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Karen B. London
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After a Dog Bite
The biter's suffering continued

There was a lot of blood, which is typical for bites to the ears. The little white dog who was bitten was sitting calmly in her guardians lap while her injury was attended to. Despite having been surprised by a totally uncalled for bite as she entered the backyard to join the party, she was doing okay. She was clearly hurt, but this stable dog was accepting the loving comfort of her guardian and didn’t seem as upset as one might expect.

If only the dog who had bitten her had been in such good shape, psychologically speaking, but he was a mess. He had no physical injury, but he was traumatized. He is a fearful dog who had been overwhelmed by the party long before another dog—his biggest fear—had shown up. I had been watching him uneasily for a little while before the incident and had told my kids to stay away from him. I had no way of knowing that he would end up biting, but I could see that he was scared, which put me on red alert because I know that’s the cause of so much aggression.

I didn’t see the bite happen, but I heard a ruckus, and hoped that it was just noise and nothing worse. We were attending an event where we knew almost nobody and in the introductions, I had mentioned that I work with dogs and specialize in aggression. After the bite, the guardian of the dog who had bitten called me over with the plea, “I need you!” Luckily, the dogs had already been separated, which is the only thing that went as I would have advised all day.

The guardian of the dog who had bitten asked me, “What should I do?” and I told her that the kindest thing she could do for her dog was to get him out of this situation. We agreed that he was very afraid, which is why he had bitten, and she told me that he can’t tolerate other dogs at all, but that he had been letting people at the party pet him, which was big progress. The dog may not have behaved aggressively to people petting him, but he was tongue flicking, tucking his tail, trying to move away from them, and his pupils were dilated. He wasn’t just nervous—he was terrified.

The woman did not want to leave the party and said so. I urged her to go home and let her dog escape a situation in which he was clearly miserable, but she didn’t want to go, and stayed there with that poor scared dog for hours. I felt so bad for him and wished that I could have persuaded her to take him home.

I also wish that I could have been more proactive about preventing the bite in the first place. Long before the bite, I thought it would have been a good idea to take the dog home, but if I told people to take their dogs home every time I saw them in situations that seemed beyond what they could handle, I would say it so often I would make the boy who cried wolf seem uncommunicative. It’s not advice that most people want, and I don’t give it in settings when I am not working unless I am asked. And even in this serious case with a bite involved, I was asked and that advice was not followed. The few other times that something bad has happened and I’ve advised people to get the dog out of the situation, they did, so this guardian’s decision to stay was exceptional.

It’s no fun to leave a social event or even to leave your dog behind and attend on your own, but so often these actions are in the best interests of the dog. I feel so bad for both dogs, and I also feel bad that I wasn’t able to lessen the suffering.

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Karen B. London, PhD, is a Bark columnist and a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist specializing in the evaluation and treatment of serious behavior problems in the domestic dog.

Photo by Jan Tik/Flickr

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Submitted by Nancy | July 14 2013 |

I agree wholeheartedly. After making a similar (vey foolish) choice years ago that turned out to hinge on catastrophic, I manage my dogs AND put them away as I need to.

I tell people that my dogs don't need every life experience in order to have a great and fulfilling life. Especially if there is even a small chance it could lead to a disaster. Better to be safe and happy, even if it means an afternoon resting at home while I attend an event.

Submitted by Robin | August 10 2013 |

This is also a good point...although it rests on others in our household taking the time to understand what triggers what appears to be aggressive behavior...the negative behavior could be understood to be fear motivated, by people moving suddenly, rattling newspaper loudly, jumping up...maybe stemming from being hit with a newspaper previously...

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