Preventing Dog Bites

A million years ago, my first Border Collie Drift lept up and nipped a man’s nose at the Wisconsin State Fair. Even though the man was clearly not injured, with virtually not even a red spot on his nose, I was shook up and appalled. He was furious. “Your dog attacked me!”

Well, he did. Just because the man wasn’t injured didn’t mean he didn’t feel attacked. And it didn’t mean that I didn’t feel horrible. Drift and I were about to perform in front of huge crowd by doing a sheep herding demo, and found ourselves jammed into a crowd against the building wall. The gentlemen in question charged up to Drift, grabbed his face in his hands, and yes, you guessed it, bent down to kiss Drift on the nose. It was the same exact context in which newscaster Kyle Dyer was bitten by a Dogo a few months ago. In some ways, everything was different: Kyle was badly injured and it was recorded on video tape for all the world to see. And in one way, everything was the same: A stranger holds a dog’s head in his/her hands and looms over to kiss a dog on the nose. Just like David Letterman was bitten on camera years ago. Just like how many people are bitten every year?

I find myself thinking of this before the beginning of Dog Bite Prevention Week, which runs from May 20 to May 26. It’s an important topic and I’m in complete support of efforts to raise awareness and prevent dog bites. The figures bandied about are that there are almost 5 million dog bites every year in the US (but see Dogs Bite but Balloons and Slippers are More Dangerous…). Given that that figure appears to include events in which there was no injury whatsoever, the number is undoubtedly on the high side, but no matter how many there are, we all should be working to decrease them.

There is lots of good, standard information out there about preventing dog bites. The AVMA has a good website on bite prevention, as does the ASPCA and HSUS. There is lots of good advice on all these sites, especially related to keeping children from being bitten (the most common recipient of a dog bite appears to be a child from the ages of 5 to 9). However, much of it is general: pick a good puppy, train your dog, have a fenced yard, teach children to ask first, etc.

This is all good information, but we all know that no list is enough to prevent many of the bites that occur. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep up our efforts. Here’s my list, which builds on the standard advice and adds my own observations and experience, I’m counting on you to add to it:

1. Leashes Aren’t Muzzles. (Neither are muzzles for that matter.) In other words, keeping your dog on a leash won’t prevent him from biting someone. Sometimes leashes can precipitate bites if a dog is nervous and feels trapped. I’ve been overwhelmed by clients who believed that if their dog was attached by a leash, or even if they were close to their dog, that they could prevent a bite. We can prevent lots of bites from happening, but not always with leashes and proximity. When people miss signals of discomfort or tension in their dogs, they end up trying to stop a bite after it has begun. Stopping a dog in mid-air, within the micro-second required, to observe, evaluate and respond is far beyond the skill level of most people. People rarely say or think “I”m being bitten.” By the time you figure out what’s happened, it’s over.  Far better to understand both context and behavior to prevent a bite long before your dog even thinks about it. And my comment about muzzles? Dogs can still hurt people, even with a muzzle on. There are lots of ways to lower the risk, but there’s no magic out there. Based on all this, you can predict my next point:

2. Learn to Read Dogs, and Teach Others What You Know. Recall Michele Wan’s research that showed the dog owning public is not very good at reading signs of negative emotions in dogs (fear, anxiety, etc.). Thus, we all need to do what we can to help educate everyone around us. It’s not helpful for us to pull our hair and roll our eyes about how bad people are at reading dogs, and how often they behave in ways that simply beg a dog to bite them. That just makes us right, and being right gets us one thing and one thing only: Being Right. That’s not going to decrease the number of dog bites out there, so we need to use our knowledge to help others. If you’re a trainer, get yourself on television, give out handouts, refer people to materials and websites that will help them translate dog. There are tons of them. Needless to say I have my own at my website, (and FYI, I have a new DVD coming out this coming Monday titled “Lost in Translation,” a day-long seminar on how dogs use sight, sound and smell to communicate) and there are many other great books and DVDs available through Dogwise and Tawzer Videos.

3. Understand Context: This contains a vast range of issues, from what tends to scare dogs in general (strangers grabbing their heads and trying to kiss their noses, surely a problem we can all understand–want a strange man to grab your head and smash his face into your own?), what scares each dog as an individual, and how the context itself can add risk. My Border Collie Drift was trapped and overwhelmed, as was the Dogo that bit Ms. Dyer. I’ve had numerous clients whose dogs bit someone after a long, exhausting day. I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard about dogs who were “just wonderful” with all the children at the picnic all afternoon and evening long until … In hind sight the owner’s tell me “They should have known how tired their dog was…”. Yes, they should have, but we need to help spread the word that even good dogs can get grumpy too when they are exhausted. And when they are overwhelmed. Or scared. Or a tad tweaked about life at the moment.

4. Practice Interventions and Use Them When Necessary. This is where I went wrong all those years ago. If I was in that same situation now I would have never have allowed that man get that close to Drift. I would have moved between him and Drift before he could have grabbed Drift’s face and leaned down to kiss him. Body Blocks work really, really well on people, and can be used to avoid a great many risky situations.

Just a few days ago I was at a pet store that allows dogs and saw an owner use one perfectly. He had an adult Rottie, a lovely, happy-faced dog, who was approached by a squiggly, squirmy Golden Retriever puppy. The puppies’ owner let her dog dash toward the Rottie until they sniffed nose to nose. We were in tight quarters at the check out line. The Rottie had no where to back up into, and the enthusiastic puppy was about to jump onto his head. Wisely, the owner stepped quickly between the dogs, moved toward the puppy a step or two to move him away and then turned and smooched to his dog to follow him.

I turned to the pup’s owner, who had appeared surprised at what had happened and seemed a little bit put out. I thought perhaps I could use this as a teaching moment, and explained “I think the Rottie might have been a tad bit uncomfortable with your pup.” I hope she understood my point, but I can’t say, because the Rottie’s other owner turned to me and said, defensively, “He is a LOVELY dog, he is NOT aggressive.” Ah, and I thought he was a lovely dog myself, but I also noted that owner number one was wise enough to know that any trouble might react to a rude pup in that context, and quick as a wink did a body block. Huzzah! and Yeah! for him I say. Even lovely dogs have contexts in which they are uncomfortable, and more power to us when we know what they are.

5. The World’s Most Dangerous Words Are “I Think It’ll Be Okay.” I asked a salesman once if the hardware I was about to buy would stay attached to a wall if a 150 pound dog lunged against it with all his power. “I think so,” the guy said. This is when red flags should fly and noises generated by the security systems of nuclear power plants should start pounding into your ears. “Think it’s okay” is just not good enough when you are talking about a potential dog bite. I tell clients whose dogs are at risk of biting that we first, before talking about treatment, need to create the kind of risk management system included in submarines and power plants. If your not sure if your dog is 100% stable in a situation and you find yourself saying “I think it’ll be okay” without a careful and thoughtful risk analysis, I want you to hear AH OOOGA, AH OOOGA blasting in your ear. You want to hear “I KNOW it will be okay,” or given that life is never 100% predictable, “The probability of my dog hurting or scaring someone is less than .01 of one percent, and I’m willing to take that risk.” Whatever you decide, it should be very thoughtful, based on a lot of knowledge and be very, very conservative. Bites can be horrible for everyone, including the dog, and once they happen you’re in a entirely different context, and it’s not a good one.

And you? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. I expect they will be both thoughtful and thought provoking, as usual.

MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Spring sweet spring. Well, sort of. Summer, sweet summer? It’s in the low 80’s, sunny and warm and already I’m worrying a bit about when it will rain next. It’s been awhile.

But 8 of the 9 lambs are thriving, filling out with muscles and frolicking in the dappled shade of the woods. Spot’s twin ram lamb, who I’ve been supplementing with goat’s milk (mom’s udder is only giving milk from one side), was a voracious vacuum at first when given a bottle, but now he’s fussy and hesitant and only takes a few sips and then stops. This started after he was vaccinated and banded (and thus he lost trust in me), but the other bottle lamb, one of triplets, needed only a day to get over it. Spot’s boy, however, has remained hesitant and cautious.

His tiny twin sister, who I was most concerned about originally, continues to remind me that size doesn’t matter. She’s the pushy one. And although she refuses to take milk from a bottle (“Ugh, ugh!” she indicates by curling her lip and turning away), she’s filling out like a tick and has begun mounting the two ram lambs every time they start to drink out of the bottle. I’m speculating that with only one teat working, she’s dominating it and her brother is losing out. He doesn’t look bad, he’s just not gaining like the others, so I’ll keep working on getting him more milk. I tried a self feeder, which has been successful in the past, but I started late and because they all get milk from their momma’s they had little interest. I’ll keep you posted, we’re going to look at him more carefully this weekend for any physical or medical problems.

Willie and I just moved the entire flock up the hill to the orchard pasture so that my handy neighbor could bring in his bobcat and clear out the barn pen. May I be forgiven for saying that Willie’s work on the sheep was paw perfect? And where was the video camera when I needed?

As you can see, right now at the farm it’s all about lambs and flowers and working Willie and weeding weeding weeding.  And, oh yeah, rhubarb & strawberry pie. Did I mention weeding?

Here’s the only bloom on the new Tree Peony we planted last year. I almost didn’t include the photograph because the focus isn’t crisp, but decided to anyway because it is still lovely in a kind of smear-petroleum-jelly-on-the-lens-for-the-aging-actress kind of way.


And here’s the Iris in front of the please-paint-me-this-summer porch. You can see Willie boy in the background, watching the sheep in behind the electric fence in the front yard:


  1. Terrie says

    Sadly, even when my dog’s chance of biting is 0%, there’s still a chance of him scaring someone. I’ve had people cross the street to get away from us when we were half a block away and when Zeus has a bright pink stuffie toy in his mouth. Some people see a doberman and start backing up. Ironically, this is the dog that got beat up by a chihuahua mix.

    I’d add “Breed tells you very little about the dog” to your list. So many people think that, if it’s a Golden, it’s all good, or that every pit is a danger.

  2. Laurie Higgins says

    Two weeks ago at a local farmers’ market, I witnessed a young mother let her toddler son RUN 20+ feet into the fact of a standard poodle at the far end of a leash and the owner at the other end was turned away, not watching his dog, while talking to someone. The mother of the toddler was too far away to do anything and wasn’t watching either; she was talking to someone.

    I have no idea if these people already knew each other or not, nor whether the little boy already knew the dog or not. The Poodle was a saint as he turn his face and eyes away while he tolerated the toddler in his face and pulling on his ear hair.

    I leapt my cooler (I was there as a vendor) to tell the mother that her little boy was asking to be bitten and why. That she needed to be in constant immediate supervision of him around any and all dogs. What the appropriate approach should be and why. She thanked me and then went to take care of him and talk to the dog owner.

    I didn’t talk to the dog owner, however, but he needed to be cautioned also. I didn’t mention that one should always ask the owner if you can pet or approach their dog.

    I’ve offered to bring flyers to the market to be handed out to everyone regarding dog body language and how to approach dogs.

    I really don’t want to see anyone get bitten.

  3. Nicki Simonson says

    Whenever I take my dogs into public I go with the idea that I might have to leave at a moment’s notice if people are not respecting me and my dogs. I have three dogs: two German Shepherds and a Rottweiler. They are well trained, friendly, and respectful. Unfortunately, most of the children we encounter are not.

    We were at a baseball game when this child kept running up to my dogs and screaming in their faces. I tried to teach him about the proper way to approach a dog, how to ask the owner, etc. but all he did was tell me about how his family bred and raised chihuahuas but “our dogs aren’t nice like yours. Our dogs bite me all the time!” Gee, I wonder why?

    After a couple times of me physically body blocking the boy (he would literally bounce off of me as I’d step in between him and my dogs) and looking around in vain for his parents (probably a good thing I couldn’t find them… I was FURIOUS and might’ve had a few choice words about their little “angel,”), I packed up my dogs and left. If I was mad enough to want to hip check the kid into the ground the next time he charged my dogs, I certainly couldn’t expect my dogs to continue to ignore him, either. The softball game I never got to watch wasn’t worth risking my dogs’ lives.

    Many states have a provision in their dog bite laws that states if a person is taunting a dog, the dog/owner is not to blame for a bite incident, but who is a jury going to choose: a cute little boy with a terrible scar on his face, or a “big, scary Rottweiler?” As dog owners, we need do what we can to educate the public, but in the end it’s no shame to tuck our tails between our legs and run!

  4. Johanna says

    Ah, You’re blog always makes me think so much.

    I’m having problems with my dog’s leash behavior on our walks and I’ve been all question marks why. She’s not in any way aggressive or shy, but every time a dog comes across at walks, she starts barking and charging at the stranger.

    It’s a very weir problem because she is actually pretty social and I know she has no intention to hurt the other dog. Plus this problem only occurs at our walks, not when going around the city central, dog shows, etc. and not when she’s free. Only at our leash walks.

    But I think your blog post just answered to at least part of the problem. We didn’t go to leash walk before she was two years old, that’s when we moved to the city. Since then there has been all kinds of people and dogs just forcing themselves at poor Signe’s face, who is so used to having room and and a choice whether she want’s to greet or not. And what have I done? I’ve just let the strangers harass her thinking it’ll be good for her!

  5. Vicky says

    I have a dog who is very uncomfortable being petted by strangers and I am constantly amazed by how many people INSIST that she will like THEM (“all dogs like me”) and proceed to try to reach around me and through me to pet her. We have taught her to get behind us in such situations, and being smarter than the average person on the street, she does what she is supposed to do. Sometimes you literally have to tell the person off in a not too polite way to get them to stop pursuing the dog. As her owner and advocate, it is my job to protect her (the dog) from these people and get her out of there as quickly as possible, and if someone’s feelings are bruised in the meantime then so be it. If she would bite them (and she would) despite the warnings, it is my dog who could be put in danger – of being quarantined, or taken away from me.

    For those people who are willing to listen, she is receptive to someone holding out their hand and allowing her to “touch” and then moving away. But so many people think they have some kind of unique connection with all dogs – and their lack of interpretation of the most basic dog signals indicates they do not.

  6. says

    Oftentimes I wonder if I live in an educated-about-dogs kid haven because all of my neighborhood kids will approach, but ask before closing the distance with my dog. Which is just amazing and makes me really thankful. My dog is usually pretty good with kids but some days she’s just too wound up and they’ve all been good at backing off when I say “Not today.” Could also be that they’ve seen her act very badly about bikes and joggers (wants to chase very badly and lets everyone know very loudly with a lot of lunging. Working on it.) and are a bit intimidated.

  7. Lily Jackson says

    I get nervous when I hear someone state, “My dog would never bite.” You can never ever be sure what situation, stressors, or triggers might create the rare situation that would push even the most steady dog to bite. Always, always be vigilant–always be safe. You just never know.

  8. Kat says

    Amazing timing for this post. On my list of tasks for today is purchasing a muzzle for my reactive bitch Finna. I’m hoping that wearing a muzzle she’s going to look scary enough that people will avoid her. I’m so tired of spending so much time trying to save people from their own idiocy. What part of don’t approach my dog is unclear? What part of this dog is being rehabilitated and is not safe at this time is a mystery? What part of her wildly barking and lunging at the end of the leash makes you think coming closer is a good idea?

    Finna is making progress but she’s got a long long way to go before she’s going to be reliable or safe–if ever. I live in terror that there’s going to be an incident because an idiot adult human persists in ignoring my requests for space. I actually ran away from my neighbor one day with her running behind me calling out that she wanted to walk with us and she needed to talk to me. I’ve told her over and over and over again that my two dogs are very different. Ranger is friendly, and social and loves people walking with us is fine. Finna is scared out of her mind by people outside her immediate family and can’t be trusted near anyone else. Why do you think I only walk her late at night or in the pouring rain; I’m doing my damnedest to keep her and everyone else safe. If people could only meet me half way.

    I do need to give the parents around her credit. Most children know to ask before petting a dog. I love the kids that come up and ask if they can pet Ranger. I always thank them for asking and praise them for understanding that not all dogs are able to be friendly. Sometimes I’ll expand on that theme and talk about dogs that are working and dogs that have had bad beginnings and need to be left alone.

    A few months back I had Ranger at the park. Lots of kids had come over and asked to pet him and Ranger was in heaven with all the attention. A woman with her well mannered cocker spaniel had come over to talk and admire Ranger. We had both dog sitting by our sides while we talked when a toddler of about two came swooping in shrieking about the doggies. The cocker jumped up and fled behind her handler to the extent of her leash and Ranger calmly stood up and stepped in front of the child. He tolerated her shrieks and grabs while I looked around for her caregiver. The cocker’s handler and I gave the caregiver a gentle education on just how dangerous it is to let a child do that and how much lucky they’d been that Ranger and the cocker were good solid dogs.

