This week is National Dog Bite Prevention Week, and I had so many things going through my mind to write about for this event, but the one I kept coming back to was, Even good dogs can bite.
We all have our thresholds of stress we can handle, and our dogs are no different. A dog that is being challenged or whose signs are being ignored, even if he is a “model” dog, can be pushed too far. Think of it this way: a dog may feel slightly stressed by young children, and have a fear of men with beards. This dog may also have a noise phobia, and be more uncomfortable when the weather is stormy. Overall, however, this dog is very friendly and has never had any strikes on his record. In fact, he seems like a perfect pooch.
One day, the dog’s owner decides to have a party. Several men with beards show up; a few couples that show up have their children in tow; and as the party time draws near, clouds approach on the horizon. An hour into the party, the dog bites a young child that runs past the table under which he is lying. An unprovoked bite by an aggressively acting dog, some may say.
However, when you look at the situation from the perspective of the dog, you can see that there were several stressors in the mix; combining all these components is what we call “trigger stacking.” While one man in a beard may not elicit a strong response in a dog, several showed up, as did some children, and a thunderstorm. All of these together were just too much for the dog, and he felt he had no choice but to react. He went over his bite threshold.
When we can be aware of what our dogs are telling us and take measures to ensure they are without stress and not in situations that are uncomfortable and fearful, we can avoid bite situations. We can also take proactive measures to train to help the dogs learn more appropriate ways to deal with their stress. Far too often, not enough people see the value in understanding these concepts, and expect too much of their dogs.
So my plea to all those out there reading this is–remember your dog’s limits and keep him and others safe. Be proactive. Put in work to help your dog be less susceptible to “trigger stacking.” And never punish signals like growling–this is another area that can be detrimental. When we discourage their warning signals, they may forgo them and go straight for the bite.
For more information about bite prevention, see my previous blog post here where there are some other great resources, and a video for the kid folk out there. Also, check out this other great blog about bite threshold.
Thank you and happy training!
Owner, Delightful Doggies