Are All Dogs Monsters?

The American Veterinary Medical Association has declared the week of May 20 to 26 Dog Bite Prevention Week. There have already been a number of incredibly informative posts on the subject, including a terrific series of posts over on Success Just Clicks. The author includes many tips on not only how to avoid getting bitten yourself, but how to prevent your dog from biting.  As a dog trainer who has worked with many rescue dogs, including two of her own, her advice is insightful and clear.

I am not a dog trainer. Nor do I have a lot of dog experience. All I know is what I have personally witnessed. What surprises me, is how little education there is about dog bites. Considering that around %35 of Canadian households have dogs, there really should be more common knowledge on the subject. Even someone like myself, who often seeks out such information, knew very little before adopting her first dog.

Luckily, to my knowledge Shiva has never bitten anyone. Of course, that doesn’t mean she won’t ever bite or that she is “bite-proof”. All dogs, no matter what breed, size, origin, or history, are capable of biting. If they have teeth, they can bite. It’s my job as her owner to keep her and those around her safe. This is a responsibility I have taken very seriously ever since we discovered Shiva’s reactivity to people and her fear of strangers. The moment I realized Shiva was capable of hurting someone due to this fear was a frightening one.

My childhood dog was one of those naturally friendly, good with children, types of dogs. My parents never worried she would hurt us and I often walked her by myself from a very young age. Biting was something other dogs did. Bad dogs. Dogs that were abused or that were trained to attack. Dogs that were just plain mean.

These ideas from childhood lingered right up until Shiva entered our home. When I learned that my scrawny little rescue with way t00 much energy could turn into one of those “bad dogs who bite”, I was beside myself. Was I the worst owner in the world? Was she going to have to wear a muzzle her entire life?

Did this make her a monster?

Fortunately, we found the right training program and these fears dissipated. I learned that biting doesn’t make the dog evil and that biting incidents can almost always be avoided. I was taught how to watch for warning signs and how to help Shiva overcome most of her fears. Gradually, I stopped seeing looks of horror on the faces of neighbours as my dog barked and lunged. I stopped worrying she was an out of control monster. Shiva never bit anyone and hopefully she never will.

But I am still careful. Just because she hasn’t, doesn’t mean she won’t. One of the most important things I learned was that if a dog bites, it is almost always the owner’s fault. I will never leave Shiva alone with someone I don’t trust.

I keep her interactions with children to a minimum. Shiva isn’t around them very often. We don’t have friends with children and we don’t have any of our own. Because they behave differently than adults, I don’t quite know what she thinks of them. Most often if a child asks to pet her, I will say no. It’s just not worth it. She likes to jump and I’d hate to see her knock a young child down in her enthusiasm. Shiva also doesn’t really like pets unless she is at home. Why force her to tolerate something she doesn’t enjoy?

Last December, I was bitten for the first time. My biggest regret about the whole thing was not the bite itself but that I didn’t say anything. I even tried to hide the teeth marks on my arm because I didn’t want the owner to feel bad. Foolish. And dangerous. I still think about that dog and I hope he has bitten anyone else. Sadly, I am almost positive he has. I feel partly to blame.

Amazingly, with all we put our dogs through, bites do seem to be relatively rare. Perhaps that is why society has such a strong emotional reaction when a dog does hurt someone. They instantly think of Fluffy at home and put the blame on the individual dog or the breed. They want to think their dog would never, ever bite. Dogs are our pets and family members. To think they could cause injury understandably makes us upset.

The only way dogs and people will remain safe is through education. Tragically, those who most need this often don’t seek it out. If I knew so little when I first began my dog-owning journey, how much do non-dog-owners know? Hopefully Dog Bite Prevention Week will help change that.

Have you ever been bitten by a dog? Did you report it? Have you ever owned a dog that has bitten someone? How did you handle it?

32 thoughts on “Are All Dogs Monsters?

  1. Wonderful post Kristine!
    I have been bitten my fair share of times.
    I was first bitten by a dog when I was 10, and I was riding my bike down our street and an Irish Setter ran out of his house and bit my thigh. It was so scary and still to this day, when I walk by that house I remember it. It was such a bad bite that we did have to report it and I did have to seek medical attention. I blamed the dog back then but because I didn’t know any better. Over the years I have learned that it wasn’t the dogs fault.

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    • Thanks for sharing your experiences. I know you work with many different dogs on a daily basis and have probably seen it all.

      What a frightening scenario for a child! I am so glad you were okay! Once when I was walking my dog she was attacked by another dog in much the same manner. We were just walking by and the dog burst out of the house. It took me a while before I could walk in that area again.