  9. Vicki martin says

    I won’t forget my husband and I were walking a pack of dogs… ours plus a few fosters. Almost a block down, we saw a woman and her young daughter walking a pair of pitbulls. The pits were obviously on high alert, chests forward so we decided to cross to the other side of the street in an attempt to avoid a confrontation. The pits charged and the woman couldn’t hold them back. I body blocked one of them and she looked up at me,wagged her tail and happily started an appropriate reaction to our dog. The other one tried to grab our old male and my husband had to grab her and hoist her up in the air before she calmed down. (He’s a professional dog trainer. Don’t try this at home)

    Had we not been paying attention, that could have been a 7 dog dogfight. Thankfully, our dogs were confident enough in our ability to handle the situation that not a one of them escalated the pitties and they were happy to interact with the one who was appropriate. I’m just grateful the woman and her daughter didn’t encounter any other dogs on their walk.

    Oh and her reaction to all this? She took her dogs leashes and walked away without a word.

    We are always vigilant on walks for this reason.

  10. says

    I see dog bite prevention as a two-sided issue. First, the owners of a shy/fearful/reactive dog should learn their own dog’s stress signals and allow the dog more breathing room if the dog is showing these signals. It is also helpful to establish a protocol for greeting strangers or stepping off the sidewalk when people, strollers, children walk by. Giving a reactive or fearful dog enough room is a big issue because feeling trapped or confined is a common trigger.

    With children, I feel it is also important to teach large dogs to sit and stay. I have a large Akita who is very people friendly and has never shown aggression to any human but I taught her to step aside and sit when baby carriages approach because parents are a little intimidated by her and also she likes to smell baby feet for some reason. So I don’t want parents to feel scared of her. Therefore she has learned that there is a certain protocol when baby carriages roll by. It has gotten to the point where she sees a baby carriage or a small child on a bicycle/scooter/skateboard and then looks up at me because expects to be rewarded for sitting.

    For the person greeting a dog, I agree that too many people do not read dogs very well. I have a class going on right now where all the dogs happen to be shy or fearful. Last week spent part of a session talking about dog body language and how to properly greet a dog. Then we practiced greeting all the dogs in the class and tossing them treats. Many of the fearful dog owners never realized that hovering or leaning over a shy dog can elicit a fear response. So I had to show them how to stand and how far away to stand so that they could give the same instructions to people trying to approach their own dog. I also tell my clients with fearful dogs to not be afraid of telling strangers, “my dog is in training right now, she/he is not ready to be petted.” If the other person does not respect their wishes, to take their dog and walk away. On my blog, I have a video on how to greet a dog properly and I also have videos showing stress signals and canine body language. I will resurrect these articles and videos next week for dog bite prevention week. In one of the pictures, my old male akita is being hugged by someone and like the black cat in Pepe Le Pew, he is straining away from the person. Although primates tend to hug, it is not something that dogs naturally gravitate towards.

    I also wanted to mention that many people punish the growl in a fearful dog and that can ultimately lead to dog bites in a stressed dog. Growling is important information and it is the animal’s way of letting you know to stop what you are doing. Growling was the subject of a blog I wrote a few weeks back. In my article I was focusing on my parrot growling at me but segued into how people treat a dog growling very differently from a cat hissing or in my case a parrot growling and posturing. People tend to react very negatively to a growl without realizing that it is a warning signal that the dog is uncomfortable. Rather than treat the source of the stress, people try to suppress the growl.

  11. Beth with the Corgis says

    Once I had my dogs out for a walk on a lovely day when we stopped to speak to an elderly couple sitting on a park bench. Mine are both trained as therapy dogs, and while they are pretty bomb-proof with people, I always watch like a hawk to protect both people and dogs whenever they are interacting with someone who I don’t know to be dog-savvy.

    My dogs, after a quick greeting, were moseying around minding their own business. Jack had just started chewing on a piece of bark when the woman, to my horror, grabbed Jack faster than I could react, pinches the corners of his lips against his back teeth, started shaking her hand holding his jaw, and yelled “Drop it!! Drop it!!”

    I must admit I reacted in slow motion. Jack, bless him, thinks that nearly all people are a bit slow and stupid and need to be treated with the utmost patience. I assure you that if I handled him that way, I cannot guarantee he would not have snarled at ME, but he did not protest at all to the woman. Heaven knows what he was thinking.

    Not wanting to inflame the situation, I managed to stumble through a few words, something like “He’s ok, he can have that, I’ll take care of it.”

    I can guarantee that my dogs are not likely to bite a person under normal handling. BUT, you just never know what will happen. Bless his furry little heart, when we walked away I thanked him profusely for being such a forgiving boy.

  12. Houndhill says

    There is another kind of biting that I need to be more aware of. My Irish Wolfhounds sometimes take my arm in their jaws, gently, in greeting or affection, and while I don’t mind it, I must remember others may take it the wrong way. I recently had another IW breeder friend visit, and my 200 pound very tall male did this to her in greeting, gently, tail wagging, but she said, “You know, someone could take this the wrong way” and I was most contrite. I have since discouraged him from doing this. He has responded really well. I would not do this except for the slight possibility he would do it to the wrong person.

    Last night in handling class, I had a young bitch, a yearling, and at the end of class had the instructor move her for me so I could see whether she was 100% sound. They had a rapport, she is very sweet, playful, smart, well socialized, loves everybody. As he was giving the lead back to me, she took his arm gently. “Oh! Did she bite you?”. I said, (I admit and now am horrified) with a smile, and he said, smiling also (he is an Afghan person). “Yes! I love when they do that!”

    So that was a wake up call to me, I must discourage this behavior as it could be misinterpreted if she would
    do this to the general public. I must teach her not to do this, ever….some people might not appreciate such a large dog taking their arm, no matter how gently and obviously benignly. I can’t see it ever causing any kind injury, but it might be frightening if a person didn’t know the meaning of it. I have never had this gesture misinterpreted, as they only seem to do it to the right people, but I can see the potential for it.

  13. Susanne says

    I have traveled and trained in both the USA and Germany and with American and Germans. I find it very interesting the difference between our two cultures concerning dogs. In Germany dogs of all breeds and types are ubiquitous, they are in restaurants, hotels, and hanging around in the plaza after dinner. Germans have a very functional view of dogs and dog behavior, I have never seen a German or German child run up to a strange dog in the overly friendly manner that Americans often do, there is so much cultural respect for dogs and that includes the idea that some dogs might bite. Germans seem very comfortable that some dogs, even very good dogs, will bite if the circumstances are right. They do not classify dogs as good (never would ever ever bite anyone ever) and bad (bites, no matter the circumstances) as some Americans seem to. I see so much respectful treatment of dogs and also an attitude that if a dog bites you so what? Move along with life and learn from it.
    In my home people are far more difficult to understand, they seem to think all dogs are the same and that a Golden is going to be exactly as welcoming to strangers as a Tibetan Mastiff right off the plane from Tibet, where he was a guard dog in the mountains. I see people showing what can only be called disrespectful behavior towards dogs of all types. I have several dogs and some absolutely love to interact with strangers and they tolerate all kinds of inappropriate human behavior with the patience of a saint. I also have dogs who consider interacting with strangers as aversive, they do not care for strangers, and they will not tolerate inappropriate behavior from strangers. Both groups are good dogs. Both groups are competitive in both breed and performance events, both groups are normal and typical for their breed. I am very proactive when taking my aloof dogs out for special trips to the pet store, we are careful, we train for this, and I want to have a good time with my dogs and for them to enjoy their special outing with me. So I am happy to be the mean one when people ask to pet my dogs and say “No, thank you but he does not enjoy strangers” or body block, move my dog and myself away from someone….. you know…whatever it takes. But I am always going to find about half of those people will then feel the need to teach me! Don’t I know how important socialization is? Don’t I know if I don’t let people pet him he will only become more difficult (BTW my dog is not being difficult lady, you are), have I tried a pinch collar, or the ever popular “why is he afraid” (he is not afraid of you, you might notice he is laying down now with his back to you because…oh, why bother). No matter how much I teach it, Americans just seem to have a hard time accepting that not all dogs are going to love strangers and that that behavior is ok and does not mean this is a bad dog.
    We teach dog bite prevention in our classes from week 1, and this is the biggest challenge I think those of us who train humans face. Loving dogs is not enough, you must understand and respect them.

  14. Alessandro Rosa says

    I guess my question is why is there such a reluctance not to turn to anti-anxiety pharmaceuticals to help in managing a dogs fears and anti-social behaviors? There is a point to which conditioning and counter-conditioning works, and then there is a point where it is beyond the dogs capacity to cope. It is an incredibly frustrating conversation to have with a veterinarian when you observe that your dog may need some assistance taking the edge off and try to ask them to prescribe the medication.

    No reputable human therapist would expect their client to go it without the assistance of medication, doing so would border on malpractice. So why is it when it comes to our dogs the standard is any different. Medication is a tool in a continuum of tools to help a patient overcome their difficulties or alleviate their discomfort if the difficulties prove to be insurmountable. Medication to stabilize mood or calm anxiety isn’t cheating and until we begin to stop looking at it as a stigma and start looking at it as a scientific blessing, we are doing ourselves and our dogs a disservice.

    We are asking our dogs not only to behave like model dog citizens but to behave as model human citizens, and that is where I think that we have gone too far. Yes, it is terrible when a dog harms another dog or a human, but it isn’t so much a problem with the dog as our expectations we place on the dogs and their ability to cope with unnatural surroundings. If we are going to continue to place the demands of modern overcrowded human society on them, shouldn’t we also be willing to afford them the advantages of modern science and medicine as well to help them cope in a world that they find hard to understand and cope in? Why, in a world we often find overwhelming, should we expect our dogs to cope any better.

  15. Alessandro Rosa says

    Also one more point. The way you phrased your comment about muzzles can make it appear to the average reader that this isn’t a totally acceptable tool to use to help protect other people and dogs from a dog that is prone to fearful aggression, outright aggression, or that has a bite history. If a muzzle is going to keep your dog from being euthanize, keep others from harm, and keep you out of a law suit, then it should be encouraged. If properly conditioned, it is no more aversive than a collar and leash. Yes, you might be stigmatized when you walk down the street or go to the park, but isn’t your dogs life and the safety of others worth any bad feelings it might cause you?

    While I appreciate that a muzzle is not necessarily going to prevent a dog from causing injury, even serious injury, it definitely can go a long way in reducing the risk. Yes, a large, enraged 150 pound dog can do damage, even serious damage, without being able to bite, but for the most part, the greatest risks are from bites, and if the dog is prone to that, then why put down muzzles.

  16. Wendy W says

    The best advice I ever saw was on a sign hanging in a rabbit hutch within the children

  17. Bonnie H. says

    My dogs were not socialized properly (I know, my fault, I married a semi-hermit), so they don’t react well to any visitors. But I make sure they’re on the other side of a door whenever anyone comes to the house. Have had more than one person (delivery person, installer, whatever) tell me, after hearing the dogs barking, “Oh, let them inside. I’m good with dogs!”. Yeah, maybe, but my dogs aren’t good with people. No, they’ve never bitten anyone, but I certainly don’t want there to be a first! Why won’t people listen to the owners??

    And as for the guy who ran up to Drift, well, I think that if some stranger ran up to me, grabbed my head and tried to kiss me on the nose, I’d bite him too!

  18. UrbanCollieChick says

    I wish I had a printer so I could show this to my vet. Hopefully he has an email address. The guy is someone I have not been using long, but he was recommended by the owners of two australian working kelpies, which is the dog I have. Tucker can be very cautious under some circumstances. For example, kids freak him out, so we avoid them. Tucker is generally an excellent listener but he is definitely going to defend himself if he feels threatened enough, and there is only so much I can do to distract him if he hits a threshhold.

    I discovered this threshhold at the vet’s. He may be good at medicine, but he was in a rush, is a big, loud man and apparently does not use good judgment when handling dogs, not at listening to clients. Tucker was already cowering when the vet approached which made him decide “Well let’s just get this done quick.” After which he proceeded to bend down which, for him at his height, was a looming prospect, scooped Tuck up, placed him on the exam table, and had assistants restrain him so he could put a light into his ears, which were a bit inflamed from something ( no infections though).

    Tuck couldn’t take it, he gave the lip curl and snapped. He didn’t land a bite. It seemed clear to me he had no intention to injure but didn’t want to be hurt himself. I never saw him look so terrified, terrFYING or defensive. The vet jumped and was shocked. “Oh, well, gee, clearly is ears hurt.:”

    Okay, can I say something here? It was impossible at the time to get anyone to believe that it wasn’t JUST about the ears. This frustrated me like all hell! I had told him several times during this whole process that Tucker was scared. “Don’t do that. DON’T do that!” I swear I wasn’t shouting but I was clear and audible. At restraint, I said “I don’t think he’s going to appreciate that.” I Felt fairly helpless because if folks think there could be a problem, then at that point, what else are they going to do?

    Frankly a soft muzzle would have been less traumatizing than trying to hold a 52 lb dog that still by surrounding him with their bodies, while putting your big tools in his face. And this vet has been in business for decades and has a loyal following. I had expected better, but it goes to show. Being an “expert” in one aspect of dogdom doesn’t deem a person knowledgeable all around. In fact the more I learn, the more I realize this.

    It was hard to get stuff into his ears for a bit after that, even at home. Thankfully the “calming cap”, Valerian root and food and patience have allowed me to clean his ears again. We have a new visit coming up. I sent a fax ahead of time suggesting other methods which should work, because frankly this NEVER happened at a vet visit before. Hopefully never again. Tuck was perfectly fine as soon as they left him alone. Back to his friendly, happy self. He’s a good dog. He’s just……..”human?”

    Sadly, dogs are not allowed to be vulnerable anymore. Everyone expects perfect behavior every time. People have forgotten these are animals and only so much can be expected from them.

  19. Cathy says

    My dog ….ALMOST… bit David Letterman. I was there for stupid pet tricks show. I walked on stage and shook David’s hand and as he said “Who’s this?”, he swung his head rapidly down directly into my dog’s face. I watched helplessly as my dog’s pupils exploded into blackness. I was thinking ” my God, she’s going to bite him right on national TV”. As it was, she simply froze and David removed his face intact. That time.
    This was a situation where there was little opportunity for me to keep control but generally out in public and specially around children, you have to play the the referee.

  20. Maggi says

    Recently I was walking my dog (hound/lab) and a client dog (Great dane, intact) and a woman approached us from behind with her dog. As much as we were surprised by the sneak up, I kept the leashes loose and everyone had a sniff…then the GD and the lady’s dog got somewhat stiff..I immediately stepped between them and told the woman the dogs were getting tense and we should move on. She then berated me for assuming that both MY dogs and her dogs would be aggressive and that I didn’t know what I was talking about. This ticked me off..for she had no idea what may have happened if the 170 lb dane and her Bernese mix decided to have a go at each other. She is dangerous..her dog may not be. We must continue to educate people so that their dogs are not put in the position to bite or human.

  21. Martha says

    Terri, how funny. I fostered a puppy this week and my male Rottie was terrified of him. He jumped up and moved if the baby came near him. If you think folks are scared of Dobies you should see them with a Rottie. I had a worrisome event this week when Baxter snapped at a young woman that works at our vet and house sits for us. He was making his usual “purring” sounds when he snapped. I know know that I have to be more tuned it to his sounds. He did not hurt her, but he surely scared me. Loved this article and I’m thrilled to find your website.

  22. says

    I have a long haired chihuahua that we have socialized very well. He has a lot of energy , loves to play and loves children. But before I allow a child to play with him I teach them what not to do and then observe. If the dog takes better direction than the child I then remove him from the equation with the “ok he’s tired” excuse and hold him. Likewise my grandchildren never approach a dog and asked permission. Even then it’s always at arms length.

  23. says

    Patricia…you live in heaven on earth…but of course you know that!

    Another warning should be after an owner’s dog has greeted a child, or anyone for that matter, they should get the dog’s attention before the visitors depart. It is amazing how many people call me shocked that their dog was perfectly happy interacting with a child, only to nip the child in the rear as it left. I used to rehearse greetings and departures when I taught public classes for this very reason.

