[Dog Bite Prevention Week] I Love My Dog, But She Will Bite

National Dog Bite Prevention Week

My dog will bite you. My dog will bite me. She’ll bite my husband and my children.

I don’t live in a delusional fantasy land where dogs don’t bite when they’re scared, stressed or hurt. For everyone’s safety, I treat my dog as though she will bite even though she’s generally a pile of cuddly mush.

It’s my job to intervene when I feel that Bailey is stressed, over-aroused or scared because these are the instinctual emotions that she will feel before she harms someone.

Dogs rarely bite “out of nowhere.” Dogs usually exhibit signs that they are uncomfortable, but those signs are often ignored by their owners. In some cases, these signs are trained out by their owners, like when a dog is punished every time she growls. Soon, the dog learns that growling leads to punishment and you’ve lost one of your signals that your dog is uncomfortable. So your dog didn’t bite out of nowhere. You trained her not to tell you she’s about to bite.

I never punish Bailey for growling and I work fast to mediate whatever situation is causing her stress. I want Bailey to growl because that’s how I know I need to intervene before things become dangerous.

Kids and Dogs

More often than not, that adorable photo of the baby and the dog currently circulating the interwebs is a nightmare waiting to happen. Some dogs are perfectly comfortable with their tiny human companions while others are forced to interact because their owner thinks it’s cute. If you really scrutinize a photo involving a child and a dog, you’ll find that oftentimes the dog is exhibiting some signs of stress: Their ears could be pulled back, their eyes are white and shifty, they have a furrowed brow, and their body is stiff. This dog is not happy. This is a dog that could bite.

Preventing a child from being bitten is why I’ve been learning about dog body language since Bailey entered our life. I watch videos, study pictures and read articles from animal behavioral experts all in hopes that I can prevent a bite.

Ultimately, though, if my child does get bitten, it’s my fault. I did not do my job as a human and pet parent to ensure that Bailey and our child were interacting in a safe manner. Maybe I was exhausted. Maybe it was hard to tell how she was feeling. Maybe I made a mistake. No matter what, it’s my fault and I will never blame Bailey.

Bailey is a fun, sweet, well-behaved pup. She lives for belly rubs and slobbery kisses. She’s been a wonderful playmate for children before and I believe she will make an awesome companion for our child.

I'll never say, "My dog won't bite." // After the Knot

I’ll never say, “My dog won’t bite.” // After the Knot

But she’s a dog. She’s an animal. Animals are instinctual and somewhat unpredictable. I love my dog with all of my heart and soul, but she will bite me if she felt she had to.

And I’m OK with that.

Dog Bite Facts from AVMA

  • Each year, more than 4.5 million people in the U.S. are bitten by dogs.
  • Almost 1 in 5 people bitten by dogs require medical attention.
  • Every year, more than 800,000 Americans receive medical attention for dog bites; at least half of them are children.
  • Children are, by far, the most common victims of dog bites and are far more likely to be severely injured.
  • Most dog bites affecting young children occur during everyday activities and while interacting with familiar dogs.
  • Senior citizens are the second most common dog bite victims.

Resources

Knowledge is the best way to prevent dog bites. Here are some of my favorite resources.

American Veterinary Medical Association: The sponsors behind Dog Bite Prevention Week

Reisner Veterinary Behavior & Consulting Services: The Facebook page for this consulting business is AMAZING and has wonderful, wonderful examples of why that adorable viral dog video is not adorable and is actually very dangerous.

Family Paws Parent Education: Great for families with dogs

Lili Chin: Her illustrations are a MUST VIEW for anyone attempting to learn how to decode dog body language. They continue to be a constant help for me.

Dr. Sophia Yin: While Dr. Yin, sadly, committed suicide late last year, her work remains instrumental to fostering a positive bond between pets and their owners. Her entire site is a wealth of information.

Victoria Stillwell Positively: Generally speaking, I try to stay away from any “expert” that has a TV show, but if you’re going to go the way of the TV trainer, Victoria Stillwell is the one to give your support. Unlike He Who Shall Not Be Named, Stillwell uses proven science-based training techniques and actually has an understanding of dog behavior.

