No dog lover wants to believe their dog would ever bite and, fortunately, most dogs will never find themselves in the position where they feel the need. However, every dog regardless of breed has the ability to bite, because biting is an effective way to keep himself safe. Educating dog lovers about what their dogs need to live successfully in a domestic environment and teaching them what their dogs’ body signals mean is important for bite prevention.
Choose positive training
Dog lovers are understandably stressed and anxious when their dogs show aggressive behavior. They may turn to trainers who guarantee that the aggression will stop when aversive equipment or techniques designed to suppress behavior through pain and fear are used. However this approach has a high rate of failure because suppressed behavior is not changed behavior. Dogs might comply when wearing these aversive collars, but when they’re removed the dogs will often revert back to behaving “normally,” relying on their default behavior of biting to keep themselves safe.
This is where positive training shines, because the techniques positive trainers employ change behavior by modifying the dog’s need to use aggressive behavior. By using management and positive training techniques, dogs can be taught the skills needed to cope with different situations, which helps to increase their confidence.
Keep under stress threshold
Note that there are no guarantees when it comes to behavior, both in the human and canine world. You might have a better idea how your dog will respond in a variety of environments or situations, but you cannot guarantee their response, just as you can never know how you will feel or respond tomorrow.
All behavior depends on the biological reactions an organism has to different experiences. Positive trainers understand the dog’s experience. They employ techniques that work in the real world — knowing that all dogs can bite if put under pressure.
Keep in mind that when dogs become too stressed, they find it hard to focus and learn. This is because their “emotional” brain takes over, which makes teaching them a lot harder.
It is important to keep your dog under threshold: the point when a dog moves from a state of calm (where they are able to learn and process new input) to a state of arousal (where their emotions take over and they are less able to process information). Keeping dogs under their stress threshold and teaching them to cope in different situations is key to preventing bites.
Aggression is vital for survival both for humans and dogs, but it is much safer for both species to practice avoidance and remove themselves from what they perceive to be a threatening situation. Offensive behavior like fighting is detrimental to survival, as the threat of harm is so high, most dogs will choose not to fight unless there is no chance of escape.
I teach all dogs I work with the skill of avoidance, as well as helping clients understand the value of choice and space. If a dog is given the choice to put distance between themselves and the stimulus they find threatening, bites can be prevented. This is an incredibly powerful skill. Understanding when you can or can’t put even small amounts of pressure on your dog during the teaching process will also help increase your dog’s confidence.
Empower through choice
All puppies and adult dogs should be given the chance to learn skills that they can use as a way to communicate and be successful. These range from learning basic cues to understanding that walking away is better than responding offensively when they are uncomfortable. Choice is empowering, and its value is something that we don’t put enough focus on, especially when working to prevent or treat aggressive behavior.
Let’s take a dog that doesn’t like people coming into her home. Manage the situation by providing your dog with a bolt hole or people-free safe zone to go to if she feels uncomfortable. By giving her the choice to stay or go to her bolt hole, you keep your dog under threshold and people safe. It’s a very simple but effective solution while you work with a positive trainer to increase your dog’s confidence in other ways.
The most important advice is to be your dog’s advocate and try not to put pressure on her to greet other people on walks or in other social situations. Understanding why dogs bite and using management and training techniques to help dogs be successful in our domestic world will create a more harmonious relationship and prevent bites from occurring.