  24. Bev Levy says

    Thank you for writing this! I wish more people would read it. I am always so shocked at the people that will allow their dog to race up to me unchecked while I am walking three dogs (2 corgis and a doberman). The corgis are pretty bomb proof but the dobe is very stressed by rambunctious strange dogs. Just keeping the leashes from becoming tangled is cause enough not to allow your dog to race up to strangers. I also, find that joggers are very inconsiderate about running up about behind people walking dogs with out warning. Unfortunately their lack of consideration would be my dog’s fault if they get bitten. I just think that as dog owners we must be very careful to protect our dogs in these situations!

  25. Heather Staas says

    Makes me sick to think how close we came to this! The owner of a local pet store came up behind my GSD, grabbed her by the hips in a “gotcha” move, and when she spun around, he did that “grab the face and kiss them on the head” thing. Thank DOG despite being startled she didn’t go beyond “freeze-stare” and I got her out of the situation with some quick obedience and moving her to the other side of me. Scary how unaware people can be. We really need to be vigilant advocates to keep our pups out of trouble!

  26. Caroline McKinney says

    Banding boy goats. Assuming this is testicles? Just curious about hormones and developing bodies. In dogs we are now advised to delay neutering until after bones and other things are fully developed as hormones favorably affect development. Yet in goats and now I am guessing in sheep, banding is done VERY early. Just had a neighbor tell me of the painful death of two of her male goats due to urinary blockage. She is getting conflicting opinions about why. but one opinion was that early neutering affected development of urinary tract.

    Curious about your thoughts.

  27. Adrianne says

    This is an AWESOME article and should be read by everyone. Dog owners, other animal owners because bites happen with cats, birds (parrots) , horses, and for many of the SAME reasons, and PARENTS. DEFINITELY parents.

    thanks for the article!!!

  28. Amy W. says

    May I add,

    1- Be honest about your dog’s limitations, know your dog’s fear/bite threshold, and honor it. I have a dog with a low threshold; therefore, I avoid putting him in situations where he is uncomfortable. It means he doesn’t get to come to summer cookouts with me, even though other dogs will be in attendence. I’d love it if he were capable of handling a social situation like a cookout, but he can’t.

    2- I had a vet behaviorist suggest to me that my dog wear a vest in public that stated “in training, do not disturb.” Maybe not the most practical advice, but worth considering if you need others to give you space in public.

    3- Maybe it’s because I have a fearful dog, but I’ve learned to be extra vigilant. I am constantly watching for “space invaders” when I’m out with my dog. I especially don’t trust children. As a kid, I wanted to pet every dog I saw, so now as an adult I assume all children want to pet my dog. I am quick to create space, and quick to say “stop.” Once on a walk around the neighborhood, two little girls started running toward my dog. I did an abrupt about face, took off jogging in the other direction, and yelled over my shoulder “you can’t pet him, he bites.” I’m sure they probably now refer to me as the mean lady with the mean dog. Oh well.

    4- Maybe a little anthropomorphism in our public service announcements would be a good thing. Why not explain to the public that grabbing a strange dog by the head and kissing him or her on the mouth is really just as offensive to the dog as it would be if it happened to you.

  29. Jackie says

    I attended a rescue get-together at a pub last night with my partner, daughter and one of our dogs. We had brought our “bombproof” dog for an evening of socializing with other dogs and humans, without our other two dogs. I thought she’d enjoy the attention, not having to share it with her siblings.

    We consider her “bombproof” because she is extremely polite and tolerant of most anything: ill-mannered dogs, humans, noise, etc. She’ll walk away before reacting badly, so it’s up to me to protect her from stressors. So, when someone brought an unsocialized pit bull (I do pit bull rescue and own one myself. I am NOT anti-pit bull) that immediately reacted aggressively to the other dogs in attendance, I knew it was time to leave. Harley had been dealing with a rambunctious puppy, a Great Dane that didn’t respect her boundaries and an obnoxious Chihuahua. All with her usual aplomb but I could tell that she was unhappy.

    Unfortunately, the pit was blocking the exit and its owner (who even stated that the dog wasn’t properly socialized) wouldn’t move out of the way. So I had to keep my body between the two dogs to keep an altercation from happening. The LAST thing I wanted (besides my dog possibly being hurt) was for her to lose her ability to tolerate lots of different situations.

  30. Chris from Boise says

    I’m very glad you brought this up, as I have been carrying around a heavy question for the last fifteen years. Our dear departed heeler, Pica, was skittish about little kids. Had I known then what I know now (thanks to what we’ve learned from and about our current “recovering-reactive” border collie), we might have worked her through it. But I didn’t, so we managed kid situations carefully, always making sure she had a way out of the situation, and educated a lot of kids about dog etiquette and that some dogs just didn’t want to be petted. However, during a week-long vacation with my in-laws and their two well-behaved girls (5 and 9 at the time), at the end of a long day of canoeing we briefly took our eyes off five-year-old Emily and five-year-old Pica as we loaded the canoes on the cars. Emily apparently chased and grabbed Pica, who turned and bit her in the face.

    Fortunately, it was like Drift’s nip – barely a scratch on her nose – but it was terrifying for everyone. I wanted to pick up Pica and cuddle her, just as Emily’s mom was picking up and cuddling Emily, but I felt like I had to react strongly, so I (and I am ashamed as I write this) picked Pica by the scruff of her neck and shouted “No!” in her face.

    Both Pica and Emily were very subdued the rest of the day; we drove back to camp with Emily in her mom’s lap in the front seat and Pica in my lap (but getting the silent treatment from me) in the back seat. We kept Pica on leash for the next 24 hours, and all the adults talked with Emily about why it had happened. Then we held a little ceremony after dinner in which Emily (somewhat reluctantly) apologized to Pica for being rude and tossed her a meaty treat. They headed back to Colorado the next day, and we headed back to Idaho, and the two never met again. Fortunately it didn’t scar Emily physically or emotionally, but it certainly made Pica more kid-averse.

    I knew at the time that she had really inhibited her bite despite what was, to her, an intolerable provocation, and I certainly knew that it was our fault for letting the situation (over-tired child forgetting her manners, over-tired dog not seeing an ‘out’) occur. But I didn’t know how to react after the fact – and I still don’t know what I should have done, after the bite had happened. Trisha, what did you do when Drift nipped that man? And would you do anything different today?

  31. Sharon Benjamin says

    I had my small dachshund at the groomers for nail trim and offered to go back and hold her. “no we’ve been doing this for years” Well I asked them to put a muzzle on her. No to that. I then heard, “maybe you better come back here” I went to the back, my baby is on the floor and 3 tall strangers all standing over her when a fourth groomer walks in trying to stop the bleeding where she bit him when he reached for her. I wanted to bite him myself!! He blew it off saying it happens all the time….I can see why. I certainly learned my lesson.

  32. says

    I had an incident tonight that caught me off guard. We are camping and were out for an evening stroll and a child on bike approached and asked to pet the dogs. I thanked him for asking, said yes, he carefully put his bike down and walked over to the dogs and before I knew it had done a full face to face bear hug with my dog. Totally caught me unaware as he had done all the right things right up to then. Luckily my dogs just gave me a wtf look and I quickly untangled them and reminded the kid that they should never, ever do that to a strange dog please. Darn those kids can be fast and slippery! I purposefully grab my dogs in bear hugs, kiss their noses, gently tug their tails etc all with good rewards following. I know (from your books!) that this is not a dog’s favourite thing but I want them to be comfortable so if things like this happens the odds are a little better for me. I know it’s not the same with a stranger but I do think it still helps even if it is just to buy a few extra seconds for me to react.

  33. says

    In our community a Pitbull just killed a man in his sixties, a member of the dog’s household, earlier this month. The son found his Dad outside the house, the garden hose still running, his dog lose. 2 other dogs were created in the yard. None of the three dogs were altered, probably none of them got to go on walks regularly, I guess they were guard dogs. The running garden hose gave folks the idea that Dad may have teased the dog. The family has had many Pitbulls before and supposedly adores them. Inevitably the dog got euthanized and there were cries for banning the Pitbull breed.

  34. LaDonna King says

    I recently had an experience with what could have been a nasty dog bite. I had just finished up with a group pet therapy visit at an assisted living home and was packing my things to leave. My dog (Dalmatian an intact male) was on leash right at my side. A woman, that had not been there for our session, was passing by to go visit with an elderly relative. All of a sudden she drops down and touches her nose to my dogs nose. It startled both he and I. He jumped away from her and barked. She said, “OH, I must have scared him, I do that to my dogs all the time”. I said to her in the nicest voice I could muster, “you probably kiss your husband all the time too but I don’t think you would come up to a starnge man and kiss him”. Actually I felt like biting her on the face myself.

  35. says

    I keep saying that dog bites are never the dog’s fault. It’s almost always the victim or the owner for either acting improperly, or lack of training/socializing.

    I have an amazing German Shepherd. She is super friendly – as friendly as can be expected of a protection dog (meaning if you act inappropriately or randomly appear where she knows she shouldn’t meet strangers she will be very upset). I’ve had to file a complaint with our local bus service because drivers would try and refuse to let my dog on board, except it is not part of their rules to discriminate on breeds. This summer after I filed my complaint they’ve changed their tune. Instead of trying to kick me off because she is a Shepherd they ask me “is your dog friendly?” Which is exactly what I told their Humane Resources that the drivers need to ask.

    I have noticed that many people think it’s ok to pet my dog without asking. One lady who was passing by on a busy sidewalk just suddenly stopped and out of the blue mauled my dog’s head and patted her side before walking away. She is lucky my Shepherd knows she gets attention on walks, and will even go up to strangers to get it (i.e. throwing her head under your hand and sit herself down right in front of you with her tongue lolling). Some people will put out a hand to trail it along her back as she passes, and one drunken man lunged down at her as he left a bar he was kicked out of for sexual harassment (my dad was in the bar and saw it happen). That drunken man had upset my dog because he had scared me, sneaking up behind us. I jumped and that and the fact the man was lunging down at Tasha was enough to make her mad. Tasha lunged into HIS face and started barking and snarling. I have noticed that if someone is drunk or high (our bad neighbors before they were removed) she don’t like you, and especially if you are moving so fast she thinks you are attacking her.

    She loves kids. Especially if they have a ball. I’ve once been playing with her at a park, threw a stick for her, and instead of returning it to me as she always does – she took her stick to a group of five pre-teens and dropped it on the ground in front of them, moved back a few steps and was wagging her tail. She never met them before…and she decided that ME – the love of her life – was not as fun as they were. >.<

    Conclusion, a dog bite is never the dog's fault. Dog's don't bite for funzies, but someone who is bitten will never admit they were in the wrong. That is a common reaction for any kind of situation with or without dogs. – to place blame elsewhere.

    As a vendor at craft shows, it's not a bad idea to make a flyer handout about how to avoid dog bites. Thank you Laurie for the idea =)

  36. says

    Sometimes, all the lists of things to look out for and steps to take to ensure a well socialized dog, let you down. We rescued a dog a year and a half ago from a local Border Collie rescue org. He’s a mutt, maybe half lab, but we’re not sure. He was living with a foster family with a kid and two other dogs. He was doing great in that home and they reported no obvious problems with him. My husband and I met him at their house and introduced each of our two dogs to him and there were no problems, no aggression, no issues. We brought the guy home, he played all night with our other two, I signed him up for puppy preschool and puppy play time (he was estimated to be between 4 and 6 mos old, so just under the cut-off for “puppy” status) and we were on our way.

    Well, it seems the homeless couple who’d been living in a car, who had him before surrendering him, hadn’t socialized him and when it got to be more than one or two new dogs, or crowds of people, he would get panicked and aggressive. Despite tons of exercise, long walks, sometimes wearing a back pack with some weight, going up the steep hills in our neighborhood, and lost of one on one training time and mental stimulation, he was just too overwhelmed in class, so we were asked to leave. That was really heartbreaking for me.

    We’ve spent the last year and a half, trying to make being in the car and going to the gas station (in oregon, you can’t pump your own. This is a very stimulating experience for our guy) a less excitable experience. There was a time he’d be barking his head off, biting at windows and lunging at anyone who walked within 10 feet of the car or rode a bike or looked in the car from another vehicle. All our dogs wear harnesses which are clipped securely to our seatbelt system so there’s basically no risk of his getting at a gas station attendant. We are at the point, now, where there are only occasional outburst but mostly, he can enjoy his ride in peace and does little more than look at people who pass by the car or even look in. So he’s come a very long way.

    I doubt we’ll ever trust him in crowds or at off leash parks, but we do seem to be making progress in raising his tolerance/reducing his personal space requirements with other people and dogs. We still leash him any time we are around people or other dogs and we muzzle him if those people and dogs might approach him.

    I wouldn’t recommend a fixer-upper like this to anyone else and I won’t be seeking them out in the future, but I’m happy we are able to give him a home and I love him dearly. It has changed where we can go and what we can do with our dogs, but sometimes, you adjust your life to the dog(s) you have.

  37. says

    When you described the events of just before Drift’s “attack”, I almost burst out laughing. Of course he nipped the man’s nose! He was just returning the same gesture he had been subjected to! Lacking thumbs and height, he simply leapt and planted a dainty kiss on the man’s schnoz.

    I’ve tried educating some of the kids in my area. They seem to have good dog-handling skills in a broad sense (Ask before you pet, don’t chase strange dogs, listen to the owner, etc) but when they get close, it’s like no one has taught them how to interact past the petting. I’ve had kids stick their faces in Peach’s, hold her head and squeal at her (Calling her cute, etc) try to get her to give them her paw or sit or stand or any number of things. Peach loves people and especially kids, but she is so nervous when someone is too close to her face.

    I preface every potential encounter with, “She’s shy,” and I feel like I don’t have a calm moment on a walk unless I am somewhere remote, because I have to police Peach’s comfort and encourage her to feel safe even around the general human weirdness. Luckily she’s very expressive (The ENORMOUS ROLLING EYES always give away “Too close for comfort” feelings) so she’s easy to save from a scary situation. I just wish more outsiders saw it.

    You also wouldn’t believe how many dog owners here think a wagging tail is always a-OK…

  38. Layne says

    I think that most people expect too much from dogs and their expectations are not exactly rational. Media presentations that anthromorphize dogs have conditioned people to view the anthropomorphic behaviours as being natural to dogs. As dog guardians we need to educate the public where possible and, as Nicki suggested, we sometimes need to tuck our tails and just run away. We need to keep our dogs safe because the bite will always be blamed on the dog even if the circumstance was not the dog’s fault. I think we have our work cut out for us!

    At a family picnic many years ago, a senior Uncle who lived alone, was traveling a long way to the picnic and brought his dog. The dog was very friendly, outgoing, accustomed to children and had been to other family gatherings without incident. Dog was soundly sleeping in his owner’s lap when one of the children suddenly dashed up, bent over the sleeping dog and hugged him. Naturally the dog startled awake and nipped the child. He grazed her at the hairline and, although it wasn’t a serious bite, it bled profusely. Uncle was as startled as his dog. The polarities at the picnic changed in an eye-blink! Cries were heard that the dog was the villain and “something should be done”. Others blamed the child and then the child’s mother for not teaching the child about dogs. When it was all over the child was fine, not scarred for life, and had learned how not to approach a sleeping dog. Unfortunately the dog was forever blamed and banned from future family events. This also meant that Uncle no longer attended. He chose his dog, his best friend, over his family.

    Parents ARE teaching their children to ask permission before petting a dog. Unfortunately this isn’t necessarily working the way we think it ought to. I was in the park with my Border Collie, Sweep, when we encountered a mother with a young girl. They were unknown to us. The child asked her mother if she could pet my dog. Without a word to me, mother said “Yes”. The moment the word was off mother’s lips the child charged toward us. I quickly stepped in front of Sweep, put my hand up like a policeman and told the child “stop”. Then I told the mother that while it was correct for her child to ask permission that permission needed to come from the dog’s owner. Amazingly she wanted to argue this point with me!

    I would add that the other Most Dangerous Words are “It’s Okay, (S)He’s Friendly”. Too often I’ve heard this line from the owner of a dog who is lunging toward us displaying clear signals that his intentions are anything but friendly. (One of the worst bites I ever received came from one of these so called “friendly” dogs.) This is also said by owners whose dogs are poorly socialized and whose idea of play is an encounter that is likely to be too rough (damaging physically or psychologically) for a smaller dog, young puppy or senior dog. I don’t want my 35 pound Border Collie flattened by an ill-mannered 80+ pound lout even if he IS friendly!

