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Why Does My Dog Bite?

by Barry KuKes

My recently departed dog Bear would bite on occasion when prompted. We did not want him to bite, and he was fine with my wife and me and our other dogs, but if you came into his yard uninvited and unaccompanied, you were doomed. We did our best to protect him from himself. In his last couple of years, he was much better, mainly because he was too slow to catch anyone or anything.

Many people deal with a dog that bites, and sometimes the dog bites family members as well. I belong to several Golden Retriever groups on Facebook, and I am surprised to read so many posts about how their Golden bites their hands on a reasonably regular basis. Other Golden owners will post how this is a common trait for Goldens, but my Bentley has never bitten anyone, nor do I believe that he ever would. So, what to do if your dog is biting you, your family, other pets, or visitors?

First, reach out to a professional dog trainer or behavior specialist. Dog behavior varies from dog to dog. It is not necessarily breed-specific, although certain breeds are rated higher for biting. Many smaller breeds like chihuahuas and dachshunds can be very aggressive. Still, their bite is not as damaging as a Rottweiler or German Shepherd, so people don’t associate these small breeds with being biters.

As a dog owner, you must take responsibility for training your dog and keeping it under control at all times. You’re responsible for your dog’s behavior and are the first line of defense in preventing dog bites.

Put your dog through basic training at the very least and continue to keep up your dog’s training program throughout its life to reinforce the lessons you’ve taught it.
Socialize your dog. Allow your dog to meet and interact with different types of people, including children, disabled people, and older people, under calm, positive circumstances and when you are in total control of your dog.
Expose your dog regularly to a variety of situations such as other dogs, loud noises, large machines, bicycles, or anything else that might spark fear. Start this training with your dog at the youngest age possible and keep the experiences positive. We would reward one of our dogs every time a thunderstorm would roll through town. Each time it thundered, he got a treat. He is the only dog I have ever had that is not scared during a thunderstorm.
Pay attention to your dog and know when things may be leading to aggression. If you can’t control the situation or your dog’s behavior, you may have to remove your dog before things get out of hand.

Don’t discipline your dog by using physical, violent, or aggressive punishment. Instead, use positive reinforcement —praise and treats. Consistently rewarding your dog for desirable behavior is far more effective because dogs aim to please their people.
Always keep your dog on a leash or in a fenced area. Know your dog well before letting it off its’ leash in permitted areas. Keep your dog in sight at all times.

If you suspect or know that your dog has fearful or aggressive tendencies, always warn others. Don’t allow your dog to approach people and other animals unless the situation is strictly controlled.
Please keep your dog’s vaccinations current, especially its rabies vaccination, and visit your vet routinely for wellness checkups.

Give your dog time to learn better behavior. Many people lose patience and give up on their dogs, but most dogs can be taught positive behavior if given a chance. Lastly, adopt, don’t shop.
Barry KuKes is the Community Outreach Director for the Halifax Humane Society. You can reach Barry at 386.274.4703, ext. 320, or