Did you know that it is a Texas law that if a dog bites or even scratches (breaks skin), the dog must be quarantined for 10 days? Depending on how many times it occurs, a more permanent option may be considered.
According to the Texas Department of State Health Services website and the American Veterinary Medical Association, “an estimated 4.7 million people are bitten by dogs each year, with an estimated 800,000 requiring medical attention. Children account for approximately half of all dog bite victims with the elderly being the second most common group of victims…Almost half of all dog bites are provoked, regardless of whether the victim is a child or an adult. What constitutes provocation for a dog can be very different from what a human would consider provocation.”
Bites, even nips can occur for many reasons but let’s focus on arousal (overexcited) biting in particular. Arousal biting stems from a few possible sources:
1) Undersocialization. Generally, undersocialized dogs will be one of the two following personality types when interacting in new environments or with new people/animals: (1) be overexcited, can’t focus, and/or too intense or (2) be fearful, aggressive, or overwhelmed. Focusing on arousal biting, result (1) is considered. If the dog is overexcited, give space. Allow the dog to calm down and slowly introduce the person or environment. Controlling their level of excitement and encouraging calm behavior is vital to ensure the dog doesn’t get over threshold and begins to bite.
2) Puppies that fail to learn bite inhibition. Puppies taken too early from their litter or was the only puppy in the litter. Having siblings to help tell you that you’re biting too hard really helps with learning to control the level of pressure.
3) Learned inappropriate play with humans. Avoid wrestling, pushing, teasing, or “sic ’em” games as it encourages bad behaviors. Consider using games like Tug-O-War with basic obedience elements like Sit, Down, Take, Drop-It, etc. These behaviors can help teach your dog self-control during play. Also, it helps prevent them from escalating because the dog can take break to ensure s(he) is still under threshold.
4) Lack of adequate exercise. Consider vigorous off-leash aerobic activities to help with behavioral issues and is a great complement to any behavior modification program. How much exercise your dog needs depends on his breed, size, age, and physical condition.
5) Lack of adequate mental stimulation. Boredom and excess energy are two of the most common reasons for behavioral problems with dogs. It will make your dog’s life more interesting. There are products and games that take memory, skill, and manipulation, all of which help your dog find healthier, less-destructive ways to release pent-up energy. Some toys are designed to be filled with kibble, small treats, even frozen foods that encourage dogs to work to get to the meal/treat. Another great product that everyone should have is a KONG®. The KONG® is non-toxic, dishwasher-safe, durable rubber toy that can be stuffed, boiled, and helps express natural behaviors, like chewing, scavenging and working for food. Be creative!
If your dog bites at the leash, consider using choke chain, metal leash, or PVC. Connect the choke chain metal extension of the leash. You can connect the leash to the chain and connect a double-ended snap to the collar. When the dog bites at the leash, he’ll discover it isn’t so fun anymore. The metal leash works the same way. As for the PVC, you can place the leash through the PVC pipe and it gives you a little space but similar to a pole catcher.
Another option is use two leashes. When the dog goes for one, grab the other, drop the first one, and continue this process. It can be tiresome but some dogs think it is a game to tug on the leash. By dropping the leash, you aren’t reinforcing the game. When they bite for it, it drops (negative punishment).
Head halters and muzzles are helpful for arousal biters. Head halters give better control of the dog’s head but ensure that it is properly associated first. It can be aversive if just slapped on and the dog is expected to like it. This applies for muzzles too. Muzzles keep a good dog, good. Basket muzzles are ideal for most dogs because the dog has the ability to take treats, drink, and breathe comfortably.
– Should a dog begin to arousal bite, do not scream. Screaming can intensify the dog’s arousal and cause their prey-drive to skyrocket. Remain calm and speak firmly.
– Since children account for half of the victims of dog bites, always supervise children around any dog. It doesn’t matter how well known, friendly, or small that dog is.
For more information on American Veterinary Medical Association’s Dog Bite Prevention:
Frequently Asked Questions about Animal Bites from the Texas Department of State Health Services:
For Texas’ Health and Safety Code on Dog Attacks:
For Texas’ Health and Safety Code on Rabies (Rabies Control Act of 1981):