Why Did Their Dog Bite a Child

In truth, the little Shih tzu has snapped at two grandchildren and one of their friends this last week. Her teeth caught the nose of the last child.

There is absolutely no way she can be called an aggressive dog. She is beautiful and friendly. It is clear that at times things simply get too much for her. Too much noise, too many people and too much pulling about by children.

Schitzu

Boy learning to touch Asha so she feels comfortable

On each occasion the atmosphere was charged with excitement so her arousal and stress levels will have been getting higher and higher until she, literally snapped. On a couple of occasions she had taken herself off to lie down in peace, and the child had gone and disturbed her.

As you can imagine, the family are deeply upset to the extent they were even fearing losing Asha. They adore their little dog but they can’t have their grandchildren or their friends bitten.

We need to look into why would their dog bite a child, and deal with that.

Having questioned the very helpful nine-year-old boy in detail who had been present on each occasion and he himself one of the victims, the reason this has escalated so fast became clear. They simply did not recognise the signs that Asha was sending out, trying to communicate that she was uncomfortable and had had enough and she was almost forced into taking things further. Some breeds’ faces are more inscrutable than others, but there probably was some yawning or looking away. The boy told me she licked her nose.

Unaware of what the little dog was trying to tell him he carried on touching her, so she now growled. Unfortunately he took no notice of that either. So, she snapped. The child recoiled and, bingo, Asha succeeded in what she had been trying to achieve from the start, which was to be left alone.

The second time it sounds like she gave just a quick growl that was ignored before snapping. The child backed off. Job done. The final time, she went straight to the snapping stage, leaping at the child’s face with no prior warning.

Asha had, in the space of just one week, learnt what worked.

Three things need to be done straight away.

Firstly, the opportunity to rehearse this behaviour ever again has to be removed. Each time snapping succeeds in giving her the space she needs, the more of a learned response it will become.

If the atmosphere is highly charged or several children come to play – they have a swimming pool so things get noisy – then the dog should be shut away (something she is perfectly happy with).

Secondly, all children coming to their house must be taught ‘the rules’ and how to ‘read Asha’. The grandson who helped me so well is going to be her ‘Protector’ and teach the other children. I have sent a couple of videos for them to watch. The dog’s ‘den’ – an area under the stairs – must be isolated and totally out-of-bounds to kids. The boy is going to make a poster!

Here are their Golden Rules:

Don’t approach and touch Asha when she’s lying down, particularly when asleep.
Let Asha choose. Wait till she comes over to you. Don’t go over to her.
Don’t go near a dog that is eating anything.
Dogs don’t like hands going over their heads. Chest is best.
If you want to run around and have noisy fun, do it away from the dogs
If you see lip-licking, yawning or if you see the whites of her eyes. STOP. Move away.
If the dog keeps looking away. STOP. Move away.
If the dog goes very still STOP. Move away.
If you hear a growl. STOP. Move away.

Because kids, being kids, may forget the ‘no touching unless she comes over to you’ rule,  I suggest when children are in the house that Asha wears something to remind them, maybe a yellow bandana or little jacket with ‘give me space’ or something similar.

The other thing in common between all three snapping incidents is that Asha was in a highly stressed state, so the third thing is helping to keep her stress levels down. There are quite a few trigger points in her life where things could be dealt with differently to help avoid stress accumulating which will mean she is a lot more tolerant and less ready to explode. I read somewhere a good saying: ‘Stress loads the gun’.

They fortunately are nipping this in the bud (no pun intended!) before it can develop further. I’m sure that with the children educated in ‘dog manners’, with any warnings heeded and things not allowed to get too exciting or overwhelming around her, Asha will feel no need to bite a child ever again.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Asha. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good particularly in cases involving aggression. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).

 

Reinforcing Good Behaviour

Maltese is scared and hides

Lingling

Chihuahua Yorkie mis protects the lady and bites ankels

Benjie

Until the lady picked her up, Lingling (left) was either hiding under the table or peering round the corner licking her lips, yawning and lifting her paw. A scared little dog.

Benjie was protecting the lady.

They are both very reactive to anything happening outside their home and bark madly. Both dogs are frightened of people they don’t know.

They have bitten ankles. Benjie doesn’t like people approaching the lady.

With such a friendly and outward going owner, it’s hard to understand why the two dogs are so wary of people until one looks into their early life.

Maltese LingLing, now three years old, came from a puppy farm and was in a terrible physical state. A year ago Chihuahua-Yorkie mix Benjie joined them. He had been taken from his mother and litter mates too early.

I would guess in both cases they will have inherited unstable genes from fearful parents along with inadequate or non-existent early socialising.

