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dog bite with no warning signs

Dog bite with No warning signs

Dog bite with No warning signs?

Each week, as many of you know, I consult with many dog owners who are reacting to their dogs behaviour. This often means that there has been a dog bite with no warning signs, and they need help.

You know, in 99.9% of the cases, it’s not true that there were no warning signs, it’s just that they occur at times when the dogs owner wasn’t paying attention or they simply did not connect the warning sign with the behaviour they are facing now. In that other 0.1%, it usually is a case in which the dogs owner has been aware of the behaviour and has attempted to stop the dog from displaying the behaviour but only successfully punished out the warning signals.

So you see, when a person tells me there was a dog bite with no warning signs, they either missed them or have extinguished them through a poorly thought out behaviour modification program.

Why do dogs bite?

There are only two true ways (IMO) that dogs communicate, this is through either reinforcement and or body language. In all dog bites the dog is trying to communicate with the one they were biting.

Communicate that they were frightened, sore, anxious or in some cases the dog was protecting space or another resource like food, a toy or a place. Knowing this, it makes perfect sense to me that these dogs need to be taught how to behave appropriately or perhaps have some adjustments made to their expectations.

Here is an example; I worked with a dog recently who would guard a lounge chair that he had become used to sleeping in. If he was on this chair and you walked into the room, he would instantly look away.

So there is warning sign number one, he was reacting to a person walking into the room.

Take a step toward him and he would adjust his position on the chair, then another step would trigger growling and lip licking and he would then bare his teeth.

This dog had bitten the owner for trying to get him off the couch. Breaking eye contact, reposition, growling, baring teeth and licking lips were happening every time but yet I was told there had been a “dog bite with no warning signs.”

Another example was a dog that just attacked another dog out of the blue. The dog was taken to dog park a few times a week, on entering the dog would roll on its back when approached by any dog. Then one day just attacked? for no reason…

dog bite with no warning signs
These dogs are playing, body language can be deceiving.

We all know dogs love going for a walk and the dog park right? WRONG.

Just as some dogs are food motivated, some are not. Some dogs love getting out of the house but once out your front gate are nervous, anxious dogs that have concluded that they will need to fight to survive.

The dog in my dog park example above was excited to have the leash fitted and was delighted to bounce down the hallway of the house and out the front door.

That enthusiasm declined fast the moment the dog walked out the front gate, and concern took over. Once we hit the corner and the dog park was across the road, the dog would pull on leash, dart left and right.

On entering the park the dog was really anxious and when a dog approached it, would throw appeasing signals at the other dog and throw itself onto its back, finally urinating all over itself.

In nearly all cases the other dog would race off looking for fun but when it hung around or stood over the clients dog, out came a flurry of noise and teeth snapping. Another dog bite with no warning signs…

Not everyone is a master of reading dog body language and those of us that can may not be paying attention, and that is o.k, but if your dog is prone to displaying undesirable behaviours around people or dogs, perhaps avoid them until you have a plan.

Practice makes ? —- no, not perfect, permanent. Dogs don’t grow out of behaviour problems, they reinforce those behaviours through repetition.

Some dogs are screaming out for help and when we don’t hear these calls for help, they get replaced with more assertive behaviours. These behaviours will often attract punishment from the owners.

Imagine being a dog in this situation…

If you have a dog that has some undesirable behaviours, try running through these 5 questions in your head: –

1. Is your aggressive dog being dominant? If you answered “yes”, try taking out the dominance label and what else could it be? What does your dogs body language tell you?

2. Is your dog anxious? What does that actually mean? If you don’t know what it means you probably should not label the problem, get some help.

3. Your dog loves playing with other dogs right? Does he or she really like it? Or are they just battling through like a child that gets bullied at school. Not every bullied child hates going to school, many just hate the interaction with bullies.

4. Don’t dogs need consequences for their actions? I find it really helpful to look at the reason why a behaviour is occurring rather than attacking that behaviour. If I stop a dog reacting to other dogs but the dog is still fearful, what tools have I given the dog to deal with other dogs?

5. What have you done? Your interactions with your dog may total 10 000 in a day, if you change just one thing in an attempt to modify your dogs behaviour, your dog may not notice. Behaviour Modification programs I write require quite a bit of change or we might not get noticed, no notice = no change.

If you need help with your dog perhaps we can help, this page can help explain how, or you even may benefit from starting with a Phone Consultation.

There are very few dogs that can’t be improved upon, I bet your dog isn’t one of them.

As always, we love to hear your feedback below and feel free to share this article.

