Dog Bite Prevention Week #7: So, what CAN we do to help?

All week long we've been discussing dog bite prevention, and how we can handle dogs who are behaving aggressively or biting. And yes, busting myths is critically important so that we are no longer misinformed about why our dogs are behaving a certain way, and how to change their behavior. But more important than anything else is coming up with concrete solutions moving forward to continue preventing dog bites. With some slight changes to our pet guardianship habits we can help to keep people and dogs safe. So, where to start? 1) Learn dog body language (especially children!) I cannot express this enough. Normal dogs have many, MANY signs that they offer before being pushed to a bite (I say n

Dog Bite Prevention Week Myth #6: "Most dog bites are by strange dogs."

When we hear about someone getting bitten by a dog, we often picture a stray mongrel roaming the mean streets, and attacking an unsuspecting person who crosses his path. This myth is quite pervasive, however we've seen over the years that statistically, it just isn't true. So, who are the perpetrators? Who's doing the biting? Unfortunately, approximately 77% of bites come from a familiar dog, either a dog that lives with a friend or the family's own dog (source: Furthermore, most dog bites happen to children ages 5-9 years old, and boys are twice as likely to be bitten (source: "Living with Kids and Dogs... without losing your mind" by Colleen Pelar). After children, s

Dog Bite Prevention Week #5: "Aggression can be fixed."

Is aggression something that can be fixed or cured? This is something that I have a lot of heart to heart talks with students over, and the short answer is...: no. At least not in the way many people think of it. However, this situation isn't as helpless as that answer might lead you to believe. While I would never consider aggressive behavior "fixed" or "cured", I will say that dog who has previously exhibited aggressive behavior can be managed properly and their behavior can be modified so that the chance of falling back on that aggressive behavior becomes minute. So, why won't I say aggression is "fixed"? Because those neural pathways will always be there and will always have had some rei

Dog Bite Prevention Week Myth #4: "You must punish a growl to stop aggression in it's track

Today's post is about a long-held myth: that you need to punish a dog for growling. If a dog growls, it's our knee-jerk reaction to want to punish the growl. As humans we have learned that growling is "bad" and something to be avoided. And yeah, a dog that is growling and means business is scary. While we do want to avoid having a dog growl, the last thing we want to do is use verbal or physical punishment in response to said growl. Growling is a warning signal. It's like a fire alarm beeping, or your check engine light going on. It's telling you that there is a problem, and that it needs to be handled, but punishing is never the way to handle this situation. But why not punish? Won't that e

Dog Bite Prevention Week Myth #3: "A dog that is behaving aggressively needs to be sent away to

This one is my new "soap box" topic since it seems like every day a new board and train is popping up around me. Listen, I totally get it. When you are living with a dog who is behaving aggressively, hearing someone say that if you send your dog to them for a month they will "fix" (more on the use of the word fix when it comes to behavior in tomorrow's post) your dog's behavior is understandably very tempting. However, a board and train environment is entirely inappropriate to try to modify a dog's aggressive behavior, and the training centers that advertise this service should be ashamed of themselves. There are many reasons that a board and train is inappropriate for changing aggressive be

Dog Bite Prevention Week Myth #2: "An aggressive dog thinks he's dominant and needs to be p

The dominance myth. So we meet again. I spend a LOT of my time as a dog trainer helping my students understand that their dog's misbehavior isn't a result of their dog thinking he is dominant or the alpha. Many of my clients come to me and say "my dog is growling when I.... (touch their bone, pick their food up, wipe off their paws, etc.). Is it because they think they're the alpha?" And the answer is no, it is never, ever related to dominance. Ever. So why are the dogs behaving aggressively in these contexts? Usually it's insecurity about whatever it is that is happening at the time the dog growls. The dog may be insecure about having his things taken away, or may have never learned to tole

Dog Bite Prevention Week Myth Busting #1: "Nice dogs don't bite".

This year for dog bite prevention week (April 8th-14th) I'll be writing one blog post a day on commons myths about dog bites and aggression that I see pop up. For more information on dog bite prevention week, check out the American Veterinary Medical Association web page. Today I'll be focusing on a myth that many people still believe, but once you work with dogs for any length of time you understand that it's simply not true: that "nice" dogs don't bite, or that dogs who bite aren't "nice". The truth of the matter is that there is no such thing as a "nice" dog or a "bad" dog, or a dog that doesn't bite versus a dog that will. All dogs can bite. And if pushed too hard, many dogs will. I stil

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