The lady lives in a flat and their barking is causing problems. She has tried everything she can think of, including collars that shoot compressed air at them when they bark and a bottle of stones to shake at them. Because the barking stops for a moment it’s easy to think this ‘works’.

The lady adores her two little dogs and realises that punishing fear is inappropriate and can only make things worse which is why she called me. To them it must be like the very person that they should be able to trust has turned on them.

Now we began to reward quiet instead. Reinforcing good behaviour – or, I should say, reinforcing the behaviour we want, makes the dog much happier and it makes owners happier too.

From his protective position beside the lady, Benjie wasn’t so much barking as grumbling and growling at me. Here is a very short video of the two dogs. Benjie is anxiously lifting a paw and grumbling at me, and Lingling is hiding behind the lady.

Each time he stopped even for a moment, the lady gave him cheese.

She was surprised how calm Benjie became. He eventually lay down and settled.

Benjie eventually lay down and settled peacefully

Benjie

There were noises outside and neither dog barked. She rewarded them.

She will now save some of their food quota to use specifically to reinforce not barking or growling.

A wonderful thing about reinforcing the behaviour you do want as opposed to punishing the behaviour you don’t want is that it makes you feel good. It rests so much easier with people who love their dogs than does punishment and correction.

As the lady said the next morning having changed the way she does things for just a few hours, ‘I feel so happy with myself’ and more recently, about six weeks later, ‘We have had a few weeks just being a quiet family. Benji has been much better at home. Much less barking .’

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Lingling and Benjie, which is why I don’t go into the exact details of your plan here. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).

Jack Russell With Just a Few Common Issues

To look at his expression you wouldn't think he had been flying all over me when I first sat downWhat a dear little dog! Finn is about one year old and was found as a stray on the streets of Dublin. Over the past six months the couple have come along way in building up his confidence.

To look at his expression you wouldn’t think he had been flying all over me when I first sat down, and then lay down on my own knee. He’s a very friendly little dog, whilst from time to time also showing little signs of anxiety when he looked at me – lip licking and yawning in particular.

The front door of their cottage sitting room opens straight onto the road and Finn is very alert to sounds outside the front. He is worried and he growls and barks. He is also fearful of some dogs when out along with things that are unexpected or different. No more so than many dogs though.

There are various little issues to be worked on. He was very wary of being touched on the back of his neck and they wonder whether he had at some stage been ‘scruffed’ or harshly disciplined. He is a lot better now although he still doesn’t like things put over his head, so he needs help with that. We have strategies for the barking at things outside and the flying all over people and chairs (which has been encouraged by a game they play).

Use of mouthing and teeth has also been actively encouraged by the gentleman playing hand games. Finn has unintentionally nipped a child’s hand when jumping to get something she was holding, so he needs to learn to be very careful.Finn is quite restrained for an adolescent Jack Russell with an uncertain past

No more games involving chasing and grabbing hands. ‘Non contact sports’ are a lot better. They do some very inventive hide and search games already and I have given them a few more ideas.

The lady feels all the dogs they meet on walks are calm and sociable, and feels Finn is in some way unusual. He is in fact very usual.  With gradual work to continue building up his confidence he will be fine I’m sure. Every dog will have his own little individual quirks and it’s good to relax a little and appreciate what we do have.

Finn so wants to please, and I would say he is actually quite restrained for an adolescent Jack Russell with an uncertain past. With Finn they have a little gem.

Chihuahua Bit Man on the Mouth

Chihuahua Ant on the left is quite a confident little dog while Dec is restless, on constant alert

Ant and Dec

Here we have Ant and Dec – adorable eighteen-month-old Chihuahua brothers. They have had exactly the same upbringing but their personalities are very different. Ant on the left is quite a confident little dog while Dec is restless, on constant alert, wary of being approached, barks at people he doesn’t know well or dislikes – and has snapped and bitten.

Both little dogs are overweight despite the couple who own them sticking rigidly to the diet regime. This is because they need the help of another couple to look after them so they are not left alone too long, and unfortunately these people, who absolutely adore the dogs, can’t be persuaded not to over-indulge them. The alternative would be leaving the dogs all alone for hours.

Little Dec may bite if removed by the gentleman owner from his lap when asleep and he has bitten a child. He is actually fairly tolerant of them, but when he’s had enough his signals simply are ignored. We need to be looking out for ‘look-aways’, lip-licking and yawning which all show the dog is becoming increasingly uneasy.  Growling will follow. He may then be scolded for giving what is really quite a reasonable warning. By now he is between a rock and a hard place; he has no options left – he snaps.

