That Bite Came Out of Nowhere…or Did It?

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dog bite, dog aggression

Dog aggression is a complicated thing.

It seems I spend a lot of time writing about it, thinking about it, learning about it and trying to help clients whose dogs are suffering from it.

I have spent most of my career working with dog aggression in some form or another.

From trying to put an end to it, and control it so that it doesn’t ruin lives.

To trying to build it for police and protection dogs that need aggression to work.

I think that being on both sides of aggression, suppression and building, has helped me to understand it and recognize it even more rapidly and deal with it swiftly.  And for a great video series that shows you how to deal with aggressive behavior, click here.

I have rarely seen a dog bite that “came out of nowhere”.

dog bite, dog aggressionThe truth is that this phrase and the stories that develop from it are like scary urban legends that are whispered around the campfire at night.

They may have, at one time, been based on some minuscule fact or assumption of fact but the whole of the story is just embellished to make for a great tale.

Or to avoid culpability after something bad happens.

The only real time I have seen “the elusive bite that came out of nowhere” was when the dog had a seizure or brain disorder.

Rage Syndrome or Springer Rage

Rage Syndrome (or Springer Rage) is a condition where a dog goes from seemingly affectionate and normal, to extreme unprovoked aggression and biting.

Most data now shows that this is a seizure type of misfiring in the brain that causes sudden onset aggression.

However, this is pretty rare (thank goodness).

The Signs of Aggression Are Ignored

The majority of the time people choose to, or accidentally, ignore the signs.

dog bite, dog aggression

Why?  Why would anyone choose to ignore the signs of aggression, prior to a bite?

The answer is complicated, yet easy.

They don’t want to think that their dog, or a dog that they know or love would actually bite.

In some ways I understand, we are judged by our dog’s inherent temperament and behavior.

We are DRILLED as young children that if a dog is aggressive it is because the owners “just didn’t love it or treat it right”.

And, truthfully some people are just too lazy to want to exert the effort it would take to combat aggression.

The Columbine Syndrome

I often call this the “Columbine Syndrome”.

I lived in the Denver area when the first large school shooting “Columbine” shocked the nation.

But the truth was that there were all kinds of warning signs.

The teens were hoarding weapons.

They had threatened to commit crimes online.

They had told others they were going to commit the crime.

No one believed them.

In some ways I understand.  I mean, before this incident who would have ever believed that such horrors could occur.

But ignoring horrific signs serves no one.

And, getting help will take work and commitment.

My First Cue

My first cue or indication is when a dog owner starts a statement with:

“He’s never been aggressive”

“He’s never actually bitten”

The only reason to try and convince me of these things, is because you know these things exist.

After all, I have had dogs that have “never been aggressive and have never bitten anyone” and I never had to tell anyone that.  My dogs’ behaviors put people at ease.

I never even considered saying “he’s never bitten or been aggressive”.

People say that when they are trying to convince themselves and others.

Aggressive Behavior = Intent

I don’t know how many times I have to say it, but aggressive behavior often equals intent.

And, I, personally would rather you take an innocent behavior seriously (let’s say a play bow with a growl) than ignore a potentially dangerous behavior.

The Man Who Was Mauled to Death in Bed

Oddly, this isn’t a one-time incident.

You can google and find several stories on people who are killed, in bed, by their dogs.

dog bite, dog aggressionAnd, it is my opinion that these dogs have showed signs of aggression, prior to the killing; that were ignored.

Many times, dogs that kill people in bed have possession aggression or resource guard the bed and other things that they deem are theirs.

They may, in fact, growl at their owners for years when they are accidentally touched by the owner in the bed while they sleep.

The dog owner may not even really pay attention, and certainly don’t take the behavior seriously.

Until the final night, where it can only be proposed that the owner irritated the dog by kicking, touching or rolling on him one final time.

Dogs Warn

The truth is that dogs warn us.

They don’t all hackle, growl or snap.dog bite, dog aggression

Some of them stiffen or freeze.

