The past week was National Dog Bite Prevention Week. As I think back on my 30-plus-year career as a dog trainer and behavior consultant, surprisingly I've only been bitten three times.
The first bite was by an 8-week-old Rottweiler puppy that had been sold at 5 weeks of age (bad move) to a family who was concerned about his apparent "aggression."
Whenever a puppy is removed from his dam (mother) and his litter at such a young age, he hasn't had time to learn certain social skills, like bite inhibition. Bite inhibition, or "soft mouth," is the learned behavior of an animal controlling and modifying the intensity and strength of his bite. They learn this when interacting with their dam and litter mates.
When the bite is too severe, the other pups cry out or the dam "corrects" and disciplines the puppy, helping it to learn to bite softer. If a pup is taken away too soon, he misses these important lessons.
So that was the case with this puppy. He didn't mean to bite hard, he just didn't understand he was hurting his people. Or me.
He got me good one time when I picked him up. His little sharp tooth pierced my thumb, going straight through the nail. Ouch! The second bite incident was also a puppy that caught me off guard and bit me while I was merely putting on his Gentle Leader head halter (I guess he didn't care for the Gentle Leader!).
And the third incident was not too long ago when a little smooth coat dachshund lunged toward me, digging his teeth into my leg during his very first night of obedience class! Fortunately I was wearing thick jeans that provided enough protection that all I got was a small graze.
When I asked the owner if her dog had ever bitten anyone else, she answered: "Well, just a couple of other people."
Wow! Thanks for telling me!! All these incidents were dogs that I didn't know personally, which is not the norm when it comes to dog bites.
According to statistics, the majority of dog bite victims are children, and the offending dog is most often a dog they know, such as the family dog, or a dog owned by friends, relatives or neighbors.
Why would a dog that knows and even loves you bite you?
1. Many dog bites are accidental and unintentional. A dog bite can occur while you are playing tough or rough-housing and the dog gets riled up and overly excited, and mistakenly misjudges where your exposed hand, arm or leg is.
Nevertheless, these bites hurt just as badly as the intentional ones, and any behavior or activity leading up to it should be carefully examined to avoid it happening again.
2. Many dog bites can be prevented. When dogs are startled, surprised or in pain, a bite is much more likely to occur in dogs that otherwise never would. Be sure to advise children not to startle the dog while he is sleeping or surprise the dog when he is excited.
Also, if your dog is hurt, proceed with caution. Muzzle him if you need to check out the source of the pain. If you don't have a muzzle you can make a quick one out of an Ace bandage or pair of panty hose. Be sure to check the injury quickly and don't leave the makeshift muzzle on for too long.
3. Respect a dog's space. Do not allow kids to climb on, attempt to ride, pull ears, pull tail, poke eyes or do anything that encroaches on a dog's personal space. In fact, all interactions between very young kids should always be monitored and supervised by an adult. Teach children to be respectful of dogs as living, breathing beings, rather than treat them like toys or inanimate objects. Dogs have feelings, too.
And lastly, be honest with people about your dog. If your dog is touchy or testy, or has questionable behavior, please let anyone encountering that dog know. This will keep both your dog and unsuspecting people safe.
Stafford business owner Laurie C. Williams is a published author, television and radio personality and nationally-recognized dog trainer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.