I had the pleasure of bringing my dear friend Lisa Mullinax back on the show. In the previous episode we recorded and released: Ep #9: Living with your Difficult Dog, we briefly talked about experiences we had when our dogs escalated to biting. During this episode, we go into detail about our personal experiences, what we learned, and how we moved forward with our dogs. We also share many ideas for pet parents to consider after they experience their dog biting someone.
So, what is aggression?
Lisa says, “Aggression is a category of behaviors, all of which are a response to a perceived threat.” It’s important to remember that aggression is a normal and natural behavior for all animals. It is an option available to all dogs at any given time. It’s not a personality type, rather it’s a reaction to the dog’s environment. Check out Lisa’s detailed article on the topic and learn what causes aggression.
So, if your dog escalates and bites someone, what should we do?
1. Reflect away from the dog.
This is the formal invitation to feel everything, shame, guilt, anger, mistrust, embarrassment. You name it, you get to feel it! We suggest that it’s best to process these emotions away from your dog so your reaction does not impact them emotionally. We can’t change what happened, so we need to feel it, so we can make a plan to move forward.
2. Be objective about the situation as best as you can.
Some questions to ask yourself to gather the facts include:
- What was the context of the situation?
- What triggers were present?
- Determine the severity of the bite. Check out Ian Dunbar’s bite scale. Not all bites are created equal.
- Had there been early warning signs prior to this situation?
3. Determine risk and options:
When a bite happens, we should take this situation seriously assuming this is not a fluke. Depending on the severity of the situation, some people weigh these options:
- Get professional help and work on training and management strategies
- Rehome the dog
- Consider euthanasia
Lisa and I would never tell a client what to do, rather, we would ask the right questions and discuss the level of risk per the situation so our clients can make the safest decision for their family and community. We fully support rehoming a dog from a household where the bite occurred due to the specific environment. For example, if the dog bit a child, it might be okay to rehome that dog to a house without children. It all depends on the situation and every dog bite should be addressed individually.
4. Moving Forward with the Dog:
We need to set realistic expectations in terms of training and management. Teaching dogs coping skills can help build tolerance to the trigger that caused them discomfort; however, it will never prevent another bite. And, we need to create a detailed management plan with backup plans, because we are humans, and management always fails. This will help keep everyone safe.
It’s also super important to become an expert on canine body language, specifically for your dog. Here are great resources:
- Doggie Language: A Dog Lover’s Guide to Understanding Your Best Friend by Lili Chin
- Canine Behavior: A Photo Illustrated Handbook by Barbara Handelman