Some stare with pupils dilated.

Some lick their lips.

Sometimes their tails stand straight up while they wag.

Some uncurl or drop their tail.

Some pin their ears.

Some put their ears straight up.

But usually, in the beginning, the behavior makes our hair stand up on end.

I know that working at a vet hospital sometimes all I can say is, “he makes me uncomfortable” or “I don’t trust him”.

It may be a flash of many of those behaviors, or a blatant behavior but we are all (as adults and some children) given that gift of fear.

The problem is that some people ignore it.

I was once told that a certain breed was known for “staring” and freezing but it didn’t necessarily mean that the dog was a threat.

Personally, I don’t believe that.

I believe my gut.

I don’t ever want to discount my gut.

I may be wrong, on occasion, but I would rather be more cautious than to let my guard down and be tagged by a dog!

Don’t Lie

Don’t discount what you feel.

Don’t lie.

Don’t tell yourself that you are wrong for feeling what you are feeling.

Don’t just hope that it goes away.

Aggression doesn’t get better when we ignore it.

Aggression is actually a self-rewarding behavior.

It is important to get on a behavior modification regimen and begin training.

If the aggression is severe consider seeing a boarded veterinary behaviorist who can prescribe medications that can help while on the behavior modification program!

Want To Learn How To Eradicate Nearly ALL Your Dog’s Aggressive Behaviors?

Enroll in our twice a year LIVE 8 week MASTER-CLASS on Emotional Re-calibration Training (ERT) specifically for Over-reactive, Fearful and Aggressive dogs.

Click here to enroll in the MASTER-CLASS

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There are 7 Comments

  1. Ashtyn says:

    I have just stumbled upon this article while searching the internet. I haven’t had a chance to fully read through this site, which I plan to do! (I love what I have been learning so far!) I am just wondering, are you able to help with behavioral training? I have a dog who bites me and others in my family. He’s 5 now. He has bitten here and there through the years. 1st when he was roughly 6 months old. I need help with him badly, obviously. Things I have tried doing to curb the behavior have not worked. I don’t know if this site or you, the writer, monitor these comments. If there is a chance you could help could we get in contact with one another? Thank you.
    -Ashtyn Jones.

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    Aggression can’t be managed by a trainer over the internet. You need a boarded veterinary behaviorist to help

    [Reply]

  2. Amanda Quigley says:

    I have found great information on your site. My family adopted a 2 year old rescue last May. We used a reputable DNA site and she is 77% German Shepherd and 23% black lab. It took a few weeks for her to become comfortable. We are quite positive she was abused and is fearful of men. She was doing great. We had 30 people over for the holidays, no issue. We can bring her outside the home to a pet store, the Vet, for a walk and she still needs obedience work but isn’t aggressive. Over the past 45 days she has become overprotective of our home. If someone rings the doorbell she immediately becomes aggressive and we do not trust she will not bite. Other than that she is the sweetest girl. She would never hurt anyone in our family or outside the home. Again, the issue is when a stranger attempts to enter our home. Is it abnormal for this behavior to have gotten worse recently?

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    You think she did great over the holidays, but perhaps it stressed her out and brought about some of this behavior.

    However, what caused it is not as important as making sure that it doesn’t end in a bite. Put her on a leash and go back and work on obedience so that you have control over her when people come to visit.

    [Reply]

  3. Sonny's Mom says:

    My favorite excuse comes from the dog-walker who approaches with a lunging dog, while calling out: “Don’t worry– he’s FRIENDLY!” I quickly learned what this actually means: “I have ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA know how to handle my dog’s behavior.”

    [Reply]

  4. Kat says:

    Seriously! I purchased Impukse Control. There us a receipt in my email but no link? I go to your site to find a log in and don’t see one. I’d appreciate a link to getbto the training!

    [Reply]

  5. EVA Lacks says:

    Good for us to recognize our dog will not behave if we do not train, and sometimes I do not know what to do. My dog is a new challenge for me.

    [Reply]

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