The Biting

When a dog wants to show his displeasure, he'll growl, snarl or bite. He will also bite from fear and in self-defense. These are natural reactions and normal behavior. But from our standpoint, any of these traits constitute undesirable behavior. It makes no difference if psychologists and animal behaviorists state that from the dog's viewpoint there is just provocation for him to bite—a biting dog is proscribed. It is estimated that 600,000 people are bitten by dogs every year in the United States. The U. S. Post Office Department reported an average of 6,000 mailmen bitten each year. Furthermore, more than 76% of the dogs involved in these bites had owners.

The dog bite situation as a national problem rarely gets the attention it deserves. Dog food companies, breeders and others engaged in selling or promoting dogs and dog products are reluctant to bring up the problem. In fact, it's considered bad publicity for dogs. Consequently, the subject is ignored, glossed over or pigeonholed. Nevertheless, dogs do bite, and an ostrich-like attitude will not help reduce the number of bites.

The number of dog bites can be reduced. But only when dog owners train their dogs and keep them under control, and the public learns more about dogs and their habits and how to act around a strange dog. The two go hand-in-hand; advising the dog owner to control his dog without instructing the public in how to meet a dog will never ease the situation. It is at best a half measure.

You, as an intelligent dog owner, will teach your dog basic obedience. As we have pointed out several times before, basic obedience is a fine control measure when you are present. When you are not, your dog is under no obligation to behave. Some dog authorities stoutly maintain that an obedient dog is rarely, if ever, a biter. Of course not, if you are around to stop him. Many dogs involved in bite cases have had obedience training. In fact, dog show judges are occasionally bitten by dogs that are supposed to have had the ultimate in training and handling.

Maybe your dog has never bitten anyone, maybe he never will. If you've given him obedience training and discouraged nipping and biting when he was a pup, you will probably avoid a chronic biter. But as far as we're concerned, nobody can say with certainty that his dog will never bite. When forced into a situation where he is overexcited and provoked, any dog will bite.

Chronic biters more or less fall into five classifications: shy dogs, resentful dogs, vicious dogs, overly protective dogs and "unbalanced" or mentally ill dogs. You will no doubt recognize that the first three dogs are probably the result of poor handling during the early socialization period of puppyhood. The overly protective dog is the result of genetic susceptibility and the mentally ill dog may be the result of genetic susceptibility, disease or injury.

All of the above groups of dogs are potential chronic biters. When provoked, they can usually be relied upon to retaliate by snapping or biting. Now, let's see what provocation will trigger these biters into action. (We're excluding dogfights) Here are some of the common triggering devices of dog bites:

Keeping dogs on chains, ropes, cables or in close confinement. When kept this way, the dogs become overly aggressive and when teased or merely approached, they bite. Fastening a dog on a short chain and teasing him was one of the methods using to make military dogs "vicious."

Sudden movements and wrong way of approaching dogs by strangers. The dog may be downwind from the person, he may be sensitive to touch, or be suddenly awakened out of a sleep by the approach of a person—all of which cause him to snap or bite.

Teasing or rough handling by children or thoughtless adults. The dog may get overexcited or be oversensitive to touch.

Irrespective of what is triggering your dog into biting, the fact is you will have to do something about it. The practical approach would be to remove those factors causing the dog to get overexcited and bite. Or to provide him with a means of escape. You can't very well eliminate the servicemen. Although, if you don't restrain your dog, these men will remove themselves.

The Post Office Department has been searching for ways to solve the dog bite problem among its employees. So far, the Department hasn't come up with any method to make dogs stop biting the mailman or a device to prevent the men from being bitten. (They have tried metal trousers, handouts of dog candy, etc.) The Department also has what it calls the "anti-dog bite policy," which requires the local postmaster to send a letter to the offending dog's owner, advising him that his dog is interfering with the delivery of the mail. The letter goes on to state that the dog owner is requested to take steps to control his dog by leashing or penning the animal.

This rule looked good in writing, but was difficult to put into practice. The main objection is that the letter of complaint has to be delivered to the dog owner's mailbox. Thus, the mailman must run the gantlet of hostile dogs once more. Now the Post Office Department is considering the idea of having the local postmaster telephone the dog owner and issue the ultimatum: keep your dog away from the mailman or face discontinuance of mail. But there's one big snag: not all dog owners with offending dogs have telephones!

All levity aside, the dog bite problem is a serious one. In the suburbs where dogs are roaming loose, it becomes more than just the problem of the individual dog owner. It is a community problem. You and every other dog owner should make every effort to reduce the number of dog bites, even though your dog, as yet, is not an offender.

If you know that your dog bites, try to eliminate any factors causing overexcitement and look for ways to help him escape or adapt. Talk to the servicemen, solicit their cooperation and introduce them to the dog while you have him on the leash. Instead of keeping your dog on a chain or rope, where he will build up energy and possibly release it by attacking the first person or animal that comes near him, put a fence around the yard. Or, if this is not practical, at least make a kennel.

Should your dog be shy or sensitive to touch, let this fact be known to all who come to your house. Make it very clear to children that they must not touch or tease the dog. Some dogs, especially older dogs raised in homes where there are no children, are often resentful of youngsters and will snap at them. In brief, take every possible step to control your dog and alert people to the problem. This is not to advocate your keeping a vicious dog that is a menace to all who come near him. Such a dog will keep all people away from your home, and this is not what you want with a house pet.

While this is a book on the care and training of your dog, we do not think it amiss to set down some rules for meeting another dog. You may be out for a walk and encounter a strange dog. Or your neighbor may own a problem dog that bites. By knowing how to act and what to do when you meet a strange dog, you will be able to prevent what otherwise may be a very unpleasant or dangerous experience.

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