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 still remember the dog who used to live on the corner across the street from my parent's house when I was growing up. She was a really cute mutt, but I wasn't allowed to be near her because she had a history of aggression with children. In my 8 year old mind this meant that she was a "mean" or "bad" dog. Now looking back at that dog and having my own dog with some issues, I definitely know better. And I love the fact that her guardians were good enough to her to be her advocate and stand up for her, managing her behavior so that she didn't end up biting.
I've seen dogs who have bitten hard enough to send someone to the hospital snuggle up with their human on the couch, snoozing peacefully with their favorite person. I've seen dogs who have absolutely zero issues with strangers, thinking that everyone in the world is their best friend, pull a total 180 when food or toys are present. Dogs are complicated, living creatures just like we are. When we discuss the characteristics of people it is easy for us to understand that there aren't just "good people" and "bad people". Everyone has different motivations for their actions and sometimes even a person we consider "good" will slip up and make a mistake, or make a bad decision under stress.
The same exact thing is relevant for our dogs. Aggression is typically a manifestation of stress, and if a dog has too many stressful experiences and is put under too much duress aggression is often an unfortunate side effect. We absolutely need to manage and modify aggression when we can anticipate it, and proactively prevent it using appropriate socialization measures. However, putting dogs into "good" and "bad" camps isn't helpful to the larger issue of how to prevent dog bites. Remember, any dog that has teeth can bite.