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  2. Hi Kristine, my mom’s been bitten several times, all of the bites were from their dogs. Once my angel uncle bit my mom hard enough that she had to go to the hospital for treatment and a tetanus shot. I bit my dad when he first came over with my mom to “look at my brother Owen and I” for possible adoption. I kind of bit through his thumb nail. My future dad didn’t look pleased. But I think that he forgave me because they adopted us both and we have good homes. So are “all dogs monsters”? Nope, just the ones that are adopted 🙂

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    • I would imagine more bites come from dog’s people own themselves, as opposed to strange ones. I am glad your parents’ experiences have not turned them off dog ownership and did not cause them to second-guess bringing you home. Sometimes dogs bite. It happens. I think it’s important to understand what caused the incident so it can be prevented in the future, as opposed to just labeling the dog a “biter” and giving up. Your parents sound like very dedicated people.

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  3. This is a very thoughtful post, and you nailed it with your statement that ANY dog could bite. Oreo has never snapped at anyone, but I’m very cautious with him, because he is so fearful.

    I’m pretty confident that Chewy would never bite anyone, but like Shiva, he doesn’t like to be pet outside of nighttime cuddles. He is a very social and friendly dog, but shirks at people who try and pet his head. I’ve even had people tell me that he has something wrong with him, because he doesn’t like his head touched. I always say, “I don’t like people touching my head either!” It’s annoying, because people refuse to simply give a dog some space.

    I have been bitten by a dog, and it was reported to the department of health by the emergency room staff. Good thing, because the dog wasn’t current on their vaccinations, and had to be quarantined to ensure I didn’t need to go thru a rabbies treatment.

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    • Right, exactly! It blows my mind when people think all dogs should like being pet by strangers. These same people probably also think it’s acceptable to touch people they don’t know as well, however, but that’s another story. Shiva doesn’t even like it when I pet her in public, let alone people she doesn’t know. 😛

      I do think dog bites should be reported. There are too many people who don’t take incidents seriously enough, which ultimately only makes things worse for the dog.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I am glad I am not the only one who worries about these things.

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  4. I never leave Sampson and Delilah alone with children, it is (IMO) a bad combination.

    As you stated any dog can bite, and you are right education is the key but sadly most owners that do seek out the information are the ones who would never put their dog in a situation where they had to react in that manner. And the ones that should are the ones that don’t.

    I say we just keep doing our best to educate (one on one if necessary) and know that we are making a difference in some small way.

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    • Indeed. I do hope so. It just seems that bites are either blown completely out of proportion or are not taken seriously enough. And it’s the dogs who end up suffering the most in both cases.

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  5. I’ve written before about my little stud muffin Poodle Timmy who proves that any dog can and will bite…without warning in the right situation. My daughter’s boy friend was acting stupid and picked me up. Timmy immediately charged and bit him on the ankle. Timmy has no sense of humor. It was his only bite, but we became aware of his inner Kujo.

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    • Dogs bite for many reasons and I don’t think Timmy’s reaction here was completely uncalled for. It’s natural for him to want to protect you. Perhaps instead of looking at all bites as bad and all dogs who bite as “dangerous”, we should focus more on training inhibited biting. That way if something does happen and a dog feels biting is the only option, the bite itself won’t cause nearly so much damage.

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  6. When I used to work at the animal shelter (a million years ago, or so), I was bitten by a poodle. He was under the desk and I was answering phones during someone else’s lunch break, and I guess when I moved my foot it startled him and he sank his teeth clear through my boot. (For the record, he wasn’t for adoption. He was a very old and crotchety dog who was living out his days in the shelter. He wasn’t caged, and had a bed in the office area.)

    With Jack’s level of fear, I’m very cautious with him. We don’t allow strangers to pet him, although most people don’t ask to anyway (apparently the general consensus is that he looks ‘mean’… I disagree, but it works for our situation, so fine.)

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    • I don’t think Jack looks mean either. He looks like a big, sweet goofball. But people have told me the same thing about my dog. One of my favourite photos of her sits on my husband’s desk at work. A co-worker once walked by, looked at the picture, and told him she looked “vicious.” As you say, if it keeps strangers from bugging us, it’s fine by me!

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  7. I was bitten a lot as a child and was very blasé about it. I loved dogs and considered them all friends … big, little, known or unknown, so serve me right. All the bites were from littledogs, most memorably a neighbour’s pack of daschunds. I suppose, if the terror of the town’s grumpy GSD had gotten me, I wouldn’t be here today. (It became my best friend and followed me to piano classes.)

