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Local Woof: Preventing Dog Bites

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Editor’s Note: The Local Woof is a column that’s sponsored and written by the staff of Woofs! Dog Training Center. Woofs! has full-service dog training, boarding, and daycare facilities, near Shirlington and Ballston.

There is was again. Another story about a dog attacking a child. This time it was in Texas. A Border Collie. A five year old. In the face. But location, breed and age don’t matter. It happens everywhere, with all breeds of dogs, and all ages of people.

What I found amazing was the backstory. The dog was adopted as a puppy. He had lived happily with the family for 10 years. He had been okay with the child until recently when he became, “kind of grouchy” around the child. The father witnessed the dog snap at the child. He wanted to get rid of the dog. The mother witnessed the dog “growl aggressively” at the chid just a day before the attack. She agreed to get rid of the dog. Then the next day, the 5 year old asked if she could pet the dog, who was on leash. The mother said yes, and the dog bit the girl in the face. Badly. Permanent scars.

So much to discuss here. First of all, do not blame the parents. They love their daughter. They feel terrible now and will carry the guilt forever. They also loved their dog. The dog had been a good doggy citizen for 10 years. There’s a lot of trust built up in 10 years. I haven’t spoken to them personally but I bet they would say that they never thought their dog would do something like that.

The way to prevent dog bites is to take the dogs warnings seriously. The snapping, the growling. These are warning signs. The dog was saying, as clearly as it could, “I DO NOT like you. If you don’t go away, I will bite you”. The dog was being as clear as it could be.

Dogs that growl and snap are doing everything they can to avoid biting you. They are giving you the opportunity to asses the situation and take a different path. Once your dog delivers a warning sign, it is now up to you to manage the situation so that the dog does not bite anyone.

This all has nothing to do with whether the dog, “should be growling” or not. Many clients will say, “But I was just brushing him. I HAVE to brush him.” Or, “I should be able to take the bone away from him if I want to.” I agree. Dogs should be taught to tolerate brushing and having high value treats taken away.

But right then, at the moment that the dog growls, you need to make the choice that will prevent the dog from biting. Stop brushing. Let the dog have the bone. Avoid the bite. Then you have a moment to step back and analyze the situation. I need to teach the dog to tolerate brushing better. I need to teach the dog to give up the bone. I need to keep the dog away from the child until we can find him a new home.

Dogs that growl at children are not uncommon. It is my opinion that no child should live in a home with a dog that shows any sort of aggression to them whatsoever. No exceptions. This story is exactly why. The dog reached his threshold with the child and bit her badly in the face. Will all dogs who growl, bite? Of course not. But are you willing to take that chance? You shouldn’t.

If you have a dog that growls at your child, the dog and the child need to be kept completely separate until the dog can be removed from the home. I’m a trainer. Why not apply a training solution? Because it is not worth the risk. Training can help, but there is no guarantee it will be 100 percent and with some dogs, training can only take you so far. And kids can’t follow a detailed training plan. And humans make mistakes. Doors get left open. Management fails.

Bottom line: figure out why the dog is growling. Take all growls and snaps seriously. Seek out help. Your dog is trying to tell you something. As the guardian of the dog it is up to you to find a resolution that avoids the bite.

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of

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