Monday, January 5, 2009

Diary of a dog trainer - my dog bite history

All dogs can potentially show aggressionIt is amazing how often I am asked if I have ever been bitten by a dog. I am not sure if all of the questioners have had personal experiences with dog bites or if is simply an intrinsic fascination with aggression and danger.

It got me thinking about my history with dog bites and how I don't even always tell my wife when it happens. Not that it happens a lot (thankfully) but it is just a normal by-product of my profession as a dog trainer.

I remember before my first bite listening to a speaker talk about dog bites at a conference in Florida about 6 years ago. She asked the 300-plus audience of dog trainers to raise their hand if they had been bitten by a dog. Most of the people in the audience raised their hands.

I was proud that I did not raise my hand thinking naively that I might just make it through my career without one bite. That's right, I know how to avoid dog bites!

Well, I was wrong. I do feel that my knowledge of dog behavior has helped me avoid more bites, but having trained more than 2500 dogs in seven years, it is inevitable that I have had some less than pleasant encounters.

I also don't shy away from taking on aggression cases. Some dog trainers won't take any aggression cases on their caseload, but I work with dog-dog aggression as well as dog-people aggression. I have worked with dogs that have killed other dogs as well as dogs that have put people in the hospital with severe facial bites.

Thankfully most of my bites were inconsequential, but there was one that resulted in a really bad bruise and gave me an important lesson for the future.

I don't remember the exact dates, but here is my list of dog bites.

1. Breaking up a dog fight. When I taught dog training classes for years I always had playgroups in my classes before and after class. There were sometimes skirmishes between dogs. A Husky and a Rottweiler got a little too rambunctious and went after each other. I pulled the Husky off of the Rotty and he did a redirected bite and got my hand. Thankfully no bruising or puncture wounds, just a scratch.

2. Forgot my leash. After an hour of working with a highly reactive Yorkshire Terrier with people aggression and territorial aggression, I left my client's house. The entire time the Yorkie was tethered away from the front door as far away from me as possible in the house. I left the house and realized that I forgot a leash inside. I knocked on the door and did not realize that the Yorkie was now freely roaming the house. When my client opened the door, the Yorkie rushed out and bit my calf. I was the recipient of two puncture wounds and slight bruising.

3. Breaking up another dog fight. This happened when I wasn't actually working. I was at a dog park and a Boston Terrier and Wheaten Terrier mix got into a fight. My dogs were not involved, but I was the closest when it happened. I pulled the Boston Terrier off the other dog and he turned around and bit my hand. Thankfully all I received were scratches.

4. This was the worst bite and gave me the biggest lesson. I was hired to work with a fearful Bordeaux. He was scared of noises outside including trains, traffic and other dogs. He was fine with people. His housemate, a Giant Schnauzer, barked at me when I arrived. I asked his guardian if this was normal. She said that he barks a lot, but has never shown aggression. As we were leaving with the Bordeaux, the Schanuzer barked at me. I turned my back to leave and he jumped on me and bit my back. This was the most serious bite. My entire back was purple for about 4 days and I received three deep puncture wounds. The biggest lesson I learned was to trust my instincts. Now if I am not sure about a dog's behavior, I ask the guardian to tether him or put him in another room until we are ready to work with him. Always better to be safe than sorry.

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