What is a dog bite? One of the leading authorities on the modern day Pet Dog Training Industry is Dr Ian Dunbar who developed tangible criteria for assessing dog bites. His criteria allow canine professionals to discuss dog aggression using an objective scale. Based on an assessment using this scale, a canine professional can determine the level of aggression shown; the damage caused and then make a prognosis and develop a plan of action to modify a dog’s unacceptable behavior. This bite scale has 6 levels starting with level 1, defined as a dog growling, showing teeth, staring, or snapping. The first level of aggression does not include a physical bite because aggression is defined as any act that is meant to intimidate, scare or physically hurt another dog or person, it becomes our starting point. A level 2 bite is when the dog performs a single bite (making contact) with no puncture. A level 3 bite is a single bite from one to four punctures, each around ¼ inch deep.
In many cases the damage a dog causes when it gets into a squabble with either a person or another dog is determined by the dog’s acquired bite inhibition. It is believed that this bite inhibition is a behavior learned when the dog is a puppy during its first 4 months. When a puppy plays with its litter mates, suckles too hard or bites something inappropriately the feedback it receives from its mother, father or siblings, lets it know how to regulate its bite. Why else would a puppy have sharp teeth? They are not yet old enough to need them for chewing bones, fighting or hunting for food.
So why do dogs bite? Well it’s a fundamental dog communication behavior. They bite for a few reasons. First, if they are upset, scared or stressed they cannot exactly write to their local commissioner expressing their displeasure. Secondly, that’s what dogs do. Even when they ‘play’, they bite, causing no damage. Thirdly, people are not always kind to dogs and dogs use natural biting behavior to create distance between themselves and any real or perceived threat. If you have a pet dog that has good acquired bite inhibition, and it gets into a normal tussle with another dog, the bite will not cause any damage.
There are four stages to a dog’s warning system that they demonstrate. Each level has its own threshold. In many cases, when a dog actually gets around to biting, it has tried all of its canine communication to signal that something is wrong. When initial signals don’t work then the dog is forced to bite particularly if their path to escape the stress is blocked. When a dog freezes, this is a clear warning to stop doing what you are doing. When a dog growls it has escalated the seriousness of its communication. If trying to communicate with a growl is unsuccessful a dog may snap and if this warning is also not heeded the dog may bite. When a dog snaps, its intention is to warn and not to make contact. A dog’s reflexes are so much faster than ours that if a dog intends to make contact with you they normally will.
If we treat these indicators of dog aggression, which are emotionally motivated, using forceful or compulsive methods, all we succeed in doing is escalating the level of aggression. If a dog is showing aggressive signs because it is scared, stressed or in pain we cannot combat this by using physical aggression, all we do is exacerbate the problem. The good news is that many of the signs you may be experiencing with your pet dog are easily remedied using professional techniques and methods.
The important thing to remember, as a Pet Dog Owner, is that if you see any behavior from your dog, such as staring, growling, snapping or biting, contact a professional dog trainer who will be able to help you understand what your pet is trying to tell you and help you create a plan to modify the unacceptable behavior. If the behavior is left untreated it can become progressively worse. Don’t wait until your dog is biting at a level 2, or 3 before you call in the experts. The prognosis is still good to remedy your dog’s behavior, but the commitment required to modify this level of behavior is more arduous and at minimum your dog is now a social liability.
Niki Tudge is the owner of The DogSmith Training Center. Niki achieved her Canine Behaviorist Diploma in England and Dog Obedience Training Diploma in the US. Niki is a member of the National Association of Dog Obedience Trainers and the Association of Pet Dog Trainers. You can reach Niki at 1-888-Dog-Smith
Has your dog snarled, snapped or growled at you? Has your dog ever bitten you? Do not wait until this aggressive behavior is very difficult to fix. Call in a professional DogSmith and resolve the problem before the dog’s aggressive behavior is a liability for you, them or your family. Your dog is trying to communicate that something is wrong, frightening or stressful for them. Understand more about your dog's communication system and how you, the owner, can help change their behavior.
Contact your local DogSmith for help and advise if you have a dog that is snapping, growling or biting. DogSmith Dog Trainers are certified Dog Behavior Analysts