  39. Kat says

    UrbanCollie and Marnie, You were telling my stories with my highly reactive totally unsocialized dog with all her fear issues. I know she’s fearful and reacts aggressively (barking, snarling, lunging and even snapping if pushed) when she’s scared. I called ahead to the vet’s office and explained the situation. We’ve been going to this practice for almost 20 years so I expect that they know me and that I will accurately report the steps that will make a difference. I explained that Finna is calmer with Ranger leading the way so we’d be bringing both dogs, that moving slowly and narrating what you’re going to do gives her time to process the information and make better choices and that if they moved quickly she was going to react badly. The staff was wonderful and did everything I’d asked. The veterinarian did not. She objected to having the non-patient dog there–he was in the way. She was in a hurry and kept moving quickly and abruptly. She didn’t even speak to the dog much less try to narrate what she was doing. Finna snapped at her. To me it was clearly a warning rather than an attempt to connect but the vet labelled her as aggressive (which it was but not exactly in the same way the vet meant it) When my scared dog tried to climb in my lap where she feels safe the vet explained to me at length how I was letting the dog be dominant. It was a very negative experience for me and Finna both. It’s time for Finna’s booster shots and I’m struggling with what to do. I’m not going to see that vet again for any of my animals. The other vet in the practice is a man and Finna has more issues with men than women. If I’d known then what I know now I doubt I’d have had the courage to bring Finna home. Coming from an animal hoarding situation where she received little interaction with people and no socialization she’s a profoundly damaged dog. It breaks my heart since there are times when I see the awesome dog she could have been. We’ll keep doing our best by her and maybe someday…..

  40. Margaret McLaughlin says

    I’ve noticed an interesting demographic shift in the 15 years I’ve been raising guide dog puppies I will NEVER forget an incident in the public library with my first puppy, a German Shepherd: I turned around to find a child trying to pick her up by the tail–a 10mo GSD! No parent in sight, of course. That was the day I learned to keep at least one eye on the dog at all times. More recently, I’ve noticed that the kids are behaving a lot better, & I hear a lot of educating coming from parents, “No, honey, you can’t talk to that dog. He’s working.” which I greatly appreciate (& thank the parent). My problem now tends to be with seniors, who will charge right up to the puppy & snatch it up if I don’t intervene, saying things like “I just can’t resist that face.” It’s much worse if I have a light-colored puppy–a yellow Lab or a Golden. What are they THINKING? If she’s in the supermarket, she’s got to be a service dog, right? She’s wearing a vest. Do they approach other dogs that way? Do they think service dogs don’t have teeth? Goldens would never bite? Disney’s got a lot to answer for.

  41. trisha says

    Great comments, and yes yes, wish I had added “ignore the breed” to my list, Terrie! And your numerous comments about how often strangers impose themselves on our dogs reminds me of something I learned to say when working with client’s dogs, who were often very uncomfortable around unfamiliar people. If the person began to approach I’d immediately walk in front of the dog, face the stranger and say “Oh good! I can tell right away that you are REAL DOG person and know how important it is to stay back away from nervous dogs! Whew! Ah, thanks SO much for not running up at him, you can’t BELIEVE how many people just dash up to him. But you look like a dog lover AND someone who really understand dogs!” If you can get those words out of your mouth fast enough you have instantly stopped them… how could they not agree that they are expert dog whisperers who know not to run up to a dog? I wish I had videos of all the people who would stop, listen, look a tad confused for a moment and then nod their heads gravely and in solidarity with all of us “dog smart” people… while standing still and not bothering the dog.

    If appropriate, I’d then go on to ask them to toss treats or just stand there so we could work with the dog approaching and withdrawing while they stood still.

  42. trisha says

    To Vicky, oh yes yes, isn’t it amazing how many people say “Oh, it’s okay, dogs love me!” In my experience I have found that women most often say that dogs love them, or they have a special connection with animals, etc. More often when I ask men to stand still and toss treats they’ll answer “Oh, I’m not afraid.” On the days when I should wear a sign that says “Trisha can get grumpy, and grumpy Trisha’s bite” (thanks Wendy W!) I wanted to say “Well, it’s just not about you, now is it?” but then, I never did. Yet. I’ll bring out the “Oh well, then, yes, you’ll understand, you know so many people don’t, how important it is to not come too close to a nervous dog….”

  43. trisha says

    I’ve gotta go feed the sheep and the bottle lamb, but quickly (I’ll write more tomorrow), yeah on the good comments about muzzles. Yes yes yes they can indeed be incredibly useful, both to prevent serious injuries and to warn people to stay away from your dog. I’ve had several clients who kept using them long after they were needed because it was such a joy to know that people wouldn’t harass their dog. I would never want to discourage people from using muzzles appropriately, so thanks for the comment Alessandro, you are absolutely right. And Terrie, it may be disheartening to see people avoid your Dobbie, but keep reading the comments and count your blessings sometimes! More later, great comments you all, thanks so much for the conversation…

  44. Layne says

    It has been very interesting and informative to read everyone’s postings.

    @ Alessandro – Why would one want to drug a dog because of anxiety/fear when the dog can be taught that not all situations it finds fearful actually warrant their fear? With an experienced and aware handler the dog need not be forced into situations where their anxiety is over their threshold. Gradual desensitizing does work – my own dog is proof. Carefully selecting the activities where you expose a dog to the things that stress him for brief moments and setting him up to have a positive outcome can help him understand that he CAN manage. You can help a dog gain the confidence to face fearful-to-them situations without medicating them into somnolence or flooding them into (negative) reactions. Is it acceptable to you to use prophylactic drugs so that your dog does not react to children screaming in his face or waving hockey sticks at him? To me this means that the dog must be continuously medicated. Would you choose to do that to yourself? Or do you think that education for children/adults in appropriately greeting dogs would be more beneficial in the long run. I’m certain the pharmaceutical companies would approve of your medication idea to fill their bank accounts. Drugs are a cop-out. They do not deal with the underlying problem and solve nothing. The same goes for muzzles. It is like saying that your Diabetes could be resolved by making changes in your diet and exercise but that is just too much effort so just take Insulin. Never mind that it doesn’t address the primary issue.

    @ D. Sakurai – I totally agree that people must know their own dog’s signals and be prepared to jump in to their dog’s defense when necessary. Your comment about growling reminded me of my old Border Collie, George. He was truly the bombproof dog with one exception. When at the vet and needing his nails trimmed (they were too hard and brittle for my clippers) he would alternately growl – Hey, I don’t like this! – and then snivel like a little puppy to make them stop. I knew he was (only) expressing his distress and was extremely unlikely to bite and I always made sure I was the one holding him so if he did decide to bite he would bite me and not the vet. Even though I was the one “in harms way” the growling distressed my vet and he wanted me to make George stop growling. My reply was that George had the right to express his opinion but not to react (bite) and I never denied George the right to express himself. George expressed himself, sometimes quite loudly – and never, ever crossed the line.

    @ Vicky – I totally agree. Sometimes I think I should wear a t-shirt that says “never mind the dog, beware of owner”. My BC is very cautious and wary of strangers. I tell all of them to put out their hand and if she is interested in being petted she will approach them. If not, they have to accept that she is not interested in petting. After all it is her “person” they are wanting to touch. I ask them how they would feel if a total strange suddenly glommed on to them to hug and pet them and they mostly get it. If not it gives them something to think about. If it is a child who wants to pet her and the parent appears to be clueless I ask them how they would feel if I, as a complete stranger, suddenly ran up to their child and picked them up and hugged them while shrieking how lovely the child was. Suddenly they get it.

    @ Kat – I think your solution of a muzzle for Finna is a great idea. It will give you the peace of mind that she cannot seriously harm anyone while you deal with her reactivity. It will allow you to walk her at more ‘normal’ times of the day when you can let her have the experiences that will help her become less reactive. When you are both feeling more confident you can try it without the muzzle. I know that my dog reads me like a book and if I am stressed she is Miss Bossy Boots to Everyone. I wish you great success!

    @ Suzanne – Thank you for clearly expressing how it is that we need to “defend” our dogs. I’m with you about taking whatever steps are necessary even if it might offend the person wanting to interact with our dog against its nature.

    @ UrbanCollieChick – I don’t know what your other options are for veterinary services are so you need to think about this. I strongly suggest that you find another vet for your dog. If he ever need veterinary help when he is very ill he does not need the stress of this insensitive veterinary to add to his problem! Did your dog’s ears really hurt or was he freaking out at being treated like an object?

    Years ago, when I moved into my present neighbourhood from another province, I had a Border Collie who was a rescue. Clearly he had issues which we didn’t know about. Fortunately he fully bonded with us and was a wonderful companion – with quirks. One of his fears was going to the vet. Being in a new town, I asked friends and neighbours which vet they used and went to the one most highly recommended. On our first visit, the Attendant came to the waiting room to collect George to take him in to the back room for his exam and treatment. Sadly, I was unprepared for this type of event since my previous vet called both animal and owner into the treatment room. Reluctantly I handed over George’s leash. He didn’t want to go with this stranger and had a meltdown on the way out the door to the treatment room. An Assistant was waiting in the hallway beyond my view with a noose leash thing like dogcatchers use and he lassoed George and together they attempted to drag my resisting dog down the hallway. Fortunately for George he was very very vocal about this and I leapt into the doorway demanding to know why they were treating my friend this way. The response I received was a pair of blank looks and one of them said the George was being uncooperative and had attempted to bite. George needed the treatment. I calmly (and I don’t know where my calm came from) walked down the hall and took George’s leash. He relaxed. I told them I was going with him or we were leaving and asked them to remove their device. They did. Then George and I walked to the treatment room together. His issue was dealt with and he remained calm throughout. They made a note on his chart that “Owner must attend at all times” – which I did. Eventually this became the ‘rule’ for all patients. I guess that what I am saying is that either they respect your dog’s needs/reservations or they do not get your business. It is stressful enough for our fur friends to have a complete stranger poking and prodding them and it makes it difficult to get a clear reading about what is going on with their body. I get that the vet thought Tuck’s ear really hurt but maybe Tuck’s ears weren’t as painful as was the vet’s lack of comprehension of how Tuck felt about his treatment. I really appreciate my present vet because he is all about how Sweep feels in the exam room. He tries to make it feel as safe and comfortable as possible and works at her speed instead of rushing her to the point of reaction or shutdown. I know it is working because I (still) do drop -by events to take her into the office to say “hi” to the receptionists and maybe get her weight on their scale. She thinks they are her buddies (I bring her favourite treats for them to give her) so when we go for serious things she is relaxed. Fortunately serious is very rare!

  45. Liz says

    To add a bit to this valuable discussion:
    I think self-awareness, in addition to awareness of dogs, is key. This would include knowing when you’re distracted, impatient, or unable to pay full attention to a dog in any setting. I totally avoid stressful situations when I’m tired, for example, as my head doesn’t function properly.

    In a similar vein, “I Think It Will Be Okay” can come from different places… On the one hand, we say such things out of not knowing better, and on the other hand we say them when we feel we know too much! Injuries can occur due to familiarity and complacency as well as ignorance (and many a machine operator will tell you that you have to be especially careful after decades on the job). I imagine the same to be true of working with dogs.

    I don’t think it can be said enough that people Should Not Stick A Hand Into A Dog Fight. I know too many people who’ve gone in to grab a collar during a minor scuffle between dogs and end up surprised/angry/hurt because they were bit. If there was ever an outstanding time for a body block, a minor dog fight would be it… whatever you do, though, I’d say No Hands By Mouths Of Dogs Already Biting!

  46. Elizabeth says

    Amy – I have a “dog in training – give me space” vest for my reactive BC and have had mixed results with it. People seem to think he’s in training to be a service dog and are generally respectful, keeping their distance while asking questions about him. On the other hand, dog owners seem to be oblivious to the vest even when I am obviously working with him on his behavior around strange dogs (I use the vest at a local park where we practice staying calm and getting treats when we “look at that” as dogs walk by). I’ve even had one person (with a Malamute!) intentionally corner us and then approach until my dog reacted – and then he smirked and walked off.

    So, my experience is that the “dog in training” vest does help to make people more thoughtful about approaching but that dog owners ignore the vest or actually see it as a red flag to incite aggression. I would highly recommend it if your dog’s issue is people. I’m very interested in whether others have had the same less than wonderful experience with the vest with dog owners.

    Regarding the “scary” breeds like dobies, rotties, and GDs. I love these breeds and have had wonderful experiences with them but my BC is terrified of them (size matters…). One of our strategies is to “run away” when we suddenly see really “scary” dogs (e.g., we walk around a blind corner and there’s a big dog). Alas, more than once, I’ve offended the owner of these wonderful dogs. I’m generally too busy managing my own dog to address their feelings but would welcome any advice on what to shout over my shoulder that would explain our bizarre behavior.

    On a positive note, it seems that more people (adults and children) are asking permission before approaching my dog (with or without his vest) these days than even a few years ago. So, maybe the message is getting out?

  47. Nicola says

    My little (6lb) dog has “bitten” twice in her life, both times grazing the hands of elderly people. The common denominator – they were putting her back on the ground after picking her up. I instituted a new rule – nobody but me was to pick her up. I had very little success with that rule, largely because she would stand on her hind legs pawing at people to be picked up, and if I turned my back to deal with one of my other dogs, someone would give in. Finally I started telling people “Poppy has a sore back, please don’t pick her up” With a reason they could understand, I achieved 99% compliance.

    Children are told to sit on the ground and if she wants a cuddle, she will come and sit on their lap – and since most of the time she does, at my favorite off leash park I have the amusing experience of children running up to me and about 6 yards away, plonking themselves on the ground. I still supervise each encounter, because kids are kids and dogs are dogs!

    @Layne – have you ever had an anxiety attack? I have – and I would have welcomed some medication to help me handle the fear. A responsible vet does not just put a dog on anti anxiety medication and forget about it. A responsible vet hands the owner a counter conditioning and desensitisation programme to accompany the (usually) temporary medication. The medication helps the dog remain calm and gives the training somewhere to start. I am an experienced and aware trainer. I have previously trained my dog not to react to rotties after one attacked her (she is under 10lb). My dog is on anti anxiety medication (prozac, if you are interested). She was so nervous she followed me around the house – she couldn’t rest unless I was within sight. The vet behaviourist diagnosed her with generalised anxiety disorder. The tablets took effect within 2 weeks, and the counter conditioning and desenitisation training became much more successful at the same time. After 6 months I turned off the DAP diffusers in the house, and had a dog who enjoyed her life, and walks again. I gave her Vallium for thunderstorms until she went deaf – I could play a thunderstorm tape at full volume and she wouldn’t mind, but the real thing had her drooling, panting, trembling & eyes wide – with the tablets she could sit quietly beside me – not enjoying the experience but not panicking. Sometimes, usually temporarily, medication is necessary, and there is no shame in using it.

  48. em says

    Wow! So many fantastic comments and suggestions. I am lucky to have two very solid dogs, but I have had to learn the hard way that it is sometimes not possible to be polite when trying to discourage rude or downright stupid human behavior. Otis is a novelty to most people, they want to approach and touch and talk about him, I get that, but it annoys me a bit that I’ve had to stop bringing him some places not because he can’t handle crowds, but because people can’t be appropriate around him. It ranges from minor annoyance (my husband and I could not eat our dinner at a lobster pound picnic table while on vacation because people would not leave us alone for five minutes) to seriously dangerous (I had to put out my hand and catch a ten year old boy on a scooter with a palm to the chest because he was DELIBERATELY zooming up to Otis, lying on the grass beside me, while his beaming mother looked on. His explanation? ‘I wanted to make him stand up so my brother could see how tall he is’. I get that he’s a kid, but what part of, ‘my ten year old is setting out to deliberatly frighten a 150lb dog’ seemed like a good idea to that woman?’ Otis did not, in fact, stand up, and I sent the kid away with a stern warning and a glare at mom.

    It seems to me that many people do not understand that dogs are living creatures, not toys (one man actually got mad at me once for refusing to allow his toddler to RIDE Otis). I wonder whether ubiquitous leash laws (I do support leash laws, I’m just pondering) may have had the unintended side effect of making people less comfortable (people walking without dogs at the off-leash dog park sometimes freak out when gently approached by friendly dogs-it’s clear that they are just not used to having to interact with unleashed dogs, ever) AND less respectful of dogs (like the bunny in the suburban neighborhood, they may not really appreciate that a dog on a leash is a real, live, predator). It seems to me that many people simply do not realize that dogs HAVE feelings, much less that they should be treated with courtesy.