    I do agree that the responsibility lies with the owner. But not always. I believe the person bitten has to take some responsibility as well, UNLESS the attack was unprovoked. There is usually something that sets the dog off, that the person didn’t either see or recognise.

    As you know, I’ve had my years of intervening and telling toddlers NO to patting Rufus on his hiney while their parents stood by and sometimes got upset that I wouldn’t let their children rush up to and touch an unknown giant dog willy-nilly. Whose blame would it have been if they’d got bitten? I suspect it would have been me and personally, I find that unacceptable.

    We ALL have to learn how to respect a dog’s personal boundaries, whether we have them or not. It’s only common sense.

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    • That’s a good point, I agree wholeheartedly. Dogs bite more often out of fear than aggression. Usually when they feel they have no other option, such as if they are injured and someone comes along and prods them where it hurts. I’d probably bite too.

      I have blocked many a child from running up to Shiva. Once I remember a young toddler ran right across the street at us screaming “doggie!!” I was so stunned the parent didn’t stop her that I jumped in front of Shiva, put out my hand, and yelled “stop!” I got a very dirty look from the mother but the child stopped in the middle of the road, which is all I cared about at the time.

      According to most by-laws in my country, when a dog bites, especially if he/she bites a child, the dog is labeled dangerous and is then restricted when out in public. The severity of the bite doesn’t matter, nor does the reason the dog bit in the first place. Dogs are expected to be perfectly friendly no matter what we do to them. It’s practically the law.

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  8. What a really great post Kristine! I haven’t been online much at all lately, (my busy season at work is in full swing), and I didn’t even realize that it WAS dog bite prevention week. I’ve never had one of my dogs bite anyone, but I worry with Leah that the potential is there, and I always put her in my bedroom when friends with children visit. I also take the same precaution with Meadow, as I have not had a chance to see her interact with children and the friends we do have with children don’t really have dog savvy children…so like you say, why take a chance? They don’t visit enough where it is worth it to try to work on the problem, so management is the best option.

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    • Exactly. When it comes to children, I don’t think I can be too careful. Sometimes if Shiva is in a relaxed frame of mind, I will suggest the child give her a treat instead of petting her. That way the youngster gets to have a positive experience with a dog, and Shiva also gets something she enjoys. But if she is in a high-energy frame of mind, I worry she will knock the kid over, and that is not going to have a happy ending.

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  9. While I think dog bite prevention is important, I also think it is blown up a bit more than is perhaps needed. Dogs bite. Accepted. However, you are five times more likely to die being struck by lightening than in a dog attack. While I firmly believe that dog owners should be knowledgeable enough to make sure their dog is never put into a situation for a bite to occur, I also think that time and effort could be better spent trying to do something about things that ARE major killers. Like the national weight problem in the US. Car safety. Drunk diving education. Etc, etc, etc. All of these things kill exponentially more people, and injure as well, than dog bites.

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    • Fair enough. As I mentioned, dog bites are fairly rare when one considers just how many dogs there are in North America. It shows how tolerant these animals truly are as we probably deserve to be bitten a lot more often!

      I don’t think anyone thinks more time should be spent discussing dog bites than drunk driving education and I don’t think I suggested that either. But this is a dog blog and dog bites relate more to the purpose of this space than does auto safety. Dogs are a large part of North American society and they aren’t going anywhere. While they may not kill as many people as drunk drivers, as a dog lover I do feel bite prevention is important for human and canine welfare. Besides, you don’t want to get me started on what I think of the so-called obesity epidemic!

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  10. Puppy Freighter’s teeth came into contact with my finger this week. My fault, I guess he didn’t notice it was holding his antler. 🙂 Luckily just a scratch, but we did practice taking the antler nicely and giving it up freely. From the time our dogs are small, they are taught “no bite”. We never let them even play at biting people. I want them to think it is not an option. Probably not a foolproof thing, but hopefully it would give them pause.

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  11. Dear Rescuedinsanity,
    I was wondering on a similar note,, The sport of Schutzhund originated with the introduction of the German Shepherd into the German police forces during the early 1900s. Prior to this, the only working role for a dog was to guard or herd livestock in rural areas. In urban areas, dogs were treated as pests, and regarded as being both unclean, and unwelcome.
    BTW great blogpost

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  12. When was 16, a frend’s dog grabbed me by the hand, yanked me off the trampolne and broke my arm in two spots and badly broke that weird little bone that moves your thumb. My hand is still all whacked out it. Allie was a good dog, who just needed a firmer hand and some training. I’m always very very careful with little humans around Koly and FE, because chances are f they were to bite, it would be a child who didn’t know what was safe and what wasn’t. You can’t be too careful. What I think people forget s that to a dog, their mouth is like our hands, they use it to grab/carry/pck up things. A lot of the time, they’re not trying to “bite” you, just trying to do normal dog stuff. It’s a shame really!

