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