The poor dog can’t talk ‘human’ and the humans aren’t understanding ‘dog’.

Dec is scared of vehicals and bicycles; air-brakes send his tail between his legs and he would run if he could. He hates the vacuum and the strimmer – and fireworks. Visitors may pick them up which makes Ant pee.

He bit a man on the mouth

The final straw came the other day when the friend bent over Dec as he slept on the sofa (in order to kiss him I believe), and he bit the man’s lip badly.

These little dogs are carried about too much (as chihuahuas often are); they are subjected to big hands reaching out on top of them to touch them and large human faces getting uncomfortably close. They are also allowed to dictate when they get attention and when they are played with. Food for rewards has little value.

Over-feeding, pandering to fussy eating, giving too many un-earned treats and sharing one’s own food, carrying little dogs about, forcing kisses on them and getting them too excited when greeting to the extent that a dog pees may be done in the name of love, but isn’t kind really. The owners themselves are more restrained whilst having some tightening up to do, but they need to be much firmer with the other people who share the care of their dogs.

It is always best if I can have my first meeting with everyone willing to be involved in changing their own behaviour in order to change the dogs’ behaviour. The couple are very keen to understand Ant and Dec’s needs, but fear the other people may be unwilling to listen to my advice or change their over-indulgent ways. Consistency from everyone is so important.

Just see in the photo how eager and attentive they can be if motivated!

It is just after Christmas and I received this email: Hope you had a good Christmas! Just wanted to let you know of some fantastic success we have had with Dec. It’s funny that we only saw small changes until we visited Craig’s parents over the last couple of days…
Normally Dec has been petrified of Craig’s brother…..When we visited we had been using the pen lots when things got too busy and hectic to keep them calm and calmly brought Pluto into the room Craig’s brother was in- seriously was like a miracle moment- no barking, no signs of him being anxious he even went onto his lap and let him stroke him!!!! I think knowing the signs of when they are anxious has really helped us to keep him calm- we can’t always remove him from a situation but just knowing what to look out for really helps!
Normally visiting Craig’s family with the dogs is something I find really stressful but they have been 100% better behaved which just makes everything so much more enjoyable!

Lurcher Bows, Stretches and Yawns. Dog Body Language.

Lucy watches from her box

Lucy

interesting dog body language

Maggie

Here are three beautiful Lurchers, all rescues left behind by travellers. 16-month-old Maggie, the one I was called out for, is the dog on the left, stretching. I was told that she was very withdrawn, does not interact with her human couple but loves the other two dogs.

Yesterday was an instance of how what I see through my own eyes can be something completely different.

All three dogs, including Maggie, came over and sniffed me politely when I arrived (I smell good of my own five dogs).

Dog body language

Knowing she was hand shy, I didn’t try to touch Maggie, but soon she was making overtures of wary friendship. It was interesting dog body language. She was frequently bowing whilst yawning at the same time – which her people thought was simply stretching rather than trying to communicate. She had her body towards me but her head turned away as you can see. (When my own confident Lurcher Pip wants to initiate communication with play bows, his head will be up and he will be looking in my eyes).

Maggie is trying to ask for something – but the ‘look-aways’ and the yawning suggest it’s not the response she’s getting. People reach out. Maggie backs away from them. It’s like she is speaking a different language.

Lurcher Saluki mix

Curtis

She obviously wants contact but not the kind of contact she is offered. She gets stroked and patted on top of her head and body. It’s clear she is a lot more comfortable being touched very gently on her front and around her ears.

Actually, I don’t think she is asking to be touched at all. Mirroring her own body language back to her is like replying. She’s seems happy with that – or a few gentle words.

There is another element to her behaviour. The older Lurcher Lucy, in the white box, is watching her all the time. Subtly controlling Maggie perhaps. I suspect this is inhibiting her. I watched her body language also.

I suggest Maggie is not touched at all for a while. At the same time, they can work on teaching her to come to them and ‘touch’ their hands with her nose upon request, secure in the knowledge that the hand won’t then reach out to her. She can also be taught to give and hold eye contact.

At present  she is ‘one of the pack’ and largely left to relate to the dogs. She needs to be singled out and her dog-to-human communication skills worked on, to help to build up a bond with her humans.

Maggie is making some sweet overtures that are misunderstood.

Charlie Doesn’t Feel Safe

From her owners’ perspective, adorable Bichon-Maltese mix Charlie is given everything a dog could possibly want for a happy life. They always thought the moBichon Charlie is yawning because he feels uneasyre excited she is the more joyful she feels. From Charlie’s perspective she is living a life punctuated by extreme stress and chronic anxiety.