    For me, it seems simple. Don’t do anything to an unfamiliar dog that you wouldn’t do to an unfamiliar human. Don’t touch without asking, don’t point, don’t stare, don’t run towards him, don’t yell, don’t get in his face. If you have any questions about whether it is ok, ask yourself, would I like it if a stranger did that to me?

  49. Layne says

    @ Nicola – Obviously you and your vet were looking to get your dog off the drugs once you had dealt with her issues and I applaud you for that!

    To answer your question; no. I am also an experienced and aware trainer and work with Shelter dogs where most of them have issues that are fear based. I do have a very fearful BC who is terrified of thunderstorms, fireworks, the sound of a clicker being clicked… She is the most sensitive soul I have ever worked with. I use a Thundershirt, or a half-wrap with a tensor bandage, on her when we have a thunderstorm or it is a holiday celebrated with fireworks and regular TTouch sessions that help with more than anxiety. Her panic is now limited to thunderstorms and fireworks which are rare occasions here in coastal British Columbia. The gift of working with her has taught me to become much more aware of my own emotional state. She has also led me to “think outside the box” for ways to introduce her to new, potentially frightening, things. This has also helped my shelter dog work.

    I do not think there is any shame in using medication. My thoughts regarding drugs is that many owners would find the drug more convenient (easier) than doing the work and it would become a long-term thing. I have just read “Anatomy of Epidemic” by Robert Whitaker and he makes a compelling argument for not using psychiatric medications. Many of them result in other serious medical conditions when used long-term. Of course the studies he is describing are with people, not dogs. Personally, in light of this research, I would not choose to so medicate my dog or my child for that matter. Namaste.

  50. Alessandro Rosa says

    @Layne: I’d like to ask you, do you live in the middle of a city of 8 million people where you have absolutely no control over the tens of thousands of overwhelming situations just around the next corner that can freak out an animal that doesn

  51. Amy W. says

    @Elizabeth – sorry to hear about the man that cornered your dog on purpose. Frustrating for you no doubt! I was working with my dog at a park too, when a man told his Ridgeback to “get them” and sent his Ridgeback running toward us, only to stop his dog short of us w/ a shock from the shock collar his dog was wearing.

    Did you make the vest your dog wears yourself?

  52. Kerry M. says

    I have my first stranger danger dog. And, hopefully, my last. I do love this dog to death, so I don’t begrudge his issues but for future dogs, I’d like to return to the blissful world of people who don’t have to give a 2-min explanation on how first-time visitors need to greet the dog.

    A good vet is worth their weight in gold. Huck has been to see my vet over 6 times this past year and he is a young healthy dog with no medical issues. 5 of those visits were for my older dog, but he came to every visit so that when time came for his own checkup, the vet was a friend – not a stranger. She listens to me and works with me. I know that he is a little less wary when I’m absent – most dogs are better when the owner isn’t present – but my vet also understands she can slow down and make sure we are both comfortable, which is what she does. I “auditioned” 3 vets to find her and will absolutely do that again if she moves or I move. Barring that, I’m a patient for life.

    Huck has never bitten – to the best of my knowledge since I got him when he was three. And he is just fine walking in public. He is very rarely approached and can be right next to anyone who isn’t staring and looming. If someone beelines to him, I throw my hand in front of his face if I can’t escape which does two things: stops people in their tracks and obscures his line of sight so he doesn’t get too upset. I just say no thanks since he is in training and people usually walk on with no ill feelings, but my even having to do this is rare.

    Effective body blocking prevents most approaches. I have “switch left” and “switch right” on cue so that Huck walks behind me and switches sides to avoid anything scary. Simply doing that prevents random petting and is a pretty good signal to dog lovers that something is going on here. The impolite people can’t touch him without invading my space. And the polite people pick up that I’m trying to keep distance.

  53. Alessandro Rosa says

    @ Layne: Robert Whitaker is a Journalist, not a Scientist. His book is pure opinion and not a peer reviewed analysis. Just as when reading a “Health” article in even as reputable a publication as the New York Times, it needs to be read with an Incredibly Large Grain of Salt. He has a specific and particular prejudice which seems to appeal to you without question. There is a market for his books which means he makes money off of that outlook. It is healthy to question, that is what science is all about. But you cannot take one particular part of research that you like and ignore everything else, especially if those findings are contradictory to your world view. You have to take it as a whole and evaluate it, and that is not what he is doing. To suggest that a schizophrenic should refrain from medication because there are holistic approaches that may or may not work is just as irresponsible as saying a woman in the early 20th century who was patently unhappy with her repressed life needed to have their uterus removed to control their hysteria.

    You can break your neck doing a yoga pose incorrectly. You can have a placebo effect from snake oil. Caffeine is one of the most addictive substances on earth. Aspirin can be one of the most damaging and lethal drugs around if used incorrectly. New Surgeon General’s Warning: “Living is hazardous to your health.”

    Some people would gladly accept the side effects of the medications for the relief and quality of life they give. Some people have problems that they wish there were medical alternatives for and would gladly accept potentially severe side effects for relief.

  54. Elizabeth says

    Thanks, Amy, for the kind words and your story about the Ridgeback – it’s good to know that these kind of bizarre incidents happen to other people. Well, not good that they happen but that I’m not alone. I do sometimes wonder.

    I bought the vest on-line from but it would be very easy to make.

  55. Kathy says

    I remember when parents used to warn their kids not to bother the dog when he’s eating. When I was growing up, my parents had no sympathy for any of us kids who were bitten by the dog (first a very reactive poodle and then a mystery mix from the humane society). It was always our fault–in their eyes and probably in reality as well. What ever happened to the idea that dogs might have a right to some personal space?
    When Mico (border collie and ???? mix) was a puppy, my dog-savvy 10 year old niece was visiting and got Mico pretty riled up while playing with him on the floor (it takes Mico all of a millisecond to get riled up, so this wasn’t an example of anyone failing at monitoring the action) and he jumped up and bit her on the nose (why is it always the nose, I wonder?). It wasn’t a hard bite–like Drift’s, just a tiny reddish spot, no blood or anything, but my heart just stopped.
    She looked up, rubbed her nose, and said, “oops! my fault! Keep your nose away from the puppy, dummy!” and then went back to rubbing the belly of the ecstatic puppy. I went right over and hugged her mother.
    Just a few Trisha-inspired repetitions of “boy, it sure is good to have a person around who understands dogs! Someone who knows that a hyper puppy has a hard time controlling his mouth!” made her much more careful, kept both of them happy and safe, and made for some very positive socialization for the puppy.
    We have been very fortunate to have mostly very solid, nonreactive dogs in the past. Now that we have two young hyper-alert herding breed mixes–one of whom is a rescue with a mystery past, we have become much better at recognizing body language–in the dogs as well as in charging children, looming adults, and misguided dog lovers–and being willing to stick up for our dogs, even if it means being impolite to the people we meet.
    Good luck to all those angels who are rescuing and training those reactive dogs–you’re wonderful, and those dogs are fortunate to have you!

  56. Sandra Fox says

    I have a very dog reactive, prey-driven, resource guarding Corgi and manage him well. Through extensive training, he is able to walk down the street near other dogs and participate in agility (working on our MACH) and rally competitions. That said, when we are out for a walk, I cross the street when I see another dog coming. When we are at a show, I always find the competitor ahead and behind me and let them know that my dog is reactive and to please give us plenty of room at the start. I always wear a bright red sweater or t-shirt so I’m easy to see. There have been times, however, when we are approached by a dog off leash (the owner is carrying the leash, like that helps!) or at the end of a very long flexi. I simply yell at them, “Call your dog…my dog will BITE!” I also keep a close eye on people who might rush or crowd my dog. He doesn’t appreciate having his space invaded by dogs or PEOPLE. You know them…they have that “look.” I just say, “Please don’t pet my dog.” If they continue the dive-bombing approach, I repeat my request louder and add, “…my dog will BITE.” When all else fails, I pick him up. It is my job to protect my dog from people (who have only the best intention of grabbing his head and kissing his nose) and other dogs. Failure to protect my dog would be catastrophic in so many ways.

  57. Elizabeth says

    Amy – one more thing. I take my nervous, shy, reactive dog to parties regularly – but I bring his crate. He genuinely seems to like parties. His issue is more with dogs than people – with people he just seems a little shy (like me) – so, this might not work for you.

    He readily goes into his crate and pops his head out the top (there’s a zippered opening). I sit with him and feed him treats and he seems very calm and happy (before I thought to bring the crate, he would start getting antsy and want to leave after 30 minutes or so). The only downside is that I don’t feel that I can leave him for more than a few minutes (to go get food!) Still, people manage to find me to chat.

    Best of all, the kids seem to recognize that the crate is his private space and they leave him alone – even though the same kids (6 and 7 year olds) had a hard time remembering to leave him be before I started bringing the crate – even with repeated reminders from me and their parents.

    He does look awfully cute with his head poking out of the top and he gets lots of positive attention – from a distance!

    I never specifically crate trained him (he was 7 when he first came into my life) and we don’t use the crate at home. But I had to buy the crate for an agility class we took and have found it very useful for training classes, in the car, and at parties. Last week at our agility class, a new dog barked at him during his run. He reacted with only an ear twitch, perfectly executed the next two hurdles (which happened to be on a bee-line to his crate) – and then ran to his crate. It’s clearly his safe haven.

  58. Beth with the Corgis says

    Kathy, you are sure right that expectations have changed! There is a saying “Let sleeping dogs lie” for a reason, and yet nowadays, if a sleeping dog growls at being moved, he’s instantly labeled as some sort of “reactive.”

    When I was a child, our neighbor’s terrier nipped me. The fact is she was making it plain she didn’t want to be bothered and I kept trying to engage her with toys. I was still a kid, but dog-savvy enough to know better. The reaction of my parents was to make sure the dog was up-to-date on rabies vaccination and ask me what I did to make the dog nip me, and tell me not to bother me in the future.

    Again when I was a child, we had a springer spaniel who was a sweet, gentle soul but had the typical spaniel quirk of being a bit over-protective of her personal space. She was out on a tie-out off the back porch (our yard was not fenced) and a neighborhood kid asked if she could pet the dog. The child was told in no uncertain terms that it was best not to approach this particular dog when she was tied. She did anyway and got a warning nip. I recall her parents being a little upset and being firmly told that the dog was in her own yard on a tie-out, the child was clearly told not to pet the dog, and the child did so anyway. End of story.

    I hate to think of what would happen now. We never thought of the dog as being dangerous, and the (over-used) word “reactive” was not even in our vocabulary. We just thought of her as being a little funny about feeling cornered, in the way one might think of a loved family member as getting grumpy if dinner was late or something. It was just something that was part of the dog, not something that needed fixing or explaining.

  59. Beth with the Corgis says

    I should add that the springer never bit anyone seriously; she had a soft mouth and would give a warning nip (perhaps a bit too quickly) and turn away.

  60. kecks says

    muzzle can be heaven! my sister owns a rescued hunting dog who was not used to living in a crowded city like cologny (germany) and had lots of fearful aggression problems with other dogs but also with strangers, especially older men. we started with a muzzle for safety reasons while training the dog. my sister kept the muzzle for months after the dog was already really kind of dog proof (he relaxed, settled in, learned to trust us, counter conditioning and teaching alternative behaviour to fearful barking and lunging on leash toward other dogs (lay down between handlers legs, head touching the ground) did the rest)! she still sometimes uses the muzzle (a pink one *g*) on her personal ‘off days’ when she thinks she is just not up to any dog handling incidents. people keep their dogs away from a muzzel one most of the time, so much less stressfull walks :).

  61. jackied says

    Fascinating article and discussion.

    When we first got our very fearful, feral dog, every time I said, ‘he’s very nervous’, the person would immediately go ‘aww, poor thing, I won’t hurt you’ and rush over to fondle his fluffy ears. This of course made him worse. I have got braver and blunter these days! I do find that muzzling him goes a long way to prevent people letting their children approach him, and makes them slightly more likely to keep their dogs away. However I have still been in the situation of taking my muzzled dog to hide in a bush, standing with my husband in front of him to protect him and telling somebody not to approach and why – and _still_ having them push past us with their own dog saying ‘he won’t improve if you don’t socialise him’. Drives you nuts.

    I’ve made the ‘I think it’ll be okay’ mistake myself. That door now (literally) has a lock on it. Luckily it wasn’t a serious bite. I knew that I had let both the human and the dog down terribly.

    I don’t actually know of anyone who has their dog on medication that doesn’t intend to help them come off it eventually. My vet is very keen to minimise the time that my dog is on it. I tried desensitisation and counterconditioning protocols along with heavy environmental management for three years before deciding, very reluctantly, to ask for pharmaceutical help for him. I do think if he had been rehomed to somebody with extensive experience with extremely fearful dogs and a different home environment he might have got further without resorting to medication, but hindsight is a wonderful thing, and there aren’t many homes like that around. I am using it as a window of opportunity to (hopefully) get a bit further with these behaviour modifications (I am using BAT now), even though I don’t expect him ever to be anything like normal and I know I will always have to manage him carefully.

  62. Laura says

    Thanks for such an awesome post. I think the issue I, and most service dog handlers graple with the most is the idea the general public seems to have, that our dogs will never, ever bite anyone. Yes, our dogs are trained to be very calm and non aggressive in lots of situations, but they’re still dogs and they will still react like dogs. I think, what people don’t realize too, is that when our dogs are working, they’re under a good amount of stress because they’re looking for different things, stoping at curbs ect. So I get slightly nervous when someone approaches my dog and I straight on, standing in front of the dog and not allowing it to move around this person. I’ve had to explain many times, “the dog is trying to walk around you, he thinks you’re an obstical I need to be guided around.” They often times get it, and move, but not all the time and I am very aware of it especially when my dog has been in harness and working for a long time and is tired. I’ve been to conventions where there were 500 guide dog teams and the dogs got just as tired and frustrated as everyone else there. I heard a scuffle break out at one convention because two teams were simply trying to get around each other and the dogs had simply had enough. Two sharp, short barks and a couple of snarles and you could almost sware they were yelling at each other. My point in all of this is, when people ask me whether or not my dog will bite, or when they assume that he won’t, I always tell them, I don’t know, because he is still a dog.

  63. Krissii says

    I own a fearful, reactive Lab/Kelpie mix. He is heaven when no other dogs are around- Perfect recall, won’t leave my side. I walk him late and at ‘off peak’ times so as not to come across other dogs. Part of his behaviour is in response to my behaviour, which has adapted to respond to HIS behaviour- It’s a vicious circle. I am hyper vigilant of strange people and strange dogs- I never knew I could spot an off leash dog three streets away until I got Stollie!

    He is more reactive with larger dogs. He himself is a good sold 35kg, so ANY reactivity or opportunity is dangerous. I am a huge lover of large breed dogs- Rotties being my favourite- But unfortunately they’re the number one breed we have to avoid as he has taken a particular dislike to them.

    Unfortunately, keeping calm in the face of irresponsible owners, people and parents is my biggest issue! I will never confidently say my dog won’t bite. I remember once we were quietly sitting and a young girl managed to sneak up on us, walking her dog- a small probably 10kg white fluffy. Mum was a good distance back, watching the situation. Dog managed to pull loose from child, and of course made an absolute bee line for us. Luckily for everyone, I was quick enough to grab Stollie up and out of reach of the dog, and small white fluffies scare him into hiding more than into a state of reactivity. Small white fluffy was a lunatic, lunging and snarling in the face of a dog who was easily almost four times his weight. Frustratingly, the adult in this situation didn’t seem all that fussed by anything going on- The young girl rushed over and grabbed the leash. Fuming, I walked off.
    I returned along the same route half an hour later. Child was on the play equipment. Mum was watching intently. White fluffy was still on leash, but mum wasn’t holding said leash. Dog again made a beeline for us. This time, Mum wasn’t so lucky. I controlled Stollie, but yelled out that she best come grab her dog unless she wanted to lose him, and that she was lucky I was a good enough owner to be able to control my dog and read his behaviour. She was rather embarrassed and scooped pup up, but not before shooting me dirty looks.

    Since getting Stollie, I have learnt more and adapted better to reading dog behaviour. Stollie doesn’t growl before attacking- He eyeballs and goes. I can pick it a mile off and step in. I can read my dog like a book. I actually now don’t know how I could have ever raised a dog without knowing them as well as I know my Stollie!

