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?