[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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What My Dog Tells Me About Future Parenthood

OK. I confess. This isn’t a totally original post. About seven months ago, I posted something similar to my Tumblr, which focuses on my life as a new dog mom. I wanted to share it here with a few updates. 

There’s some emerging research that suggests that women, in particular, love their dogs like children. Well, yes. Shocker. The research says that our brains respond to our dogs the way we would respond to our children.

Well, if that’s the case, Bailey has given me a pretty clear picture of how I’ll be as a parent.

My kids will be spoiled: I really hope I can keep this from happening, but considering the fact that every time I go to the pet store, I come home with a new toy for Bailey, it’s highly unlikely.

 

After bath bully stick? Sure.

After bath bully stick? Don’t mind if I do. 

I won’t trust anyone: There is a small handful of people that I trust to care for Bailey for more than an afternoon. Daycare for a human child is going to be a nightmare. On top of that, the look Bailey gives me as I drive away from the house breaks my heart.

I will be slightly paranoid: I really don’t want to be a helicopter parent, but I did buy my dog a light so I could keep an eye on her when she’s in the yard at night. That’s really one step away from implanting a GPS chip in your child.

If using this light makes you feel better, momma, sure. I'll wear it.

If using this light makes you feel better, momma, sure. I’ll wear it.

I won’t be a cry-it-out parent: The first night of Bailey’s crate training, I gave in to her wails and howls, and I let her out. We slept on the floor together next to her crate. A week later, we brought her into our room, and she slept on the floor next to our bed for the next couple of months.

And, in case you’re wondering, this system actually worked out just fine for us. Bailey was housebroken very quickly. She was crated during the day and while she never learned to absolutely love her crate, she was just fine in it. 

I will give in to sharing the bed: Originally, I didn’t want Bailey sleeping in our bed. It’s just too small for two people, two cats and a 60-pound dog. This went to hell when we brought her home from the vet after being spayed. She was unusually whiny so we let her up in our room for the first time. After 45 minutes of trying to get her to stay in her own bed, she spent the night in ours. For a few months, Bailey slept with us all night. Thankfully, without any real formal training, Bailey spends most of the night in her own.

If my kid has a nightmare, you can sure bet I’ll let her sleep in my bed.

Training tip: I always make sure I reward Bailey when she goes on her bed voluntarily. I keep a bag of treats in my nightstand so when she hops off our bed and into hers, I toss her a treat. She started this behavior on her own, but now I’m working on reinforcing it. 

Your bed is much more comfortable that my bed.

Your bed is much more comfortable that my bed.

I won’t handle the exhaustion well. At all:  I’m told that the first month with an 8-week-old puppy is much like the first few weeks of parenthood. I didn’t sleep at all and could barely function at work. I was so tired I cried all the time. I felt emotionally broken and thought about taking her to a shelter every day*. I’m really looking forward to that, said no one ever.

*Obviously I didn’t, and my life would actually be a giant mess without this dog, so clearly we got through it. 

Maybe I won’t suck at parenting: I would never equate raising a dog to raising a child, but I was pretty damn terrified to raise a dog. I never had a dog and I had an overwhelming fear that I was going to turn her into this aggressive, misbehaved monster. I was sure that I was going to seriously screw Bailey up.

Bailey is by no means perfect, but she’s pretty awesome. People often remark how well behaved she is, especially for her age. So maybe I won’t royally suck at parenting. Maybe I won’t screw up my kids’ lives all that much. Maybe they’ll turn out fairly normal.

Now can I have it?

Now can I have it?

Hopefully.

 

Did your pets teach you anything about parenting? Leave me a note in the comments.