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As cute as they are…

This seems like a good time to address this issue we who deal so closely with dogs in the numbers we do.

As cute as they are, it’s a rather serious matter to be bitten at all let alone badly enough to break skin.  Heaven knows I’ve had my share of bites, most especially given the career I’m embedded in.  I know, however when a dog is likely to reach what our more well known “Dog Whisperer” defines as a “red zone”.  Not that I’m claiming to know the answer to stopping all dog bites, if I did, I’d be rich.  Obviously I’m not, but I know there are things we need to understand about dogs.  If we don’t understand these things then we are not only endangering ourselves, but we endanger the very lives we are entrusted with, most specifically the lives of the dogs under our auspices not the least and endangering unsuspecting people who encounter those same dogs.  That makes it sound a bit more serious now doesn’t it?

It is a serious matter.  A dog bite not only hurts us, with a bruise, a surprise, maybe a bit of broken skin, but it can cause to the “victim” of the bite, nerve damage, bacterial infections, even as serious as broken bones.  For the lack of a rabies shot, it could cause that!   We know that a dog isn’t aiming for the least vulnerable spot to bite just to make their point at the moment, they mean business. We had better mean business when we are dealing with it.  It could mean a life if we don’t.  

It is up to us to prepare for the potential moments a dog bite can occur.  Individually, a dog must recognize who the Alpha is in a pack and respect that.  A dog will not, cannot, and is not fair to expect them to see us as a pack leader by virtue of being in our presence.  They must be taught this.  That is the first step in bite prevention.  

What is the first step?  In my mind it is alway’s being mindful of putting ourselves in an Alpha position not just while in a pack situation, but singly with a dog.  An alpha will take the space without asking that they want to occupy.  They do not allow others to occupy that space while placing themselves in a subservient position;  i.e, for example, allowing several dogs on the bed with us interacting while we are in a reclining or non-active role.  In the dogs mind, they are guard over us, or they are taking charge of us.  Not wise.  While on a couch or bed, or chair, or floor for that matter, I will always make certain that I am in charge.  I take the space, claim it, the bed, the blankets the pillows, everything is mine and if I choose to share any part of that, it is while the dog is being calm and yes, submissive.  Allowing two dogs to actively interact on the bed or couch with a human is giving up the assertive role as alpha.  This only will invite challenge.  The challenge leads to a red zone moment.  

Teach the dogs singly who is alpha.  Things like playing tug of war and winning will take the power from them.  Take food from them, toys, space, whatever it is you want (or may not want, but need to use as a tool to make a point), you take.  The dog should be submissive to that with backing off and allowing that to occur.  If they don’t, you need more work on that.  Eye contact is a challenge to a dog in a moment when alpha may be in question.  Don’t put yourself in a subservient position and then look them in the eyes for the answer.  The answer may be red zone.   

Watch their body language.  A bite is most often warned first.  Watch for stiffening of the body indicating a strike like a snake,  glowing dark eye’s with head in line with the spine.  Dogs gathering together overly excited will raise their tails and stiffen their body posture to make themselves appear stronger, bigger, and dominant.  Giving food or treats amongst an overly excited pack of dogs invites a dog fight.  The big moment when we release all of the dogs from crates for the big run out in the morning is a prime opportunity for a fight.  Keep the pack calm by either letting less dogs out at once, or keep your own body language dominant.  Keep observant of who may be the trouble in the pack and correct them.  Correcting them (carefully and knowing how to do this properly to be safe) within the pack helps cement your position as alpha in everyone’s mind.      

Teach all of the dogs preferably a one word command to maintain focus within the pack.  “Off”, “Down”, ”Out”, “Quit” will help bring order when chaos breaks out and use your tools to break up two or more dogs, not your hands.  Never ever bend down to break up a fight.  If you have to, then step into them to separate, but never reach into the fight.  Loud noises, a squirt bottle with water and lemon juice, but never ever bend down and reach into the fight.  They won’t pay attention to who they grab with their teeth and it will be you.  The instigator gets the maximum penalty, the dominant down.  Don’t start it unless you can finish it out and learn how to do it correctly or don’t try it at all.  

A dominant dog must be re-taught over and over who is alpha (not them) because they have been born with the instinct.  If you’ve ever watched little tiny three week old puppy litters, one or two will alway’s start showing dominant tendencies even at that age.  It’s not anything you can fix with one dominant down.  

Please be careful and remember that the pack leader is the human!  They are dogs, they were born dogs, will die a dog, will see you as part of their pack.  They are not capable of changing what they are genetically.  It’s up to us to learn how to read them correctly and teach them safely for everyone’s sake!!!  As cute as they are, it’s the most important thing they will learn in their life!  Make it so and be # 1!!


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3 comments to As cute as they are…

  • Julene, you are SO right! Coming at this strictly from the point of view of Sheltie Rescue, it’s worth pointing out that failing to prevent bites, failing to teach dogs that the human is always alpha, can be a death sentence for the dog.

    If a rescue dog bites his or her adopter, the rescue organization might or might not be legally liable (different states and different contracts have different implications), but a dog that bites will probably be taken by animal control and may very well be put down. And that kind of defeats the purpose of rescue.

  • BluvsJ

    Hi Julene, Great write-up on dealing with alphas and biting. Your suggestions are right on the mark. I think I’ll start sending over all the alpha types over to you!!! – Barbara

  • You’re absolutely right. The first step to prevent aggressive do behavior, such as biting, is to make sure that your dog know that it is you who are the boss, not him.

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