I lived with a biting dog for 16 years.
I’ll never forget the first time he bit me. As Ollie lunged for the chicken bones, I reached out to push them aside and he sank his fangs into my forearm. It’s hard to say which was worse, the burning pain in my arm or the emotional wound. How could my best friend do that to me?
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end. Ollie bit every member of his family, a couple of unlucky dog sitters and other innocent parties over the 16 years he lived with us. Ollie was a biting dog but he wasn’t vicious. He wasn’t Cujo. Our dog had an aggressive streak that didn’t fit the Golden Retriever image.
Having a biting dog is a dilemma. Some people give their problem dogs up for adoption and some of these pups are euthanized.
Training a Biting Dog
I’m sure many people thought my husband, Tom, and I were nuts, but even after Ollie bit our infant son (our son was OK), we still wanted to keep the dog. Like many Goldens, he was handsome, sweet and so doggone friendly. We adopted this dog when he was 7 months old and immediately fell for his fun-loving, life-of-the-party personality.
But if you have a biting dog, you have a responsibility to protect innocent people and yourself. Plus, you don’t want to get sued. At the same time don’t lose your perspective.
“Most dog bites cause zero injury,” says Adam Goldfarb, director of the pets at risk section at the Humane Society of the United States. “When dog bites do cause an injury, most are extremely minor. I don’t want to minimize serious attacks. They do happen. But fatal dog attacks are exceptionally rare. You’re more likely to be killed by a bolt of lightning than by a dog.”
Our dog snapped when he felt his food or anything else he considered his was threatened. Crumbled up paper, chicken bones, slimy rawhides, trash, the dog sitter’s unattended dinner – they all brought out the big bad wolf.
Dogs bite for many reasons so the first thing to do is figure out what triggers the behavior. If you want to change it, consider getting professional help. Goldfarb recommends consulting an experienced trainer or behaviorist. “They can help you figure out why your dog is acting this way and then you can take steps to address the problem,” he said.
The Association of Pet Dog Trainers can point you to a qualified trainer in your area.
If you don’t have the time or money to work with a pro, then you’ve got to manage the problem.
Training the People in Your Biting Dog’s Life
“If you can’t seek help, then manage the environment, the family, and the dog so you’re not putting him in a position to repeat the behavior,” says Gail Fisher, president of the APDT’s board and veteran dog trainer. “Don’t put the dog in a position to bite.”
If your dog is aggressive while eating, feed him alone in a separate room. If you have small children, never, ever leave them alone with the dog.
When we hosted birthday parties for our son, we knew having Ollie around birthday cake and rambunctious kids wouldn’t work, so one time we hired a dog walker to take him on an extended hike and another time we boarded him at a kennel.
When we had guests for dinner, we kept Ollie indoors while we ate outside. We gave babysitters specific instructions on how to play keep away as in keep food out of Ollie’s reach, keep your hands away from his mouth and keep the dog and the child separated during meals.
They followed directions, never got hurt and grew fond of our wolf.