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  13. ” It’s my job as her owner to keep her and those around her safe. ”

    It is good to know that you have the sense of responsibility that some dog owners don’t have.

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  14. Great post – I like the perspective you bring to this. I can totally understand your reaction to getting bitten – I’m guilty of similar reactions myself. I think especially if you’re a dog lover, there’s a temptation to just write it off and let it go. As you pointed out though, it’s the owner’s responsibility to keep those around her safe, so I guess it’s our responsibility to give the owner any information that can help with that.

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  15. This week is bringing up all kinds of bad memories of my childhood dog biting my parent’s friend. I guess it’s my time to experience catharsis via blog reading. 🙂

    Duchess was an extremely aggressive and powerful dog (although kind and gentle with 5 year old me). When he was tied to his dog house, my parents’ friend insisted on going up to him although he was barking, growling and lunging at the time (talk about a warning!). Because this man had GSDs, he insisted he “knew how to handle aggressive dogs.”

    Duchess took a big chunk out of his arm right quick.

    Somehow my parents didn’t listen to his insistence that Duchess be put down immediately. They knew a business owner who had been robbed after his purebred German Shepherd turned out to be an awful watch dog. So the business got my dog Duchess for their new security system and I got their dog, Duke.

    I know, it sounds like one of those “your dog is playing at a farm” stories. But I was there, at the store, and saw them take Duchess from me. It was so horrible to lose my very best friend.

    I still consider it one of my most terrible childhood traumas. Which, considering I was raised by a mentally ill parent with rage issues, is really saying something.

    Over the past 20 years as I’ve tried to learn to be a better advocate for my dogs, I always think of Duchess. I’m just sorry I wasn’t able to advocate for Duchess as a child. Because I might never have lost him.

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    • Thank you so much for sharing such a difficult story. I can only imagine how hard it must have been for you to watch Duchess go to someone else. There would be no getting over something like that. As a child, there was nothing you could have done.

      We expect so much from our dogs, more than we would ever expect from other people. That’s the one thing I am really noticing. While obviously it is too dangerous to have dogs running around in their completely natural state, I can’t help but wonder if at their tolerance for all the demands we put on them. Duchess was only acting how he knew to act, like a dog. The more I think about the situation with that man and Duchess, tied up to his dog house, the angrier I feel.

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  16. I read this last week while on my way to work, but for some reason my iPhone won’t let me comment on your posts.
    Sadly, I think you are right. The people who most need education don’t seek it out.
    I also don’t let kids pet my dogs, unless my dogs choose to seek it out, but never while they are leashed. There’s just something about an approaching child and a dog on a leash that makes me nervous. At the dog park, my dogs can run away (and have), but on a leash they have no such choice.

    BTW – I was bitten by a client’s dog once. He had resource guarding issues, but only at home. He also had other aggression issues that started to appear, sometimes with no warning, when he boarded with me. I never told my clients about the issues at my house, but stopped accepting their boarding requests. When he bit me at their house, I left them a note and let them know I had serious concerns about him and offered to discuss in person. They never did call. He was only a year old. I have no doubt that he would be a danger around kids. I hope they took my note to heart and kept him away from them.

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  17. Pingback: Pup links! « Doggerel

  18. The only bites I remember that broke the skin were a dog who did a “snap and run” while I was on my bike, and my own dearly departed dog Tashi, when she got into a fight with another dog and I intervened. Given the number of irate dogs I try to groom, it is miraculous I haven’t been bitten more!

    Just yesterday, I was clipping a nervous dog’s nails while his moms gave him treats, and he barked and nose-bumped me right in the eye! I was pretty calm as he showed great inhibition in giving me his nose rather than his teeth, but his moms were upset. Needless to say, I gave up on the nails for now and left the ladies with instructions on nail clipper desensitization over the next few weeks.

    I think Lamar would bite if he felt backed into a corner; Fozzie, for all his scary looks, might engage in mouthiness but has a velvety-soft mouth; and the recent fosters have been mouthy in the usual puppy way. You are absolutely right that prevention is the best cure for potential bites–setting our dogs up for success so they never get the chance to practice things, like biting, that we’d rather they never do!

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  19. When a dog bites a person, it’s the owner’s fault for not containing or training it. But every owner will always blame the victim of the bite for having “provoked” the animal by means of riding a bike on a sidewalk, being afraid, ad infinitum. Dog owners are insane and at fault unless proven innocent, as far as I care.

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