“My Dog Would Never Bite”
“My Dog Would Never Bite”
“My dog would never bite” is always a favorite phrase for most trainers, veterinarians, and veterinary technicians. There really is no such thing as never. Is there a very low probability that your dog would bite under their normal routine circumstances? That’s very likely true. The problem is, when most dogs do bite, it is not during their normal routine. For example, your dog likely would not bite you for touching their feet. However, a groomer or vet tech taking nail clippers to their feet is a whole different story for many pets.
Every dog has thresholds, or points at which they are unable to control their behavior. A bite threshold is how far a dog can be pushed or stimulated before biting. Obviously, every dog is different, but in general puppies use their mouths more than stable adults and therefore have lower bite thresholds. Owners with leash reactive dogs know exactly what I am talking about. There is a point at which their dog loses control on the leash and almost every owner who has had to deal with this can see when their dog is about to trigger or has hit their threshold. Overtime, with a lot of training, we can work to move a dog’s threshold for reactivity back. So instead of triggering 50 yards from another dog, we can work them down to 1 yard or even less in some cases, which is much more reasonable.
When it comes to bite thresholds, some dogs will never reach their limit in their lifetime and will not bite. This does not mean the dog would never bite, it just means they have not been put in a situation that pushes them over the edge and causes a bite. There are factors that can affect your dog’s threshold, namely pain. Any dog in pain is a higher bite-risk. Even your super sweet, old retriever who shares his bone happily with your toddler and gets practically sucker punched in the face by screaming children regularly. Yes, he, too, can bite.
Why is this so important to understand? Well, I often have puppy owners tell me that the one thing they are really scared about is that they never want their dog to bite people. I totally agree; I also never want your puppy, or any dog, to bite people. Unfortunately, I cannot give them the magic answer and promise that their dog will never bite. What we do know is that, like everything else, a dog’s bite threshold is determined by a combination of genetic predisposition and environmental factors. You often cannot control your pup’s genetics, however, we do know that early training and socialization can help a puppy develop bite inhibition (which is essentially a high bite threshold and solid understanding of mouth pressure).
However, even puppies who socialize and train right away and whose owners do all the right things, may bite someday. Hopefully their thresholds are high and they never get pushed to that point, but ask anyone who trims nails or grooms professionally and you will hear many more bite and attempted bite stories that you’d expect – even from the best dogs.
One important lesson I learned from working in zoos: every animal with a mouth can bite. People would see us feeding various animals or cleaning exhibits and constantly ask, “Aren’t you afraid they will bite you?” or “Do they ever bite you?” The answer was always, “They can bite; they are not pets.” Although truthfully, even pets bite.
The biggest issue with dogs is that we do not afford them the same respect that we do other animals. We expect that they will never bite. We say things like, “My dog would never bite.” It is not really fair, but we hold dogs to a much higher standard than is reasonably fair. We would never say the same about other species. We even expect domestic cats to bite more often than dogs. Really, it is more surprising that dogs don’t bite more often. People expect their dogs to put up with a lot, being physically handled all over without asking permission, having food and toys given and taken regularly, having new people approach and potentially reach out, etc. Dogs are amazingly resilient in that they don’t generally bite even with plenty of provocation.
So what can you do? Learn to read and respect your dog. Teach your dog to enjoy all the things a new person, groomer, or vet might do or require. Knowing your dog’s bite threshold, and that they have one to start with, is a good starting point. Keeping your dog under threshold should be your all-time goal. Every dog can bite. It’s up to you to keep your dog safe and people safe from your dog.
Head Trainer- Perfect Pooch
BA, CPDT-KA, AKC CGC Evaluator