  64. Debbie says

    I was recently attacked by my neighbors dog. They have 2. A Basset Hound and a large mixed of some sort. Well, the Basset was in the road and about to be run over so I called to him and he came running. He’s just as sweet as he can be, but about that time the other one came around our hedges and charged me barking, growling, and teeth bared. I was going to get water so I had a 5 gallon water jug with me and I put that out in front of me and he attacked the water jug. I was screaming for help and the owner of this dog just stood on her porch. This dog backed me all the way through my garage and back into my house. I called the Sherrif and they came out and told me that there was not a leash law in the county which is where I live and I already knew that, but I wanted to know what I could do leagally if this dog did this again because they were always getting out. Owner won’t fix the gate. He told me that if I felt my life treatened and if the dog was on my property that I could shoot him. Not wanting to do this, I asked what else could be done. He told me that if it happened again to call and they would send animal control out to determine if this dog was aggressive(it was VERY aggressive) and if so would then take the dog from them. I have never been so scared in my life. AND….the owner did nothing when I was screaming for help. I am totally against putting animals down and that’s what will happen if animal control get involved, but I don’t know what else to do since the neighbors do not seem to care enough to fix their gate and fence so that the dogs don’t get out.

  65. Debbie says

    I would also like to add that this is not the first time I was attacked, but the first time I ever called authorities.

  66. says

    Really great post here. So many people don’t really think about these things until it’s too late. It’s important for us to educate uninformed people especially when children are involved.

    As a dog trainer I see too many situations that could have been avoided if people just read the body language of their dogs and respected their need for some space. I’m really looking forward to your upcoming seminar and DVD.

  67. KatV says

    So glad I read this. I have a 2 year Doberman/Shepherd rescue who is at times fear aggressive with men and dominant when he no longer wishes to engage in interaction from strangers. We are working very hard to correct his outbursts but obviously try to avoid the situation from happening in the first place.
    One thing when reading this that still shocks me is the people at the pet stores who want to cuddle with every dog in there. My dog does very well in the pet store as long as everyone respects his space. I like to bring him so that he gets out as much as possible. I am SHOCKED that the pet stores don’t have some kind of training/protocol in place for their staff. I have had many staff just come right up to my boy and want to grab him by the face. I understand they aren’t necessarily dog savy people just because they work at a pet store but for the stores own liability and safety of their staff you would think they would have training! Luckily, we have not had any bad situations (yet) but I am tired of having to tell people not to hover over the dog and pet him on top of the head. And even when I do, they say oh yes I know how to deal with dogs, then go and try to pet him on the top of the head. I am shocked more staff don’t get bit the way they approach them.
    On another note, my neighbour wanted to meet our boy and asked if he was friendly. I said he is friendly but he needs to get to know you first and please don’t pet him on the top of his head, just let him sniff your hand. His reply “oh yes I know how dogs are, I will just let him sniff me”….but what does he do? Let him sniff for 3 sec max and then quickly try to pet him….Jackson luckily didn’t react with a snap or bite but jumped back out of fear. Seriously, why can’t people respect your request and just let the darn dog sniff their hand. He doesn’t know you and he is nervous as I have said. I want him to get used to strangers and get comfortable with our neighbours but how can you do that when they don’t listen?????

  68. btmom says

    Don’t get me started on children! Most of the kids in the city I live in run up to my dog, shriek in a register that could shatter glass, and then run away!

    My dog, a large Boston Terrier (34 lbs) does not bite, has never bitten. But when kids are around, he will bark at them. I think it’s an “alarm” bark, but only if they run will he chase them.

    He’s a little shy with everyone. If you reach down and try to pound him on the top of his head, he will shrink away. But if you kneel, and stroke his side, he’ll be your new friend.

    When I see people bringing toddlers who can barely stand on their own to off-leash dog parks, I really want to tell them off. They are asking for some innocently playing dog to knock their child to the ground. I’ve been knocked to the ground at dog parks, and I’m not small. When did common sense die?

  69. says

    Context is crucial. My adult adoptable Walker Coonhound Hickory Dock does not like to be messed with; the first time I tried to clip his nails, I ignored his growl (and I know better!) – he finally nipped at me, pulling his bite but clearly saying “Back off!” and I did.
    Sometime later, I took Dock to the local pet products store for his nail trim. He was not stressed, there was lots of activity around him and the woman clipping nails didn’t even use a muzzle (though I suggested one), just got to work as he paid attn to everything else.
    Yesterday, Hickory Dock had spent two hours or so at an adoption event; he was calm, nice, meeting and greeting, then finally settling for a nap. After we got home, the same nail and gland woman came to the house to do the whole pack – and Dock was one. She, too, ignored his growl as he lay in a crate with the result he tried to nip her, too. He is not a biting dog (but I never say never!) but has his comfort zone. The difference? He was tired from the outing, a lot of the pack were milling about between clips and he was in his safe spot – a crate.
    We agreed to take him into the store again on one of his outings (he loves to ride in the back of the SUV while I do errands) as a treat where he should do better again.
    As I read and watch more and more, I am learning so much about body language – not only of strange dogs but of my own, too!
    Here is an incredible story of a dog able to inhibit himself and a toddler who cannot – what did and what could have happened:

  70. Terrie says

    Wow, seeing what other people go through makes me much happier that people are relucant to approach my dobie. Though, part of my worry is always that someone will assume his normal doggie behavior is aggressive and hurt him in the name of “Self-defense.” (Something I’m sure most people with “aggressive” breeads can understand). Seems like the ideal would be somewhere in the middle.

    The couple times I’ve run into people who see him for the giant marshmellow he is, and who want to get up in his face, I tell them not to because they don’t want a black eye. The momentary “huh?” is enough for me to launch into the story of how he’s a bouncy wigglebutt, and he once smacked me in the face with his head and gave me a black eye, because he was so excited. (True story). That makes it clear that you don’t want to get that up close and personal, without giving the impression that he is a “bad” dog.

    Btmom, oh, yes, the toddlers at the dog park. I watch my guy like a hawk around kids that age, because all it takes is him turning around to knock one over.

  71. Kat says

    Thinking back two of the three dogs we had the longest when I was growing up “bit” someone. The first was our bloodhound and the event was both terrifying and hilarious. We were friends with another family and they had been to our house many many times with no incident. Then came the day when for whatever reason the father decided that rather than enter the yard by the gate he would jump the fence. He jumped over the fence right next to where the bloodhound was waiting to welcome the visitors. In an eye blink the dog had grabbed him by the forearm, pivoted and had the man on his back on the ground while the dog loomed over him. I remember the man apologizing profusely to the dog and my parents calling the dog off and all the grown-ups explaining to the kids that startling a dog is not a good idea. You could see the teeth marks but the dog didn’t break the skin.

    The second was less funny although probably even more deserved. Our Great Pyrenees bitch was pregnant and she and a rather nasty neighbor kid were out of sight around the corner of the house when suddenly he started screaming. I don’t know what he did to her but she grabbed him by the wrist. She didn’t break the skin but you could see she’d had a very firm grip on him.

    In today’s world I think both those would be considered bites and cause for great concern. In the world I grew up in it was the dog’s right to be a dog. No one ever jumped over the fence into our yard again and my parents made sure that no child other then their own was ever alone with the Pyrenees. And there was never another incident.

    And finally, a word to Layne. My fearful, reactive dog takes Chinese herbs, specifically Shen Calmer. It blunts the sharp edges of her fear enough that she has a second to think before she reacts thus increasing the likelihood that she’ll make good choices. If the herbs hadn’t done the trick I would not have hesitated to seek medication to achieve the same goal. Everyone I know that uses herbs or medications does so to help their dog. Until my dog could stop being terrified and hyper-vigilant all the time she couldn’t learn. Herbs, or western medications, can ease the anxiety enough to get the dog to a place where learning is possible. There probably are people who medicate their dog because they are too lazy to deal with the behavior but in my experience there are a lot more of us who are using every tool available to help our fearful dogs and if that includes medications that’s what we’ll do.

  72. Donna in VA says

    My sheltie is very cute and lots of people want to stop and pet him. At this point, I will ALWAYS say no to children. I used to tell the calmer children who asked permission first that I would allow them to pet him if they listened to me and did as I instructed. My instruction is simple – bring your hand in low and slow. I think I had exactly one child listen and do as I instructed. So I always say no to the children now. I will step in and block any child or dog that runs toward us. Anyone or any dog that wants to approach us must do it slowly and respectfully. Occasionally adults will ask and I do a read on Max’s behavior. If he is calmly standing between them and me (his choice) I’ll allow it. Usually he just sniffs their hand and walks away uninterested. If he his hanging back and away, then the answer is no. I always keep his leash loose, he is free to put as much space between himself and the other person/dog/object as he wants.

    I had a vet chiropractor come to our home on a house call one time. She had the best “new stranger” interaction with him I have ever seen. She got right down on the carpet, let him smell her and all her stuff in her doctor’s bag. She did her exam sitting on the floor and asked us to go get some treats and reward him periodically. Her tone of voice was perfect- happy and calm, just a little upbeat. He was giving her play bows and his play bark. Max clearly thought she was just great. Wish I had a videotape of that.

  73. JJ says

    “All dogs bite.”

    One of my favorite trainers said that in one of our classes, and it was extremely helpful to put the issue into perspective. After saying, “All dogs bite.” and then waiting a beat, she went on to explain that all dogs bite because every dog has a bite threshold. The trick is preventing the situation from getting to that threshold. And as Trisha said, there is a lot of education that needs to take place before we can get to the point where people will be able to recognize what their dog is feeling and what human behaviors are appropriate to do around dogs.

    So, now any time some asks me if my Great Dane (big-cuddly-bunny-who-never-threatened-anyone) bites, they get a lecture from me that starts with, “All dogs bite.” pause

  74. Debbie Schoene says

    A timely topic….I spent some time with a friend this weekend whom I see only occasionally. She loves dogs and has always treated hers like living stuffed animals–gives them bear hugs and drapes herself all over them. They tolerate her behaviour without protest. One of my dogs is a reactive worrier and not overly enthusiastic about strangers–not aggressive but aloof and preferring his “own people”. (He’s the complete opposite of his half-brother who is a registered AAA/AAT dog who tolerates the most inappropriate handling from some of the folks we visit.) Anyway, this friend knelt down, wrapped her arms around my dog’s neck and rested her head on the top of his. I knew immediately that this was not his idea of a good time–he was making whale-eyes at me and I could tell he was about a nanosecond away from curling his lip. I put my hand on his ear and stroked it and he relaxed enough that I was able to extricate him from my friend’s loving grasp. My interpretation of his lessened tension once I touched him was that he trusted me enough to understand that he needed to tolerate the situation just a moment longer and I would do right by him.

  75. Susan Mann says

    Question on the lambs- you mentioned that the small female is thriving but one of the ram lambs isn’t, and that made me think of something I heard from a NICU (neonatal ICU) nurse once– if you want to bet on which nicu babies will do well, and eventually thrive, bet on the females every times. Boys don’t survive as well, and when they do, they have more complications, both short and long term. Wondering if this holds true in dogs and sheep as well?

  76. Lou says

    I have three dogs, two kelpie crosses and recently one pitbull type dog (Staffie mix). I got my first dog from a rescue and he turned out to have severe fear issues. Because he’s an awesome dog, he rarely has panic attacks anymore and recently attended a parade with a drum line and CROWDS!!! The pitty pup is 11 months old and was dumped in my lap, but she was fairly well cared for and is submissive by nature as well as extremely sweet. I have been working her socialization and she is doing very well (attended same parade)! We get compliments on how well behaved she is. The last dog is the most… challenging. He was a backyard dog for the first three years of his life and he lacks comprehensive socillization. He doesn’t like other dogs and while he will tolerate the other two, he will not play with them. He has recently decided that having a new dog in the pack means that he must protect us by barking and lunging at other dogs while on leash (although he is fine without the other dogs and while off leash). While I walk my dogs on short leashes and under control, not every dog owner is so…savy. We walked in a parade for our local humane society and my grumpy boy had already had one scuffle with a large lab mix that was very friendly, but not well controlled. The owner had the dog on a 20 ft flexi (the bane of my dog walking life) and kept allowing it to roll up on us from behind and harass the grumpy dog. It was very difficult to enjoy the parade while attempting to evade the dog that, while friendly, was too stupid to understand his attentions were unwanted. I actually ended up getting tagged on the inner thigh (by my boy) because the lab had once again invaded his personal space and he felt that he needed to convince the dog to stay away. I was very peeved at the owner who was 20 ft away and completely oblivious. I understand my dog is being a problem, but he is under my control and was not being a problem until the lab wouldn’t stay away from us. I would never allow any of my dogs to invade another dog’s space like that and I was annoyed about the other owner’s lack of decorum.

  77. Beth with the Corgis says

    In defense of all those people who go right up to dogs because they love them so much: my husband is one of them. He does not read dogs very well. He knows that making eye contact and looming over the top of dogs is universally a bad idea, so he does not do that. However, he can’t really tell the difference between a shy dog who needs a minute to warm up, and one who is terrifed behind its owner at the far end of the leash. He tends to look away and make himself smaller, which reassures the shy ones but does nothing for the truly scared ones who really just want everyone to walk by and leave them in peace. Since he also doesn’t read PEOPLE very well, despite being one, I don’t expect this to change.

    As many have noted, we need to protect our dogs from situations that make them uncomfortable. I just try to always be as understanding of the quirks of my fellow humans as I am of the special needs of my dogs.

    For adult dogs it may be too late, but for puppies socialization is a big key here, and pups who are socialized around people who are not great with dogs tend to respond better to people behaving badly than those who have only been approached by dog-savvy people who do everything “right.”

  78. trisha says

    Here are some more answers to “Does your dog bite?”

    1. Not Yet.
    2. Well, he can open and shut his mouth, so I guess he could…..

    This all reminds me when I was in Nova Scotia a million years ago with my then husband Doug McConnell (that’s where the McConnell came from) and our 180 pound St. Bernard. A guy came up at the gas station and said “Is he ugly?” Doug and I turned to each other in hopes one of us had figured out the answer, much less the question. After the question was repeated and I answered, “Well, we think it’s sort of cute,” the man said “No, I meant, does he bite!”

  79. trisha says

    Some more comments about the behavior of others around dogs. I know it is frustrating and easy to be angry at how oblivious people often are around dogs, but do keep in mind what I wrote about in The Other End of the Leash… that people are primates and want to greet others in our species typical face to face greeting style. As noted in the comments, there is a large cultural influence too. Americans are, well, what can I say? We tend to act like adolescent labradors let out of the crate at the end of a long day. And yes, I completely agree that culturally we tend to have unrealistic expectations about not just dogs, but life itself. Apparently, all dogs should be perfect at all times, the world should be 100% safe at all times (here in Wisconsin someone successfully sued because they were stung by a wasp in a woods owned by the state… there was no sign warning that there were wasps in the area and that they might sting. sigh.) and someone somewhere is to blame if something doesn’t go perfectly. It can be tiresome indeed, even to those of us who grew up here.

    But do remember what I said about being benevolent to the members of our own species. As frustrating as it is, I try to look at people who are uneducated about dogs as if they were adolescent dogs uneducated about human society. Even when they do the equivalent of leaping onto our heads with muddy paws, it doesn’t mean they aren’t good dogs. Just ones who need to learn more appropriate behavior.

  80. Lisa W says

    This is a fascinating discussion. One of my current dogs is just like that lab that has been in her crate too long. Although we have never crated her, her first 4 months of life were literally spent in a crate 24/7. She is exuberant and a little goofy, no bite there, just tongue! We like to say that she is encouraged by the success of her last encounter.

    Our other dog is shy and anxious, and I am always alert to her anxiety levels and body language (it would help a lot if her tail hadn’t been docked by who knows whom or how). I worry about her encounters where people loom or over reach and visitors to our house have not always been so accommodating. I try to give her a mix of quiet, solitude on our walks and more social places but it

  81. Liz says

    There are so many deeply difficult emotions surrounding reactive dogs. I’ve been working with my reactive guy for five years, during which we’ve had some great accomplishments and failures. Our recent ‘peaceful’ trip to a rural cabin in the woods (not a bite story but one that could’ve been) falls somewhere in between:
    The land had been rezoned since our last visit years ago, leaving us unable to go for an adequate walk on the property. Figuring the neighbors were far apart and the weather wasn’t great, a walk along a quiet road sounded doable. This was Amish country, however, and apparently some event let out and we were ‘charged’ by horse buggy after horse buggy. (They weren’t actually coming for us but that is was my dog seemed to think.) While we crouched in a ditch waiting for the renegade horses who’d kidnapped people in car-type things to pass, a gaggle of children poured out of a house kitty-corner from us like they were leaving a clown car. This dog, who I try so hard to keep calm, happy, and safe, seemed like he was going to explode and we were stuck. The children stayed in their yard playing madly, the horses left, but he was a different dog for the rest of the walk, for the rest of the ‘vacation.’ For a short time, he seemed back to where he was years ago and I dreaded starting over from square one, or anything close to square one.