 

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Adventures in Dog Training: Preparing for the Not-Yet-Conceived Baby

I’m just going to come right out and say it:

My dog fucking rocks. She’s awesome. She really is the best dog on the face of the Earth.

But, she’s far from perfect.

She’s really great with a lot of her basic skills, like Sit, Stay, Leave-It, etc. She’s less great with more complicated skills like recall. When she sees people she wants to say hello to she charges forward and barks like a maniac. It’s incredibly disturbing to anyone that doesn’t know her. We’re slowly working on this one.

The stress of a foster kitten has made her a little food aggressive toward the cats so I enlisted the help of our trainer for some advice.

I mentioned that I also wanted to teach Bailey how to stop barking on cue because I know the skill will come in handy once we have a baby.

Our trainer suggested also working on some other skills are great for when a baby is around, like not rushing to the front door and learning to stay out of a room when asked.

Setting Barriers

One of the first things I learned about training a dog is that they need boundaries. Now, not only are we teaching boundaries, but we’re setting barriers.

We’re teaching Bailey the cue Wait which in effect means, “don’t move forward. There is a line and you cannot cross it.” I could use this cue when I’m putting Future Baby in her crib and I don’t want Bailey following me into her room. I would ask Bailey to wait in the doorway and she would not follow me in. If she wants to leave, that’s fine, but she can’t move forward.

We practice Wait at every doorway, including this one from the hallway to the kitchen. / After the Knot

We practice Wait at every doorway, including this one from the hallway to the kitchen. / After the Knot

Wait is different than stay which is, stay here until I tell you to move. I guess you could argue they should be the other way around, but she’s a dog. I could use the word shishkabob and it wouldn’t matter.

Door Manners

I started teaching Bailey door manners a while back, but even though it should have been a high-priority, I was never consistent with her training.

We’re now trying to teach Bailey to stay on her bed when we answer the door. The same skills for wait apply here.

A note letting people know that it might take a minute to answer the door. We're not trying to be rude, we're just trying to train our dog. / After the Knot

A note letting people know that it might take a minute to answer the door. We’re not trying to be rude, we’re just trying to train our dog. / After the Knot

While you can use audio files of door bells and door knocks to practice, we practice this every day when we come home.

(Our trainer suggested we do this. It’s so common sense, I’m not sure why we didn’t think of it earlier.)

For example, when I come home from work, or anywhere, I don’t go to the side door anymore. Like a guest would, I go to the front door. I ring the bell and watch C work to get Bailey on her bed.  Right now, we release her almost immediately, slowly building up her ability to stay.

This enables us to practice this skill every day without needing people to come over regularly.

We’re hoping that by the time Future Baby arrives, guests will be able to enter the house without pushing by a very excited Lab.

This video from trainer Victoria Stillwell shows the process that we’re using teach Bailey this skill.

Quiet

With at least half a dozen dogs outdoor dogs near my house, it’s very easy for the howls to start. Someone coming home from work down the street could trigger the chorus of the barking dogs. Naturally, Bailey has to get in on this action.

Power of Barking

As Puppy Bailey has taught me, I’m not very functional without sleep. I cry. A lot. I also get angry really easily.

At some point, we’ll have a baby and I fully intend to attempt to sleep while Future Baby sleeps. If a chorus of barking dogs causes Bailey to bark and wake up Future Baby and the precious moments of sleep I have are gone, I’m going to flip. the. fuck. out.

So, I figured if we started now we’d have at least a year and a half to teach Bailey to STFU when we ask her.

Training quiet has been a little more difficult, just because it’s unpredictable. This involves rewarding Bailey the moment she stops barking, knowing she would likely start up again almost immediately. This skill will take a long time to learn, which is why we wanted a good amount of time before we’d have to apply it.

Since working on this though, I’ve noticed Bailey does settle down a little bit more quickly, but we have a long way to go.

Our Trainer

Words can’t describe how excited I am to have found Kassondra from Always Pawsitive. It’s been really hard to find a positive reinforcement trainer that doesn’t use “positive training” as a marketing buzzword. If you live in southeastern Wake County or northwestern Johnston County, I hope you’ll look her up.

 

What did you do to prepare you dog for a new little human?