A lot of people are surprised to learn that dogs over 6 or 7 months are no longer considered puppies, and that they can bite and those bites can hurt! The adolescent dog years can go well up into the terrible twos, depending on the breed.
Any time a dog bites it is cause for concern. When I was a new dog trainer, a close friend’s 9-month-old dog sent my 2-year-old son to the hospital with a deep puncture under his eye. He was sitting in a booster seat at the dining room table and dropped a piece of food. When he reached down, the dog flew across the room and bit him, then gobbled down the bagel. My son was born with a congenital heart defect, and the risk of a blood infection had us at the hospital for 12 hours on IV antibiotics. He received seven stitches that left a scar that I have looked at for the last 18 years. I take dog bites very seriously, and so should you.
Below, you will find several (all too common) types of aggression and some suggestions as to how to deal with them. If your dog is biting or threatening to bite, the very first thing you should do is take your dog to the veterinarian to rule out any medical causes. The second thing is to get a referral for a great dog trainer or dog behaviorist who has a proven track record and experience in dealing with aggression. The suggestions below are more of a management guideline than a how-to. Use caution!
The good news is that resource guarding is one of the aggressions that behavior modification is most often successful eliminating. Sadly, my friend’s dog didn’t have a happy ending. They hired a well-known trainer who basically drove the dog insane with harsh methods and an air horn. It got so bad that Jasper, their dog, guarded the entire home and stopped letting my friends out of their bedrooms. He was so confused about what was expected.
Ninety percent of my clients with food-guarding dogs followed outdated training advice. Please stop trying to take your dog’s food away and sticking your hand in their food all of the time. Instead, each time you approach your dog while he’s eating, bring something better. Make eating time a pleasant time, especially if there are children involved. You can safely do this by having your dog gated and using a long wooden spoon to chuck the food toward him.
To avoid food guarding in the first place, always bring something better to your dog when he is eating. This way he looks forward to you coming over.
The Word On Dominance
Most likely, if your dog has bitten, it is not because he is trying to rule the Earth.
Most likely you missed a lot of warnings.
Most likely, if your dog has bitten, it is not because he is dominant.
Stop and think about how often the word dominance is thrown around. How is that even possible if we control every minute detail of our dog’s life? We control when and where our dogs eat and sleep, when they defecate, where they exercise and all of their enrichment. Dominance is a misunderstood concept, and much of what you have read or seen on TV has been debunked by science.
Even among dogs, the biggest troublemaker, the one who is often seen as dominant, is better referred to as the “middle management suck-up.” The dog who is jockeying for position and starts all the trouble is not the leader. The dog starting the most waves at home is usually not the dog who is the true leader. The true leader dog keeps peace and calm with a look and an easy manner. It is most often the insecure dog who starts the most trouble.
A young dog will, however, “try on his big dog suit.” You will see him try out pushy behavior with people and most especially other dogs. In the same way that you would not allow your child to be a bully, step in and redirect or remove your dog from the situation entirely.
Calling A Pro
You wouldn’t fix your own teeth or take out your gallbladder. You call an electrician for flickering lights or a plumber for broken pipes, but most people with absolutely no knowledge of canine behavior try to fix their own dog’s aggression issues.
That is a bit crazy to me. I have studied canine behavior for more than 20 years, and I will still refer to a dog behaviorist.
What Your Dog Practices At This Age Soon Becomes A Habit
If your Retriever grabs hold of your arm when you come home from work, this may be OK for you, but what about when your friends bring their toddlers over? What about Grandma with her thin skin and blood thinning meds?
While technically this is not biting, it is best to redirect your dog to something else. Try giving your dog the same toy when you come in every day and redirect his attention to something, or someone, more positive.
Your young dog is not unlike a human teenager. They are testing the waters and becoming adults. They are sassy (at least mine is!) and pushy and trying on their big dog suits. Don’t allow your dog to be a bully. Stop putting your dog in situations where he feels the need to fight.
Ultimately, your solution to your issue will be a combination of training and management. You will control your dog’s environment so as not to allow the aggression to take place, and you will replace the unwanted behavior with incompatible behavior.
A Word About Fear
Most aggression is based in fear. Do you know what a fearful dog looks like? Please learn what your dog is trying to tell you.
Stop scaring your dog. Stop putting him in situations that make him uncomfortable. Always remember that dogs have a fight or flight instinct. Always leave your dog an escape route, and don’t back him into a corner.
One last caution: Please be careful about taking advice from a well-meaning armchair trainer. It is very easy to make things worse and you really don’t want to go there. Your young dog has his whole life ahead of him. Step up now to ensure that it is a life well lived.