    I think it’s hard for people who’ve never had reactive dogs to understand what owners go through- why it’s so important to give space- and maybe, if circumstances allow for it, we can educate about the challenges of reactivity, too.

    After giving it a lot of thought, I do wonder about the best way to remind/re-educate dog savvy owners and professionals about the hazards of bites. (Two shelter dogs were quarantined last week when a knowledgeable person broke up a dog fight and was bit, so this week of prevention hits close to home.) I think of the vets (my guy bite his vet after 7 yrs), groomers, and even trainers who get bit, and I wish no one had to experience this, whether they are unreported, minor bites or not. I wish I knew how to override instinct, human nature, or the busy-ness that is often day to day life.

  82. says

    It seems like Border Collie biting/aggression is a popular topic. On my own webpage I had couple people actually comment about their BC dogs biting someone. It seems like the biting aggression comes out of nowhere leaving the owners shocked.
    I’m also amazed by the first point you’ve made about leashes. It seems like some people think that putting a leash on their dog will solve the problem, but I can’t tell you how many times I had children, or just regular folks that pass us by, out of nowhere reach out for my dogs. Thank god they were not aggressive, but if they were then the leash would do nothing against a bite. If you have a reason to suspect that your dog is capable of biting someone, you should take every precautionary step.

  83. Annie R says

    Trisha, that’s a great story about Doug McConnell and the St. Bernard — interesting culture clash, eh? I found one of the best dog-friendly lodging places ever, in Pacific Grove, CA, through Doug having mentioned it on his show, he and the crew had stayed there while filming in the area. A charming, funky little set of cottages, near Asilomar and the beach; I stayed there a few days each year for several years in a row, as it was terrific to be able to take my dog along when going to Carmel for Continuing Ed courses in the specialty I used to work in (as an RN). So, strangely enough, I had a dog-related connection to you, long before I heard of you and your work!

    I used to have a big confident Rott/Lab mix, and used a head halter on him a lot in public places; people would sometimes shy away from him thinking that it was a muzzle. Interesting; if it were a muzzle there wouldn’t be as much need to shy away, right? The ones who did know it wasn’t a muzzle never let it slow them down. He was a very social dog and used to approach people even from behind, and push his head up under their hand looking for rubs; startled a few folks in the early days of cell phones when they’d be talking and weren’t paying any attention to the big dog nearby. People just loved him though; they could see his calm energy and yet his size tended to make them slow down and approach respectfully. Much better than with the two shy ones I have now that are around 40 lbs each, soft, cute and pretty, and people reach for them a lot.

  84. Buffet says

    I will not tolerate any negative comments about my dogs.
    Anyone doing so WILL get their ass whupped!

  85. mungobrick says

    I wonder whether there is a tie-in here to your comments some months ago about there seeming to be more dogs with reactive/shy/anxiety problems nowadays than there “used to be.” Until I got my current dog, I was certainly unaware of most of these issues – although our last dog didn’t like other dogs much, we could easily control her on leash and people would call their dogs back when we told them she wasn’t reliable with other dogs. I suspect a lot of people are unaware of the issues these dogs have. And a society where people buy t-shirts that say “I kiss my dog on the lips” does have odd idea about what dogs like! (I adore my dog, but I’m not about to kiss her on her lips, for which she would be profoundly grateful if she realized it!!)

    Loved the story about “is he ugly?” – although even though I’ve lived in Nova Scotia or next door in New Brunswick for much of my life, I have to say I would have misunderstood him as well!

  86. JJ says

    I read this posting *after* attending a big dog event. The event was a fundraiser for our local humane society shelter. The fundraiser is called “Bark in the Park”, where (reportedly) 1000 dogs gather with their people to do a “fun run”. My dog and I have been doing Bark in the Park for years.

    Attendees are only supposed to bring their dogs if the dogs are happy to be in crowds of both people and dogs. With only two exceptions that I saw, everyone (canine and monkey alike) was happy and relaxed.

    The reason I bring this up is because the event and this posting and people’s comments raised questions in my head about appropriate human-to-dog greeting behavior at such an event.

    At the event: Several people, including children, asked me if they could pet my dog before trying to do so. But many people did not. I don’t think it is necessarily so horrible that people went to pet my dog when at the same time my dog was clearly trying very hard to be pet by them at this specific setting.

    At one point early on, I was standing in a long registration line – with people and dogs packed in tightly together. A few minutes later, the dogs behind me came forward get to me and my dog. I didn’t even think about asking if it was OK to pet their dogs. The little things were standing up against me, the owners were looking at me and allowing this to happen, and we were supposedly at an event with social, happy dogs. It was an almost unconscious act for me to bend down, say hi, and pet the little dogs. I didn’t think the situation was rude on anyone’s part. The dogs were not only small, but very young…

    After reading this post, I did second guess myself. Did I do the right thing? Were other people polite in petting my dog without asking? I decided yes on both counts. I decided that there may be a great rule of thumb about the best way to approach a dog, which may start with asking if it is OK first. But there also are exceptions. A little common sense approach to each situation seems like a good plan to me.

    I’m not saying that anyone has argued differently. I’m just making a point that seems relevant.

  87. trisha says

    Here Here for common sense JJ. It’d just be nice if common sense were, well, more common. But I absolutely agree with you. I don’t ask every single time if it is acceptable to pet someone’s dog. If the dog is begging for interaction (in my opinion, granted that’s subjective), the owner is grinning and there are no red flags waving, I’ll do exactly what you did. We just need to make common sense more common.

  88. Hope says

    Of all the weeks for this to happen, I am discovering Dog Bite Prevention week the hard way.

    I am discovering this blog today as of the result of my dog having almost thoroughly bitten, if it had not been for the man’s pant belt to prevent a full blown bite.

    History or our dog: Jeckel and Hyde. He has a similar background of lunging at people and dogs while walking or at home (maintenance or sales person) as in earlier entries, and can be in your face in a split-second if he chooses to, but he is also the cutest, sweetest, gentlest, kindest, obedient and sensitive dog, too.

    I was picking our Lab up from the kennel where he has loved going for some time now to interact directly with other dogs, and the human “pack leaders” have just adored him. In this case, I was at the other end of the leash talking with kennel personnel, including the manager. My back was to the door and a man had come in the large entryway (lots of space so our dog didn’t need to feel trapped for any reason) to pick up his dog, also a Lab, but I had not seen nor heard him entering. The next scene I am witnessing is our dog suddenly wiggling with enthusiasm as this man is scratching/petting our dog’s chin, which he loves. But our dog being reactive on a dime, past experience with him taught me not to pull suddenly back on the leash if someone was too close or that would cause him to suddenly lunge. So I remained calm and was about to gingerly pull him away when the man went from scratching/petting our dog’s chin to trying to pet his head. Pow! Our dog was up in a split second, and had gone for probably the man’s retreating hand but instead bit the man’s belt and grazed him enough to slightly break the skin in that area.

    Of course we were all shocked and concerned for the man’s well-being. He insisted he was alright and later recognized that trying to pet our dog on the head was what triggered him, and so recognized his part, too, in creating the problem. (However, the manager told me later that there should be an expectation of being able to pet a dog on the head – even if the dog and the person do not know each other – without the dog reacting, and so implying nice dogs never react. From reading all the above this is clearly not a forgone conclusion).

    The man was also kind enough to not want to pursue any action against us, and neither did the kennel manager. However, even though we were told several times since we kenneled our dog that he was ‘the best dog” there despite his rare history of being reactive in that setting, the manager determined our dog can never return to the kennel. They were right, we obviously don’t want our dog hurting anyone, but at the same time it is hard to accept, but will, that he can’t go back to this environment he so loves because he was not the only one at fault (I was too). Needless to say, it was a learning moment for all of us in the room.

    It has been quite a journey working with this rescue dog who has gotten better (not so reactive) since we acquired him, but we are still learning how to interpret his signals, how to train him, ourselves and others. Although we are not new to your book and pamphlets, Patricia, your blog is and it is unbelievable timing that this is the topic of the week. Thank you for all the work you have done, and are continuing to do, to help us learn about these incredible animals. We still have much to learn about how to help our dog, and ourselves. We hope it is not too unrealistic to think we can one day have a dog happier in his skin, not so afraid and not so reactive.

  89. Trisha says

    Oh Hope, you have my sympathy. Good for you for responding responsibly and understanding the kennel’s position. I find I have learned to be hyper vigilant after working with problematic dogs for so long, and working with my own Willie who is reactive around unfamiliar dogs. You’ll find you just never get in those situations, you’re always thinking two or three steps ahead. It’s like playing chess in a way, you always think 10 seconds into the future. Example: When I walk Willie in town I never just walk around a corner without pausing and peering to be sure we won’t be surprised. You’ll learn to react as the man is moving toward your rescue, before you think “Um, time to get my dog away” — nothing like being traumatized to help us remember to be on guard. But thank you for telling your story, and thank you for rescuing J & H (:-). Someday you may never have to be vigilant, but even if that’s never going to happen, it gets easier…. (Doesn’t mean any of us are perfect though and don’t make mistakes!)

  90. Beth with the Corgis says

    Hmmm. Reading this topic and its responses has me thinking this thought: Why has the dog-owning community honestly failed to make any concerted effort to have a simple symbol for dogs who don’t like to be approached and may snap?

    It is well-known that no one should walk up behind a horse. ANY horse might kick if startled. You also should not let one horse barge up behind another, for the same reason.

    And yet, people braid red ribbon into the tails of kickers if they are on trail or at a show. This is a wide-spread practice, and an instantly recognized signal. So although people generally try to avoid walking behind a horse, there is a big red flag (literally) raised when a horse has that tail ribbon, and everyone is extra careful. Simple.

    Why does the dog community have nothing? I mean, I know any dog can be unpredictable. I certainly don’t approach a dog at a training class or agility without asking if it’s ok. I’ve been to a sheep herding trial and did not approach any dog without asking. Ditto for working service dogs, who I ignore unless they say they are free to socialize.

    But if I am in a busy park or something and there are lots of people and dogs, I guess I would be a bit taken aback (even knowing all I know) at a dog who was inclined to bite if touched. Context and all that.

    So why don’t we pick something simple and all do the same thing? Then we would all know which dogs like to be left alone.

  91. Trisha says

    Good question Beth. Actually, lots of people use a red scarf/collar to warn about a dog that doesn’t appreciate approaches. Just like people at horse shows, folks at doggy day cares or dog camps know what it means. But the general public doesn’t, just as they don’t know what a red ribbon in a horse’s tail means. I think the biggest difference is that the public interacts with companion dogs at such a high rate, not so much horses. What your comment remind us is that we should all try to do a better job of educating the public. Dog trainers: call your local TV station (they are always looking for a good segment) and talk about the fact that all dogs don’t like to be petted, and that red scarfs (or muzzles!) are signs to give the dog space.

  92. Trisha says

    And MJ, thanks for sending this in. What a horrifying catalog cover. Sarah Wilson (the blog linked) does an excellent job talking about all the problems here. Sigh, more ever present reminders that we all have our work cut out for us.

  93. Beth with the Corgis says

    Trisha, you are absolutely correct that non horse-people don’t interact with horses as often as non dog-people interact with dogs. However, I am way more active with my dogs than the average pet owner (we’ve done TDI, I do agility, we’ve attended other training) and I’ve not seen a single dog flagged with red. Nor have I ever read about it in the many dog publications I’ve read. I think it would be great for trainers and stuff who have a public voice to get that info out.

    I’d also like to see another color for dogs who don’t respond well to other dogs, but are ok with people. Especially because some dogs give every indication of wanting to meet-and-greet, then get over threshold at the last moment and react.

  94. em says

    Hey, Otis has a red collar! Most of his gear is red, actually, because it looks so snazzy with his black coat. I’ve never heard of it being used as a ‘do not approach’ marker, and certainly it doesn’t seem to slow down anyone we meet out and about. Actually, Otis’ collar is always red (unlike Sandy’s which I switch up- the current on is blue and green stripes, the last one had pink polka dots-) because in the style I prefer (extra wide, metal buckle, flat collar) I’ve only ever seen three options: black (out because that would be black on black, camo (out because it’s not my personal cup of tea), and red (winner!).

    I think it’s a great idea to use color to communicate with other dog owners, but if we do start a campaign to flag dogs who do not care to be approached, maybe (I selfishly suggest) it would be best to use a color less ubiquitous than red. (Bright yellow?)

  95. BH says

    I think the big difference with dogs and horses is that dogs live in people’s homes, walk in public streets and parks, and interact with the general public constantly. The expectations people have for safety are (probably rightfully) higher, and most jurisdictions have some kind of laws regarding dog bites or regarding ‘dangerous dogs’, however that’s defined. I think a lot of people would be reluctant to go out of their way to advertise their dog as a potential biter and draw attention to their dog in such a potentially negative way.

    I also think a lot of people wouldn’t even realize their dog needed a red bandana. Most dog bites are to friends and family, aren’t they?

  96. Mary K. says

    Stumbled upon this inadverently and just had a few thoughts. Educating the public about the potential dangers of approaching strange dogs is at times difficult but I do think we owe it to people to give them the benefit of the doubt. Generally speaking, most people who enthusiastically approach a dog to greet it is doing so out of truly loving dogs. They mean no harm and so I think as fellow dog lovers we can compassionately explain to them that it is not a good idea with this dog at this time. No need for getting snippy or losing our patience. If we have the patience to work with dogs that may have issues than why can’t we extend the same patience, courtesy, respect, and positive reinforcement to our human companions as well.

  97. says

    To anyone seeking a solution to having people rush up to their dogs – I think I’ve found one! I have a fearful-reactive dog and people just seemed to believe that even though she was barking and showing incredibly clear signs of being uncomfortable (and unstable), that they could surely make her like them. (All while being unwilling to follow my instructions to anyone who’d like to meet her. She is capable, she just needs a very strict routine with meeting new people!)

    To counter this, I bought her a bright pink vest that says “In Training” – not a service dog vest, just a simply stated “In Training” vest. ( if you’re interested). This has made people stop crossing the street to avoid us if she barks because she is “In Training!” It has also caused curious people to stop some distance away and ask what she is in training for (“Life,” I say) and then ask if they can help. These are the good people – the ones who will follow directions and who really want to help the right way. Everyone else smiles and walks on, not wanting to interrupt whatever training they think we’re doing.

    I hope this helps someone!

  98. WilliesMom says

    We had a young child in our area bitten by a dog who was chained in its own backyard. The people were having a yard sale in the front…child and mom spotted the dog and headed back there AFTER the owner told them to stay away from the dog. Of course, the mom sued and was only willing to drop the suit if the dog was euthanized. The owners were in the right. The dog was in the right. The child and her mother were in the wrong……but the dog is now dead.

  99. Tammy Mocha's mom says

    I am so glad I found this as I have been very conflicted by my neighbor but knew I needed to do something. I lost my house and now faced as a renter which has it’s own challenges. I am now in a duplex. My neighbor is young and adopted this young lab that I like but as he has matured he has had an eye removed and his back legs splay out in most cases, when he is scared he will go into fight mode. I know she loves him, when he was a pup she 1st allowed him to roam in the yard (against what the lease says) until she was finding him returned too often by other neighbor so when left unsupervised she puts him a tie out. He has shown some territorial side to him as most dogs do to both my dog and myself if I have to take the garbage out (they lay out of house and yard is strange as it was a ranch home and now a duplex). She finally moved his tie out after he bit my dog in february as he could reach my back door and had him on leash more. We have managed to avoid anymore bites(one bite is too many) but she has added a second dog and I found her original dog off leash more often. We had the police at the house for a dog running at large complaint as her lab charged another dog walking past the house and the leash for the other dog would reach out onto the side walk. The owner of the dog was concerned and was hoping taht the police would educate her?

