Below you will find the information I give to people who contact me when their adult dog has bitten. Whether your dog has bitten a person or another animal, my suggestions always start with the ones listed below.
1. Make an appointment with your vet to rule out any medical causes. The most common medical cause of aggression is pain. Dogs are genetically programed to be stoic about pain, and usually we only see signs of pain when the dog is really hurting. You should also rule out any tick-borne illness and low thyroid. Please have a full thyroid panel done and treat anything on the low side of normal. A full thyroid panel needs to be sent out and cannot be done in-house by most veterinarians. There has been quite a lot of research that shows this is helpful for several types of aggression. The behavior of my dog Charlee improved when she was treated with meds to regulate her thyroid.
2. Get a referral for a great positive dog trainer or dog behaviorist. Make an appointment and keep the appointment.
3. Be prepared to soul search and ask yourself some very difficult questions. Keep a journal and write down anything that you can think of that may have been a precursor to the incident. Ask yourself if you can realistically keep this from happening again. Are your children leaving the door open and is your dog chasing joggers? Is your dog fine with everyone except toddlers? Can you keep the toddlers safe? Does this only happen when you push your dog in bed? Can you keep the dog out of the bedroom? Is your dog’s only issue when on leash or when dogs come into your home? Can you keep dogs away at those times?
4. Be honest with yourself. Helping your dog requires both training and management. Is everyone in the house on board?
5. Review the bite scale. Did the bite need medical attention? Please review Ian Dunbar’s bite scale. If your dog is a level 4 or above, please take this very seriously. Remember that past behavior predicts future behavior. If your dog bites again, it is likely that the injury would be at least this serious. Can you live with this?
6. Muzzle train. I am often heard telling my clients the following: “Muzzles are your friend!” So many people have the wrong idea about muzzles. First of all, the stress in your household will go down — way down. Think about it: your dog will no longer be picking up on your stress. Your handling will improve once you don’t have to worry about your dog hurting someone. Please use a basket muzzle (you know, the Hannibal Lecter kind). They look freakier, but your dog will be able to breath, eat and drink. I usually take about three weeks to slowly condition a dog to a muzzle.Another trick to getting your dog accustomed to a muzzle is to use a frozen muzzle. These rock! Once your dog is cool with the muzzle, he will not be wearing it all of the time. He will only wear the muzzle at times you set, when possible injury could occur or there are visitors. Your dog can still “muzzle punch” and that can hurt, so please still use caution. I don’t think you need to be reminded that we live in a litigious society. Aside from that, it is morally wrong to allow your dog to hurt someone. The physical and mental scars don’t go away.
7. Be your dog’s advocate. If you are working with a dog trainer or dog behaviorist, be prepared to do the work. But at the same time, if a professional tells you to do something and it doesn’t sit right with you — you know, if you get that “gut feeling” that something is not quite right for your situation — don’t just go along with it. Ask questions. You are your dog’s advocate. Keep in mind that perhaps a different dog trainer or approach will work best for your dog. Many a dog owner has regretted taking bad advice. Your dog may have only one chance for you to get it right.
8. Don’t be swayed by what you have seen on TV. TV dog training is just that: TV dog training. There are no quick fixes. None. Dog training is a science-based profession, and TV entertainment is miles away from that. When they say, “Do not try this at home,” they mean it! Many of the methods you are seeing on TV these days are outdated, needless and may do more harm than good.
9. Be prepared to do what is best for everyone. You have made a commitment to your dog, and sometimes that commitment means finding a more suitable home. If your dog has delivered a damaging bite, your dog is not a candidate to rehome. Please do not take this dog to a shelter, or pass him on to a rescue. I work with plenty of dogs who would be OK in other homes, but once the dog was pushed too far, there was no magic farm for that dog to go to.
10. Learn dog’s body language! Often what we have is a failure to communicate. This video from the Zoom Room is a good place to start. Watch it several times and please seek more information on how to read your dog. Observe your dog when he is relaxed and comfortable at home. Then observe your dog when he is upset and aroused and all the times in between.