ing to change his own behavior. The most common scenario is the dog that guards furniture, toys, or its owner. Some of these cases can be solved by banning the dog from furniture and beds. The dog is given a bed on the floor. The dog can wear a six-foot leash or cord attached to his collar when the owners are home, and whenever the dog gets on the furniture, the owner can pick up the end of the cord, tell the dog “off,” and pull the dog off the furniture. as long as the owner is consistent and persistent, the dog will eventually give up and stay off the furniture when people are present. likewise, if the dog is guarding toys, chew bones, or food, then he can get these items only when he is in a
crate or enclosure or when he is outside. if the dog cont. on page 22