A dog that bites is looked at very differently than a dog that doesn't bite. It's a very fine line, the line between a biting dog and just a barking dog. But that very fine line turns into a giant chasm once the actual bite happens.
Insurance companies treat you differently (and charge you more). Animal Control has a file on your dog. Neighbors make a wide arc around your house. Lawyers love people who have biting dogs – it makes for good business. Last, but certainly not least, YOU look at your dog differently after that first bite.
You may not have seen the bite coming. Or maybe you did see it coming, but just didn't know when. Regardless, situations get sticky in a hurry once a dog has crossed the line and has bitten a person.
The dog in the picture above was mine. His name was Lucky and he played a big part in my transition to dog trainer, and specifically the transition to a dog-friendly, positive reinforcement dog trainer. Lucky bit people. He loved to bite people. He was a dog who kept a lookout for people to bite. Through a strict management program and a non-stop behavior modification program, Lucky lived a very happy, very long life with us, thankfully.
I've had two clients recently with dogs who have bitten or who are very likely to bite sometime soon. The first client, whose dog escaped the yard and bit a neighbor, have chosen to give their dog away instead of train the dog. To an elderly relative who "is good with animals." I hate hearing this – even if the relative is excellent with dogs, he'll also have to have stellar management practices. By that I mean the dog can never — ever — get out of the fence, the gate, or the door unless he's safely leashed. The dog must be put in a locked bedroom if anyone comes into the house. That's a hard bill to fill and it's very stressful, wondering if you've remembered everything.
Here are the management practices we put in place when we had Lucky: When guests came over, he was behind a locked bedroom door and a baby gate was placed in front of the locked door. Another gate was put up between where we entertained guests and the bedroom that contained Lucky just in case a wayward guest tried to visit Lucky, despite our warnings to stay away.
In the yard, we padlocked the gates to ensure that the neighborhood kids couldn't open the gates to come inside to retrieve a ball or play with the friendly Labradors and the not-friendly Lucky. We educated the neighbors about Lucky and how they were to never (ever) put their hands inside the fence, nor were they to tease or even talk to Lucky over the fence. And never, ever, ever were they to come inside the fence. For any reason. Ever. Even with those cautions, one of us was always outside in the fenced yard when Lucky was out. Unless it was after 11:00p – then we figured if there was a burglar lurking in the bushes, Lucky would be within his rights to bite him!
Another recent client mentioned that their dog often charged people on the street, barking with hackles up, circling the pedestrians, but they hadn't ever considered that behavior a problem, let alone a warning sign that a bite could be close. There's no better warning sign that a bite is coming than a charging dog, hackles raised! The very next thing the dog is going to do is bite! The time to take action is now, before the bite occurs. I advised the dog never be off a leash when outdoors. It's just too easy for a dog to cross the line from charging and barking to charging, barking, and biting. And it only takes one bite for everything to change.
Don't wait for the bite to happen. Your dog doesn't need the trouble. You don't need the headache. Or the financial liability that comes along with a dangerous dog. Do yourself, your dog, and your neighbors a favor and find a positive-reinforcement trainer who can help you develop a management program along with a behavior modification program to ensure that your dog — and your neighbors — stay safe.