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6 comments

  1. Hi Steve I have a 4 yr old blue staffy cross that I got from the pound and is a great cuddly lovable dog and gets alone great with my 1 yr old brown staffy there was one fight over a treat once but that’s it but he is aggressive to other dogs and did attack my mums little dog I tried to get him off and was bitten in the process and every dog he sees even if they are behind a fence or glass he will try and attack biting at them he gives no warning signs before hand either

    • Hi, there, if you read the article you will see that there are warning signs, you may just not know what they are.

      It would also pay you to learn how to break up a dog fight so that you can avoid being bitten again.

      Your dog should be assessed by a behaviourist to find out what is going on and what options there are for treating him.

  2. Well, I’m your typical dog owner….my Weimaraner Wilson (7 years) …not food interested. Good dog, love to jog with, and easy to live with. I have another puppy Doberman Sam. Feeding time is easy, no dog fights…I feel I have control in the house. Wilson was socialised when he was a puppy, but about the age of 2 years…got attacked in the Romaine Reserve (the other dog’s lead broke) and he went for Wilson, who was sitting beside me on the lead. Wilson won the encounter. The next day walking Wilson past the same house, the same dog, jumped the fence and attacked Wilson. Then the exact same thing happened at the school, another dog (off the lead) attacked Wilson again…lol. Shit happens. Wilson, since those encounters, has always baked at other dogs on the lead…I have always seem to manage it, by making him sit or submitting him. Since we have brought a new dog in the house…I used to jog Wilson first, then come back and get Sam and take her for her walk. Lately, there was a brown dog that always barked at Wilson, and Wilson barked back…Game on! I Watched an episode of Cesear Milan, where he made the person sit the dog and stand in front…so I tried this….Wilson bite me, trying to get to the other dog on the other side of the road. Shit it hurt…I kept running, until I got home. I went and bought a muzzle…horrible thing. Now, Wilson hates the muzzle so doesn’t come running anymore but stays asleep in bed. No biggy, I take Sam. But, now I try and take Wilson at lunch time, cause there aren’t many dogs around. I am now scared…I bought a e-collar but am not sure when to use it. I can feel Wilson getting agitated when he sees another dog and he sticks his chest out and tenses up..I really don’t know what to do. A dog trainer told me to use a clicker, and food, but he isn’t interested in food. If other dogs bark at him behind fences, no problem, or in cars, no problem. If dogs come visited that he knows, no problem. Once, a greyhound that walked on the other side of the road, walked past, Wilson was okay, then the dog cocked his leg….Wilson had a melt down….I really struggled to hold him. Other ppl are scared too because Wilson is bigger than me…he weights 40 kilos…and I am only 5 foot and probably only weight 56 kilos. I believe in excersing my dogs and always have done….it’s just this walking thingo with Wilson when we see another dog….I know I have lost control, but really don’t know how to get it back. Wilson, is not an aggressive dog, but he is a charger at other dogs….once, he got off the lead and charged at another dog, but didn’t fight…just charged. Sorry I have rambled on. How do I stop this fear that I have developed and get Wilson under control please? ps my partner, has the same problem with Wilson too…it doesn’t worry him….cause he is 6 foot and strong and can hold him, but Peter doesn’t believe in much excersing for dogs.

    • Hi Helen, I would probably make a few points that might help you understand Wilson and get better results. The first being that Wilson didnt win that fight, no dog wins a fight, one dog gets hurt and the other dog learns he can be hurt or hurt others.

      You mentioned you watched an episode of Cesar and… The CM show is for entertainment not education, would be like me watching ER and operating on my kids.

      To use a muzzle you need to condition the dog to wearing a muzzle or yes they will hate it.

      The e collar is a good tool but not for this situation, you cannot learn by video how to modify behaviour. The clicker is a good tool but you said that he was not food motivated, so how are you rewarding?

      The best advice I can give you is seek help of an experienced Behaviourist, get them to work with you to rehabilitate your dog. Jumping from one technique to another and one tool to another will only make your dog more unstable.

  3. Hi,

    Great article! We have a JRT/ACD with dog problems on lead, is selective of what dogs he can get along with, could be described as dominant but I think a lot of it is insecurity. I have given him another focus – me (through treats, distance & play). We avoid other dogs on walks and only socialise where he is comfortable and known dogs. He is also doing obedience classes purely so he can learn to be around other dogs without reacting. You have no idea how proud I am when he does a 3 min down stay right next to the dog he has issues with (generally big dogs). I am also so proud to say that I am brave enough to enter him in CCD soon as he has completed a whole class off lead. His enthusiasm for working with me and trying 110% all the time is truly amazing. If he were in a different situation and allowed to just run at the dog park, sure he would bite. He wouldn’t back down but I don’t let that happen. I believe he is happy and have noticed a much more relaxed dog on walks too who will ignore dogs who are far enough away. The future holds Obedience, Rally-O & Agility!

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