    After several attempts of me trying to educate her and the one time of the police I finally went to landlord, I know I should have done it sooner but I didn’t want to rock the boat and have them kick us both out or be the reason they don’t allow pets anymore. She was livid that I went to the landlord so I felt bad as everything seemed like we just lost communication. That weekend she was back to letting him off leash but in a sneaky way. The new dog she won’t let him off leash as he runs away being a beagle mix. My last attempt to fix this was to remind her that the lease states she is to have them on a leash at all times, to be with them at all times and to pick up after them.

    I have always been very fair as I get that the house is too small and why can’t the dogs enjoy the back part of the yard, she could leave them tied out there but at night by the house she needs to be with them at all times. They must be on a leash at ALL times and at a safe distance when up by the house so her dogs and my dog are safe but in the back lot she could use the cotten tie out to give more space for the dogs to play with out both being staked up but she can gain control before the lab bolts to front of the house. I also insisted in my dogs area she MUSt clean up her poop the rest the yard I don’t use it. If she can’t respect that then she must follow what OUR pet policy states from the land lord.

    I was told that her dog shouldn’t have to be on a leash as he stays in his yard and comes when called most times. That our dogs should just work it out between them.

    My dog is a certified therapy dog and his safety with human or dog is always my top concern she doesn’t care. I have been looking for a place to move and will report it to the landlords if I find them off leash but I am just really confused on why it is so hard for a leash to be used. I do get they can cause issues as well but when her two dogs don’t always get along(I can hear them fighting) very well why would she just let her dog loose when my dog doesn’t even live with hers and they don’t undertsand the yard is all of theirs. Mine will bark but can easily be redirected and then once calm we go back in the house. We don’t get to use the yard much but until I find something that I can afford and that will allow a dog and cat life is stressful.

    anyways thank you and I did attend the seminar in february as I was worried my dog was an issue but now understanding more about dogs behavior, I would have done things differently before it got this bad and I am glad I stood up for my boy to keep him and myself safe as well as those that visit. Time will tell if she keeps both on a leash.

  100. tracy says

    My boxer is a biter. We’ve trained enough that I can walk him within a few feet of people with no trouble, as long as they don’t reach out to him. But better safe than sorry, I put a light weight muzzle on him (with the sides cut out for his jowls) whenever there’s a chance that people will get closer. Oddly, it seems to put him more at ease, although major stressors will still get him to strike (like the vet assistant that reached over his head to hand me something).

    The muzzle also acts like the warning for folks to keep their distance, making my dog much less anxious.

    I felt guilty putting the muzzle on him at first, but with two bites on his record, it’s either this or his life.

  101. JJ says

    According to your search engine, this is the only post where you mention your “Lost In Translation” DVD, so I thought this would be an OK place to post feedback on that DVD.

    I have finished watching your Lost In Translation DVD. Having watched most of your DVDs and having read most of your materials, I was concerned that this new DVD would not have anything new for me. While there was a lot of overlap, I was pleasantly surprised at how much was new. As usual, I enjoyed your talk *tremendously*.

    I wanted to share some of my thoughts in response to the talk. I’ll break my comments up into different posts so that one post doesn’t get too long.

  102. JJ says

    1) “Not going to talk about touch.” You say that, then you seem to immediately follow that pronouncement with two discussions about touch : hugging and patting. I don’t object to the content since I know you like to put it in all your videos and for good reason. I just feel that it needs a better transition in there somewhere since I found it to be jarring. Or maybe I just missed transition. It’s a nit pick, but I thought you might want the feedback. Also, you mentioned that you might do a blog post on touch. Yes please!

  103. JJ says

    2) “Do dogs think humans can smell?” I too love this question. However, I have a slightly different opinion for an answer. I imagine that dogs are not so different from most humans when it comes to making assumptions about others’ abilities. You mentioned finally “getting” why some people don’t love food as much as you – because they don

  104. JJ says

    3) “Why not use scent to classically condition dogs? It’s easy to do…” At some point in the video, you said something like that. I sat there thinking, “Really? How would you do that? In what way is it easy?” Here’s my confusion: My understanding of rewards is that you want a reward which is quick and definable. A treat is something a dog can scarf down quickly. There is a beginning, middle and quick end to a treat. Then the dog is left wanting for more so that you can do another rep of whatever it is your are training. Similarly, a game of tug can last as long as you want and then you can take the toy away for another rep of training.

    With that in mind, how would one work with scent? Once the scent is in the air, it is not like you can take it away. And how do you keep it hidden until it is time to give the reward anyway? A reward comes after the behavior. So, how do you withhold a scent until it is time to give the reward?

    I’m just wondering what you were thinking when you mentioned scent as a potential element of classical conditioning.

  105. JJ says

    4) Anika(?) : Scent Study of Pee Sticks – You described the study where the researcher put various types of pee on sticks, laid out an obstacle course on the ground, and then recorded over-peeing behavior of dogs let loose on the grounds.

    There is something about this study that bothers me. Suppose you put out a course of sticks and the first dog pees over one or more of the sticks. Even if you replace the sticks for the next dog, if you use the same *land* for the course, then the pee from the previous dog will be right there on the ground. And thus for the second dog, how do you know if the dog is over-peeing the scent on the stick or the scent on the ground from the previous dog which is near the stick? I just wonder if the researcher tried to control for this factor.

  106. JJ says

    5) “Chattering: suspected to mean that the dog is aroused. The dog is aroused. Not angry, but frustrated.” I may totally have misunderstood what you were saying here, but I believe you said something along those lines. I want to harken back to our conversation on your blog post about emotions where I believe that you claimed that frustration is just a mild form of anger. I tried to claim that frustration is not anger because anger moves one to action and frustration is a helpless/inhibiting feeling. Thus it struck me as odd that you would describe chattering as “not angry, but frustrated.” Again, maybe I completely misunderstood.

  107. JJ says

    6) Treibball vs Herding – Your DVD has a segment which talks about herding border collies where I believe that you mention that the communication in herding “is visual”. If I remember correctly (it’s been more than a week between me watching the DVD and typing out these thoughts), there was also mention (or maybe I just saw it) that the dogs are silent while they do the herding.

    I’ve recently gotten involved in the new dog sport, Treibball. (I love the idea of Treibball because even an old dog can do it.) I thought I remember Treibball being described something like, “herding for dogs when you don’t have sheep around.” However, in the videos of Treibball on the internet, I’ve seen of professional Treibball dogs barking madly while “herding” those balls. Thus, along the lines of the question, “Do dogs think that humans can smell?”, I ask myself the question: “Do dogs look at Treibball as a herding activity?” Based on your point about herding being visual and the dogs silent and based on my own gut feeling that dogs not only can tell the difference between a ball and a sheet (duh), but that they view the challenges of the activity completely differently, my answer is “no.”

  108. JJ says

    7) Ears – I loved your book “For Love Of A Dog”. I recommend it to people all the time and lend out my copy of the video when people are interested. However, I remember being quite frustrated that you didn’t discuss dog’s ears in the book (at least not that I could find. I did skim one section and may have missed it). You seemed to discuss every other body part, but ears.

    While I could make up a large number of perfectly legitimate reasons for leaving out ears, I was bummed. Why? I have a hard time reading my dog’s facial expressions. Duke almost never tongue flicks. His mouth seems to be naturally closed even when he is quite happy and relaxed. I can never read forward/back on center of gravity no matter how many times I’ve seen your videos. And Duke’s floppy lips make his commisure (sp?) hard to read–assuming he moves it much, which don’t think he does. Duke’s tail tells me a lot after you educated me about tails, but the tail is only part of the equation and is only helpful when I can see his butt.

    Then there is Duke’s his ears which seem to be *extremely* expressive. If only I could read them. Duke wriggles his ears around all the time. I remember flipping through For Love Of A Dog, eagerly trying to jump to the section on ears, only to not be able to find it. Thus, I was very happy that this DVD addressed ears, even if that section went over my head. Consider this post a request for more information on ears. I think if I understood what ears said better, I would understand my dog better. Or maybe you could recommend a particularly good book which goes into detail on reading dog ears?

    I hope these comments are welcome and not seen as being critical. I really did enjoy the DVD and would recommend it to anyone. I just wanted to dialog about my thoughts. I know how busy you are and may not have time to respond. Thanks for the great information.

  109. JJ says

    Addendum: Maybe I’ve been looking at these points too long, but I have a sense of deja vu. If I’ve asked these questions before, I apologize.

    Also, I found a book in my home library that shows a gazillion pictures of dogs with picture captions interpreting the dogs’ body language. There are even quite a few mentions of ears. But after looking through a few pictures, I was reminded on why I never put much time into the book in the first place. I find it really hard to digest the information/get anything out of this particular book. I’m not sure why, because you would think this format would be ideal. FYI: The book is titled, CANINE BODY LANGUAGE, A PHOTOGRAPHIC GUIDE by Brenda Aloff.

  110. LS says

    There is a wonderful website called DINOS ‘Dogs in Need of Space’ about living with reactive or fearful dogs and how as owners we can allow them the space they require.
    I have one reactive dog, who is just a really wonderful dog, but she has issues with other dogs and will bite. We work on managing her space and always I keep a close eye on her.

  111. LS says

    I was sitting on a park bench with my 2 year old nephew the other day and we saw an old lady approaching with a small dog on a flexi leash. My nephew has a pit bull at home, so he is not afraid of dogs, but his mother has taught him from day one that just because his own dog is friendly, does not mean that other dogs are friendly. He never approaches strange dogs to pet them. But this lady stopped in front of us and picked up her little dog and proceeded (uninvited!) to shove the dogs face right into my nephews face and say “You can pet him.” My nephew has enough dog sense (and a big enough dog at home) to know that you don’t put your face in a dogs face and he was shrinking backwards in alarm. The little dog was trembling with huge eyes and looked terrified. I finally had to actually push the dog away because I repeatedly said loudly, “No, He does not want to pet your dog!” and she just didn’t seem to hear me. It is terrifying the situations that people put their own dogs in! When she walked away, my nephew pointed out that she did not have good manners. :)

  112. Meg says

    Hello everyone,
    I ‘m new to the site and found that this blog is very informative. I am a reader fan of Trish and only now have discoverd her site. :) I have a 2 and half BSD Tervuren male. I have really had my hands full with him. While we have owned numerous dogs, a Belgian was a new experience. He is a very intelligent dog and has amazed me with his capacity to learn. He also is my shadow. It is a done deal–I am the dog’s mistress. The rest of the family is ‘just the rest of the family’. Why, you might say, am I writing here? The boy was not socialzied well between 4-6 mos which was crucial — he was sick due to 2 bad calls by a now former vet. So, we have this reaction behavior when he sees other dogs. He growls, will try to pull, rears on hind feet many times and then often goes for me. (I have been told that BSD due to their high energy and activity that they have been known to nip at their owner when they can’t have what they want at that moment as they don’t know how to redirct their energy and have gone over threshold)—I have been bitten several times–the first on my hand when I held back so as not to chase a cat; the last being under my eye when a small yapping dog across the street kept yapping, a car whizzed closely by and I leaned in to block some of the activity. Fortunately he was wearing a velcro halter like strip across his nose and it cut some of the force. Thankfully no one else has ever been bitten, but it has given me a very difficult and frightening time. We walk at quieter times. Avoid potential situations and are working on focus, walking away ‘before’ trouble erupts and establishing calm. In order for these things to happen, I had to concede to using a muzzle for my own protection and to help me feel that I had control over the situation and could pro actively deal with the situation. Until this, I trembled with fear of another attack and he knew it. In the last 2 months I have noticed that he has begun to be slowler in reacting and less intense.
    There are many new dog owners around our neighborhood and they are clueless with their dogs. Add to this mix all are males. When we brought our boy home he was the only dog in our maisonette complex. Now there are 5 males with just a door or two from each other. So we have had to re learn going out the garden gate calmly and returning with new focus and reward. (We have lunged at the wall across the footpath to reach the dog directly across the way.)

    I have recently order the DVD on dog-dog reactivity and am hoping that we can turn this around. I long for being able to go for a walk and not dred meeting someone with a dog, walking passed yards with barking dogs (which trigger him off–nervous, pulling away to escape) and the worst is the yapping of smaller dogs (had a new Westie behind us that barked for a full year and owner did very little. MY frustrations were soaked up by the dog and only then did I realize I had help to make it worse. I finally had an outright argument with them.) Dog is left outside in the back yard part of the house and we share a common fence. We can’t use the yard without our boy losing it; hence every time there is a yappy sound anywhere he goes ‘on alert”.

    If any of you might have an idea or suggestion that I could add to our repetoire, I would be grateful to hear from you.
    Thank you very much.
    Meg Matsaganis

  113. Vanessa says

    I have a 5 year old cattle dog/lab mix that has always been pretty aggressive. I had seen the warning signs very early on as a puppy and did what I could to nip it in the bud. I did most things right, but did not focus enough on socializing her with outside dogs or people we might meet at the park, etc. Our biggest problem is when anyone knocks on our front door. If I don’t manage to hold her back or put her in another room while I deal with the person at the door, she is right up in their face snapping the air, lunges at them – you get the idea. Behavior such as that from any other dog would have terrified me, so I can imagine how others might feel. Its been suggested that I try to reinforce good behavior by giving her treats each time she doesn’t rush the door when someone comes to the door. I’ve tried this strategy for other things with some success, but by the time the door bell rings she is already in hyper-vigilant guard dog mode and its hard to transfer her attention to anything else. Our other two dogs are usually helping add to the mayhem too. She is also very aggressive if riding in the car and there are people outside the car (ie, like when we stop for gas, etc.). These front door encounters have resulted in bites on two occasions, so far. None broke the skin, but the recipients were understandably pretty shaken up. Both times these people were not really welcome – a security system sales man (ironic, i know) and a neighbor of ours we try to avoid. Oddly enough, on the few times I found her wandering in a nearby park (on the lamb so to speak), she couldn’t care less what all the children or other adults were doing around her – completely the opposit bahavior – calm and not vigilant at all. Just wondering if you might have any suggestions for how to curb this? Thanks so much for listening!!

  114. Trisha says

    Vanessa: Oh dear, sounds like you do indeed have a challenge on your hands. I would first, ASAP, connect with a local trainer/behaviorist who uses humane, science-based methods. I would teach her right away to associate the sound of the doorbell or door opening to going into another room/crate and staying there, and I would begin a counter conditioning program. You really do need a trainer to act as a coach (two bites already puts you at risk of serious legal problems if there is a third) but the booklet The Cautious Canine on my website should be helpful too. Good luck!

  115. Nici says

    I got tickled reading the comments when Trisha mentions her ex – because I happen to know a Doug McConnell. Who has an ex-wife. However, while he was stationed in Germany while for a bit, I do not think he has ever been to Nova Scotia, and his ex-wife currently lives somewhere in Missouri.

    The children in my local town are better than most others I have dealt with about *asking* before they pet my chihuahua / beagle mix, for which I am grateful. He is not particularly agressive, but is VERY high energy, still very much a puppy at 6 months old, and not yet well trained. (He knows the commands, “Get down” (off the furniture), “Sit”, and “In your box” (go to your crate and lay down). I am still working on sit-stay, lay-down, down-stay. We don’t use “Come” – just his name. At playtime he seems to understand, “Where’s your toy” and “Get your toy” – but that could be us reading into it.

    While we work on training Charlie to take directions (he still gets overly excited, to the point that “sit” looks more like “tuck my butt and wag for life while dancing my front paws”), we are also training our 6 year old boy (also high energy) proper dog behaviour. The dog is learning faster. My hope was that a small – medium, friendly, high energy dog would become an outdoor playmate and indoor companion for my son – but now I don’t even know if that is possible. We owned pit bulls when my son was much younger, and he loved those dogs and treated them tenderly. Three years without dogs in the house (we were renting and they were not allowed) was long enough for my boy to forget how to act. Completely forget.

  116. sue says

    I have a 9 month old European German Shepard. He has gone hrough stage 3 with a very reputable trainer. He is exposed to people outside our property daily and has never had an issue whatsoever. Lately he has become territorial on our property. I either leash to introduce then release . or put him in the house.We had a friend over doing some electrical work and the dog appeared to be fine. I went outside as he was walking from our back property with a tester light in his hand toward me. The second the dog saw me Her grabbed his arm to try to remove the tester. No barking or growling. it resulted in two scrapes and small swallow grash in his upper arm .. He stopped as soon as I told him to leave it. & immediately sat down.It was a little too late at that point. What would cause this behavior?What can I do to prevent this from happening in the future?

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