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What's inside: If you have a dog that bites, you are likely wondering can you trust a dog that has bitten? The answer might surprise you.
Sadly I am far too familiar with this topic. My dog, Frisbee, has a bite history. He was fine for two years and went everywhere with my husband until one day he wasn’t. A little girl tried to hug him at Home Depot and instead of backing away, he tried to bite her.
On that day our way of life completely changed.
This led to other bite situations and a tough road ahead for us and Frisbee. I will be the first to say that living with an aggressive dog has many challenges.
I’ve shared my journey with Frisbee in a series of posts. Click here to read about my journey with Frisbee. If you’re dealing with a dog who bites or a reactive dog, reading about my journey with Frisbee might offer some help.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Humane Society, there are approximately 4.7 million dog bites every year in the U.S., and it’s believed this estimate is low.
The Humane Society estimates 51% of dog bite victims are children
This leads to the question, can you trust a dog that has bitten?
Some dog owners feel they can never trust a dog after it has been bitten while others feel their dog may be able to be rehabilitated.
Is there such a thing as rehabilitation for aggressive dogs?
Before we answer, let’s look at some reasons dogs bite.
3 Most Common Reasons A Dog Bites
Dogs are unpredictable. You should never assume your dog will never bite. There are many reasons a dog may suddenly and unexpectedly choose to bite.
3 most common reasons a dog bites are:
- Fear Aggression – this usually happens when you have a fearful dog and your dog is put in a situation he ‘s not comfortable with. With Frisbee, he began to show signs of fear aggression around 2 years old and we learned later that we needed to show him he could trust us to be in charge and to protect him so he could relax and be a dog.
- Resource Guarding – this could include toys, food, or your dog’s favorite spot on the couch or bed. Your beloved dog could also be resource guarding with you as in not wanting to share you with another person or another pet.
- Protective Instincts – this is probably the most obvious reason why your dog might choose to bite. If your dog feels you are in danger or even that he is in danger it could ignite his protective instincts which could lead to a bite.
Other reasons dogs bite without warning include undiagnosed pain, changes in the family dynamic (human or pets), or even changes in their environment that leave your dog feeling unsettled or lacking confidence.
Every dog is different and every situation is different. It’s super important to do everything possible to determine why your dog bit or attempted to bite.
Personally, I think it took a couple of situations for me to realize this was a real problem with our dog, Frisbee.
Right now you might still be wondering:
Once a dog bites will it bite again?
Is rehabilitation for aggressive dogs possible? I didn’t think so but I was hopeful.
Can a dog who bites be trained not to? Maybe and hopefully.
With Frisbee, we had two different trainers and a behavior specialist and while I learned a lot about his body language and was taught to teach him to sit and sit stay, down, down stay and leave it, and recently worked on the recall command, none of that changed the fact that we can never allow him around random people.
We were forced to make adjustments in our lives that we were willing to make because the alternative wasn’t an option for me.
In the end, we took a completely different route with Frisbee and I think it really helped. You can check out what we did by clicking here.
Homeowners Insurance and Your Dog That Bites
As a responsible dog owner, you need to realize that a dog bite can create a huge liability situation for you. Yes, lawsuits are very common when it comes to dog bites. Of course, your homeowner’s insurance gets involved and most times they will simply settle with the person that was bitten in order to save money involved with a trial.
So your homeowner’s insurance helped out but guess what?
Chances are pretty high they will now cancel you. Your mortgage company requires insurance to protect their interests which means you will have to go to a high-risk insurance company at probably 3 – 4 times what you were paying before. They may also stipulate that you get rid of the dog.
And what if you don’t own a home and don’t have homeowners insurance? That’s a whole other potential problem.
One of our bite situations did lead to a lawsuit and a settlement with our homeowners’ insurance.
In fairness, I don’t blame the party who sued us. I probably would have done the same if a dog bit my child.
You see, the person who got bit was a 2-year little girl who I love dearly. Most people are going to sue if their child gets bit by a dog.
Our insurance paid the settlement and surprisingly we weren’t canceled and our insurance didn’t go up. I feel we may have slipped through the cracks and dodged a bullet on this one.
Can My Aggressive Dog Be Rehabilitated?
If you’re faced with a bite situation do you have to put your beloved pup to sleep? This might be the first question you ask yourself as you replay what just happened over and over in your mind.
Euthanizing is one option.
It’s an option I was forced to consider for Frisbee, but I just couldn’t do it. I loved him too much and it would have destroyed me. It was a decision I did not take lightly and I knew that keeping him alive would require a lot of dedication from my entire family.
Some dog owners will choose to put their dog to sleep because they feel they can’t trust their dog once it’s bitten or maybe they don’t have the resources or ability to attempt to “rehabilitate” their dog.
Other dog owners will hire a canine behavior specialist or trainer to try to solve the problem and rehabilitate their dog.
