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.
December's a time of celebration and a time of remembrance here at SDU. First, it's Nemo's birthday month! Who doesn't like birthdays? This is the little squirt when we brought him home in February of 2006. When we thought he was a Labrador mix.
And this is our big guy now. What a love. Two years ago, we went through some really rough times with Nemo. We didn't think he was going to live. It was hell. He had a usually-fatal fungus called pythiosis. It was a bad few months. He went through the holiday season with several surgeries. Healthy as a horse now, we're thankful to have Nemo with us.
December is also the anniversary of the loss of Lucky, my Australian shepherd. It's been just a year since he died of a heart attack. The dog who taught me so much about dog behavior has been gone a year...it's hard to believe. While his behavior problems were quite plentiful, oh the lessons I learned from him. I'm thankful to have crossed paths with this dog. He's buried at Lake Anna (he's enjoying the Lake in the picture above).
While not good with people, Lucky was a very good leader in his dog-world. We relied on him to raise the service pups we brought in. He'd tolerate but so much of their silliness, then would firmly - but gently - tell them when they'd crossed the line. I never knew how much work he did for us, raising puppies, until he was gone. Talos could use some "Lucky lessons," long about now.
The dog responsible for my being a dog trainer -- more specifically a positive reinforcement trainer -- died yesterday. Almost 15 years old, Lucky led a full life, but in the end it was his heart that failed him. We knew it would come to this, and I'm comforted by the fact that I was able to be with him when he died.
In August, 2007, our cardiologist diagnosed Lucky with several heart ailments. He gave Lucky 6 - 18 months, but cautioned me that because Lucky's diagnosis was pretty severe, we probably would not see 18 months. Not one to follow orders, Lucky surprised everyone and his condition actually improved on the meds.
Lucky was a challenging dog, and a terrific teacher. I wouldn't be the trainer I am today without his lessons. I hope I did half as much for him as he did for me.
Not gone, just gone ahead. We'll meet again. I got this from a very good friend who lost her own Aussie a year ago today:
I was enjoying the beautiful weather with Nemo, Tango, and Lily when Old Man Lucky decided to join us. I had my camera, so I shot a few pictures of the old man; mostly because we're not sure just how long we're going to have him around.
Just a month ago, we joked that the old dog would never die -- he's simply too ornery and never listens. But the last week has brought Lucky a lot of aging. Sometimes he can't get up without assistance, but once he's up he can usually handle himself. He's sleeping an awful lot, too, but still seems to enjoy himself when he's awake. So still lots of life left in him, but it feels like the dam sprung a leak and it's leaving him more quickly than it was before. I was surfing the Washington Post and found this beautiful article. If you've ever loved an old dog, you'll enjoy this well-written piece.