Deservedly, Charlie is adored by the family – a lady, her daughter and her two granddaughters. By the end of my visit they began to see things in a different light. See the yawn? She is showing unease at being looked at while I took the photo.

When they greet Charlie she is ‘beyond excited’ and they fire her up with vigorous attention – so much so that she may pee. They believe just because she’s so excited that it’s good for her. The lady always thought that Charlie loved to go out in the car. Charlie’s excited and jumps in willingly, but then she is barking at people, dogs and traffic. She is left in the car when the lady shops because ‘she loves it’ even though she’s quite happy left at home. The entire time she is barking at anything she sees that moves. Beautiful Bichon Frise

Walks are horrendous. She pulls and barks at people, dogs and cars. It’s constant. They take her into the town where she is a ‘nightmare’, going for people’s legs; Mostly she is taken by car (barking all the way) to the park where she and her nervous owner are all the time looking about in near panic should a person or dog appear and if she’s off lead she will run back to the car or even try to find her way home.

Despite all this and like many other people – the lady feels that as a good and loving dog owner she must make Charlie go through this nightmare every day, and feels guilty if walks are missed. I would argue that Charlie’s mental and psychological health is more important than walks. Working on her confidence when out of the house will take a lot of time and patience.

I have recently watched a new DVD by famous trainer/behaviourist Suzanne Clothier called ‘Arousal, Anxiety and Fear’. She says she always mentally asks the dog, ‘How is this for you?’ She says ‘Make your dog feel safe’.

We put our dogs in situations where we think they are safe – but does the dog feel safe?

Loving their dogs as they do, why do so few people not consider, ‘How is this for you’ and help them out?

Staffie Stressed and Easily Scared

Yawning - uneasy because the camera is ointing at him Max is three years old. He is gentle and affectionate, but becoming increasingly confused and nervous. The photo on the right shows hiim yawning because the camera was pointed at him – typical signs of uneasiness are yawning and lip-licking.

His companion dog died in August and things have gone downhill for him since. His lady owner is lavishing far too much physical affection on him which she is the first to admit is mostly for her own benefit whilst giving him no boundaries at all. She jumps to his bidding, even in the middle of the night. In the past he had the other dog, who was by nature a lot more confident, to share this burden.

To add to Max’ problems, fStaff Max is a gentle and affectionate dogamily members and friends who visit daily are giving all sorts of mixed messages.

He is shouted at for licking them whilst being encouraged to jump onto them. He is more or less force-fed from human plates whilst refusing to eat his own food – though he is partial to doughnuts. He only has to bark at the box, and he is given one. He is becoming increasingly scared out on walks, running back to the car at the slightest sudden noise. In fact he is reluctant to leave the house even to go into the garden to toilet, and he makes himself last nearly twenty four hours some days.

When I was there the slightest trigger sent him either into the corner or in front of the lady, shaking. She understandably then fussed and comforted him which will be reinforcing his fear (‘come to mummy she will protect you from the big bad wolf’!). She would do a lot better to ocntrol the source of his fear, if possible. However, she feels powerless to protect him from real threats, like visitors who shout and knee him for jumping up or who threaten to force him to go out and ‘behave’ when he is scared.

I know the lady is on board with my advice. I sincerely hope she has influence over her visiting family and friends – at least to the extent of leaving Max in another room where he would be perfectly happy – and insist he is left alone.

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.
 

Protective Corgi

Corgi is always on dutyBenny is a four-year-old Corgi. He lives in what one might imagine to be a dog paradise. He is free to go wherever he likes in a very large country house. He has a caring family and the company of two other dogs.

Watching the continual lip-licking, the yawning and the panting, it’s obvious that Benny is a stressed dog rather than one revelling in a wonderful life. He is on guard duty alert much of the time, and ready to rush to protect his owners at the drop of a hat, particularly his female humans. If a man suddenly walks in the front door Benny may appear from nowhere and go for his legs, even if he has met him before. He hates the postman. If someone walks towards his owner, or makes arm movements that Benny could interpret as a threat, again he will spring into action. It’s always legs he goes for, probably due to his own lack if height, and fortunately he’s not yet done serious injury.

I believe Benny will become a much more relaxed dog if he is given some boundaries – physical in particular. At present there are no limits to where he can go. If the lady of the house disappears behind a door, he barks and cries. If someone comes to the front door, he is in effect the first line of defense – there, on guard. It’s best if the owners avoid having Benny in front of them for now when someone approaches. After all, a dog protecting a pack member will always get in between her and the threat.

How can a smallish dog possibly look after so many people and protect such a large environment? Benny is doing his level best. No wonder he is stressed.