I’ve heard it said that some dogs can be rehabilitated while others can not. I’m not sure I believe a dog can ever be totally “rehabilitated”, however, I do believe that this problem can be managed in many cases and your dog can live its best life.
I’ve also been told that every time a dog bites he’s learning this is a behavior he can rely on when needed and get away with.
So the more bites, the more likely to bite again? Maybe.
The real question might be how do we know which dogs can be “fixed” and which can not?
You don’t until you figure out why your dog bit in the first place and start doing some serious obedience training as well as having a well-planned behavior modification program.
It’s helpful to know what triggered your dog to begin with, or what continues to trigger your dog. Could it be fear aggression, frustration, resource guarding, is your dog in pain or is it something else?
Our handsome guy has fear aggression. He doesn’t attack anyone to seriously hurt them but he has hurt people and as a result, he can never be around people he doesn’t know. His circle of people he is comfortable with is very limited.
What to do With Your Dog That Has Bitten?
This is a question I am assuming every owner of a dog that has bitten will find themselves pondering. Unfortunately, there is not a one size fits all answer.
The first thing I did was hit the internet in a frantic search to learn everything I could about what consequences by law awaited Frisbee and what I could do to help him.
For us, we made the necessary adjustments Frisbee needed so he could feel safe and comfortable. Not all dogs are meant to go to dog parks or be therapy dogs. It is up to us as their humans to recognize this and equally important, to honor it.
I don’t believe any dog should be given up on just because it has bitten.
In our situation with Frisbee after the first incident, we failed him several times. We accidentally put him in situations he wasn’t able to handle and had no chance of having success with.
We made mistakes we didn’t mean to make but we’re human. It was a learning process for us and we did our best.
One piece of advice I would offer is to handle your dog properly from the beginning to minimize the chances of ending up with a reactive dog or a dog that bites.
Understanding Your Dogs Body Language
One of the most important things you can do even before your dog has a bite on their record is learn how to read their body language.
Your dog can tell you when they are uncomfortable or afraid and if you learn how to read their body language you might be able to prevent an unfortunate bite.
Some common signs that your dog is stressed and could be reaching their tolerance are:
- Stiffened body posture
- Stiff or limp tail
- Whale Eye (more of the white is showing)
- Yawning or licking
- Avoiding eye contact
- Growling (giving a warning)
Your dog may be even more triggered and closer to biting if you see any of these signs:
- More intense growling
- Aggressive barking
- Direct eye contact
- Stiff body posture
- Tail straight up
- Showing of teeth
Not all dogs will exhibit all of these signs but if you train yourself to read and understand your dog’s body language it could help you avoid a bite.
The Importance of Socialization and Training
Socialization of your puppy before 20 weeks is critical and obedience training is also important. Some might say that you can’t socialize your dog before 20 weeks because of lack of vaccinations but there are ways to still socialize your dog which I share in this post.
If you adopt an older dog I would still highly recommend professional training which not only helps you bond with your dog but also sets boundaries.
Stop and think for a minute.
A well-trained dog who has also been socialized will not only be confident but will also understand biting is not allowed.
If you want more tips on socializing your dog along with a variety of other training tips, check out Brain Training for Dogs. It’s a great online resource to help you navigate through everything dogs.
Tips to Help Avoid Bites Every Dog Owner Should Know
Socialize your puppy, train your dog and make sure your dog always gets the appropriate amount of exercise for its age and breed.
Also, know your dog’s personality and likes and dislikes.
For instance, Frisbee hates being hugged around the neck and prefers his butt scratched over being pet on the head. If I pet his head or hug him he will back away so it’s simple…I just don’t do it. Don’t force your will on your dog.
Like humans, every dog will have its own levels of tolerance to different situations.
Make sure you rule out any health issues. Your dog might be in pain you aren’t aware of which could cause aggression.
A dog who is not fixed can be more prone to aggressive behavior so consult with your veterinarian about this.
Finally, the more quality time you spend with your dog, the better. This won’t necessarily stop a dog from biting but remember why you got your dog in the first place.
The sad part is that once your dog has bitten you will always wonder can you trust a dog that has bitten?
In all honesty, while any dog is capable of biting, a dog who has already bitten is likely a higher risk and proper precautions should be taken.
Do everything you can to avoid an initial bite so your way of life doesn’t have to change.
Check Out Frisbee’s Story – Learn From Our Mistakes
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If you want to read about my journey with my guy, Frisbee, just type Frisbee in the search bar on the blog page or click here to get started.
The images associated with this post are of Frisbee. He is my handsome, man dog, friend as I call him and I love him like a son.
If you have any questions or comments about fear aggression or have a story to share please use the reply box below. We love hearing from our fellow dog lovers.
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Final Note: Sadly, my precious Frisbee succumbed to stomach cancer in November 2020. It was my goal to do everything I could to protect him and to let him live out his life without having to resort to euthanization.
I miss him every day and while I don’t wish this journey on anyone, I would do it all over again for my handsome, man dog friend. Run free my sweet boy.