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Myths about dog aggression: Part II

This week, we're discussing a few of the many popular myths surrounding dog aggression and reactivity on the dogster blog. Yesterday, we talked about two...

Casey Lomonaco  |  Feb 1st 2011


This week, we’re discussing a few of the many popular myths surrounding dog aggression and reactivity on the dogster blog. Yesterday, we talked about two common myths, that aggressive dogs are “born and not made,” and that “only certain breeds are aggressive.” In case you missed it (hey, I get it – Mondays are hectic), you can click here to read more about these first two myths, including tips on how you can take a very sweet puppy and easily create a monster of a biter. Without further ado, let’s move along in our quest to bust myths on canine aggression.

MYTH #3: BUT IT’S SO CUTE WHEN SMALL DOGS BITE AND GROWL!

People laugh when small dogs bite and growl. Oh, a Chihuahua? Biting? Bwahahahahaha! What’s that, a severed finger sticking out of his mouth? Wait. That’s not funny, is it?

Aggression is never cute or funny. I am a raw feeder and many of my raw feeding friends feed toy breed dogs. I have seen dogs weigh less than ten pounds easily crunch through bone that is far more of a challenge than a pinky finger, a toddler’s ear or nose, or an eye socket. I have a friend who is now a behavior consultant who rescued a Schipperke/Pomeranian mix with an extensive, serious bite history (level five bites, more on that later) that placed herself, her family and friends, and her toddler grandson at great risk – it’s taken her A LOT of training and management to be able to save this dog’s life.

Small dogs, especially biters and growlers, get picked up and carried around a lot. Owners do this to for a number of reasons – they may want to make the dog feel safe or see it as a way of protecting their guests from those tiny but razor-sharp teeth. If the dog still feels insecure, he may redirect his bite and bite the handler, often in the face. Or at someone else’s face who happens to be close to the handler. Regardless – not safe, not funny, not cool, not a situation to be ignored. Get help ASAP from an experienced, qualified trainer, be picky, ask for references from clients whose dogs have had the same types of issues as your favorite pooch. Remember, the more dogs get to practice biting, the better they get at it – early and prompt intervention is your friend!

MYTH #4: A BITE IS A BITE IS A BITE

There is a big difference between a dog that nips at the air and a dog that routinely breaks skin or sends someone to the hospital. Veterinary behaviorist Dr. Ian Dunbar has created a helpful and simple to understand bite scale which ranks the severity of bite incidents on a scale from 1 – 6. Remember my friend’s Schipperke/Pommie mix mentioned above? He has an extensive history of level 5s and weighs less than 20 lbs. What’s a level 5 bite, you ask? Read on:

Level 1- Dog growls, lunges, snarls-no teeth touch skin. Mostly intimidation behavior.

Level 2- Teeth touch skin but no puncture. May have red mark/minor bruise from dogs head or snout, may have minor scratches from paws/nails. Minor surface abrasions acceptable.

Level 3- Punctures the length of a canine tooth, one to four holes, single bite. No tearing or slashes. Victim not shaken side to side. Bruising.

Level 4- One to four holes from a single bite, one hole deeper than the length of a canine tooth, typically contact/punctures from more than canines only. Black bruising, tears and/or slashing wounds. Dog clamped down and shook or slashed victim.

Level 5- Multiple bites at Level 4 or above. A concerted, repeated attack.

Level 6- Any bite resulting in death of a human.

Yeah, little dog bites CAN be scary, right?

Bite inhibition training should begin early in puppyhood and should be cemented both through social interactions with appropriate dogs and direct intervention from the handler. Since we learned yesterday that all dogs can and will bite, it’s very important to teach them to use their mouths as gently as possible in case such a situation arises. Dogs that bite low on the scale can move up levels on the scale if prompt intervention protocols are not implemented – biting, like any mechanical skill, improves with practice. The more dogs practice biting, the better they get at it.

Stay tuned tomorrow for yet more aggression myths!