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Ask the experts

What to do about a dog that bites


Dog trainers are often called into homes where dogs have bitten someone. The goal is to try and rehabilitate the dog so he's safe to be around.

All dogs have the potential to bite so no dog is 100 percent safe, but those who have bitten are more likely to bite again. Deciding what to do with a dog that's bitten someone can be very difficult.

The decision many families make after their dog's first bite is to do nothing. They tell themselves it was a one-time occurrence and convince themselves it won't happen again. Some might decide to find a new home for the dog. This occurs quite often when a dog has bitten a child. They find a home where there are no children and that might work out, assuming the dog isn't around other children.

If the decision is made to keep the dog, some training or conditioning should take place. The dog owner should seek out a truly positive reinforcement trainer to help them understand why the dog bit. Then set out a plan to condition the dog to whatever triggered the bite. This along with management of the environment so the dog is not pushed to the point of biting again can work out if the entire family commits to the treatment program.

Physical punishment should never be used for a biting dog. Nearly all dog bites happen because the dog is fearful and is trying to get the person out of their comfort zone or personal space.

If punishment occurs when the dog growls or bites it will only cause the dog to be more fearful in the given situation. It might temporarily stop biting but only because the dog is holding back his urge due to being afraid of the person physically applying the punishment.

The reality is the dog will bite again as more pressure is put upon him. A proper behavior modification program concentrates on paring a positive with what currently the dog reacts to and consistently done the dog's behavior can modify.

There are many things to consider when working with a dog that's bitten. Is everyone in the family in agreement to work with the dog to make him safe? If not, retraining is not the ideal option. It can be detrimental to the dog and his rehabilitation if only one or two people in the household are willing to work with the dog.

How often has the dog bitten and what is the severity of the bite? Some dogs have bitten multiple times, never leaving a scratch on anyone. These dogs are using bite inhibition.

Others have only bitten once, but the person went to the hospital. If the dog has bitten more than once, is the severity of the bites getting worse? Maybe the first two bites were only minor scratches, but now the dog is leaving puncture wounds.

If the dog's bite causes severe injury, the dog owner is at risk of losing their homeowners insurance and the possibility of a lawsuit should the dog bite again.

The decision to euthanize the dog is a difficult one, but may need to be considered. Again, most dogs that bite do so out of fear. If the dog is extremely fearful, he may be extremely difficult if not impossible to rehabilitate.

If you have a dog that has bitten, you should take action. Consult a professional who understands positive reinforcement training and behavior modification. Use management so the dog is not put into a situation where he feels threatened to the point of aggression.

If you are unwilling or unable to do that, you should consider euthanasia. While it is not an easy thing to do, but in some cases it's best not only for the people but the dog too.

Tip of the week: Growling is only a warning that the dog is fearful or feels threatened. If your dog growls but has not bitten you should take action now before your dog takes it up a level and bites. Bark questions to: Canine Companion, 11652 North - 825 West, Huntington, IN 46750 or email

Canine Companion conducts dog training classes in Fort Wayne, Huntington and surrounding communities and behavior consulting nationwide. Along with their combined 30 years experience and endorsement by national organizations, the trainers are all graduates of Purdue University's DOGS! Program and have earned the title of Certified Pet Dog Trainer through the Association of Pet Dog Trainers.