It is the leader/head of the family’s job to be the protector and the decision maker. If from the start he is accustomed to boundaries and sometimes being shut behind doors, a dog is far happier in a ‘den’ in a corner than rattling around loose in a large house, especially if he can rest secure in the knowledge that protection duty is not his responsibility. Bennie doesn’t actually spend much time outside in the large grounds because he dare not let his lady owner out of his sight. He follows her everywhere and cries if a door is shut on him. With patient work, he should eventually be able to let her come and go as she likes – and trust her to look after herself.

Putting in place a few rules and boundaries, slowly getting him used to being more independent in so far as demonstrating through leadership that the humans are there to look after him and not vice versa,  should make him a much more chilled dog.

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.
 

Worried Little Lizzie

patterdale Staff mixLizzie is a Patterdale Staffie X.  Her previous owners split up and Lizzie has now lived in her new home for four weeks. She used to live with another dog.

Lizzie is a quiet little dog. She also seems a rather worried little dog. She is only three years old and should perhaps be a bit more carefree. She sometimes seems to shake with fear for no apparent reason. When her very loving gentle owners come home she sometimes cowers slightly, she has peed, or she may lie on the floor and wriggle appeasingly towards them – especially the man.

In the time I was there Lizzie looked asleep but you could tell by her ears she wasn’t really relaxed. She likes to jump on the people and to sit on them, but doesn’t seem to enjoy being stroked so much. While being stroked she was yawning and licking her lips – classic signs of unease. By reading her body language, her people can learn when to just let her be near them without constantly petting her.  A little gentle tickle from time to time seemed to work best.

We assume that because our dogs like to be beside or on us that they want to be petted, but this isn’t necessarily so. We also assume they jump onto us and even walk all over us because they love us, where they might be simply be showing us our place – ‘beneath them’. Just sometimes this is the case, not always. A dog does not necessarily jump onto us because it wants affection.

Constant petting may even be telling our dog that we are needy which is a big sign of weakness and no good to the dog at all. Playing a little hard to get can be a good thing! It’s very hard for us humans to resist a lot of touching of our dogs – they do feel so nice!

Lizzie is increasingly showing wariness of other dogs. This may just be because, having had time to settle in her new home, her true traits are now coming to the fore; it may also be because with ‘weak’ owners she feels both unprotected and that she has to protect them. She is very submissive as soon as she sees a bigger dog but may grab smaller dogs by the neck and try to dominate them. The incidents are increasing.

Lizzie’s behaviour with other dogs is the only behaviour that actually impacts upon them, but this case is a good example of how nothing can be taken in isolation and is part of a bigger picture. Lizzie needs to be more confident at home, more confident in her owners’ leadership and generally more chilled. In a less stressed and more confident state of mind, along with owners who know how to react appropriately as leaders when other dogs are about, she will then be better equipped to face the big outside world and other dogs with confidence.

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.
 

Puzzling Jack Russell

My gentleman client has had Monty for just six days. Monty is a small and extremely cute Jack Russell. He has previously had two homes that probably had young children and Monty may have felt threatened and shown aggression to protect himself.  He then spent six weeks in Wood Green animal shelter.

Monty puzzled me. He barely moved from his bed. He  didn’t get up when I came in. He didn’t lift his head when either of us moved about or went out of the room. He may be exhausted from the trials of the past few weeks and noise of the kennels. Maybe he is recovering from some sort of trauma. It’s as though he has shut down. When he did get out of his bed it was to do multiple stretches and bows, accompanied by yawning and lifting his paw, calming signals and appeasement. When I tickled him gently with just one finger, he seemed to freeze. He has already bonded closely with his new owner and is very comfortable being touched by him, though he is not interested in any sort of play.

But, yes you can guess, Monty changes personaltiy completely out on walks! He is extremely reactive to other dogs, and taking his owner unawares he yesterday actually bit another small dog which badly shook the gentleman, as did the angry reaction of the other dog’s owner. When Monty sees another dog, even in the distance from the high window, he becomes very agitated. He shakes and salivates. I wonder what has happened in his past life.

Monty’s gentleman is very intuitive and Monty has fallen on his feet. The man is going to refrain from spoiling him or trying to compensate for what has happened in the past, and to behave as a calm, fair and strong leader would. Where other dogs are concerned he will work on building up Monty’s confidence in him, using advance/retreat techniques. A trustworthy leader or dad would not lead his pack or family into danger. Monty perceives other all dogs as a threat at the moment.

It’s certain his owner hasn’t yet seen the true Monty! He will gradually relax and come out of himself as his confidence grows. As he becomes more carefree he may even become playful.

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.