Bite History and Potential for Future Aggression
What does a bite history mean? When you hear or read that a dog has a "bite history," it generally means the animal has bitten a human or another animal and broken skin.
Bites, as with anything, can range in severity, and there are many ways of "grading" the seriousness of a bite, but one of the most common is Ian Dunbar's Dog Bite Scale.
Level 1: No skin contact by teeth – can be exuberant obnoxious behavior or aggression.
Level 2: Skin contact made but no punctures. There may be minor lacerations.
Level 3: One-four shallow punctures from a single bite and potentially minor lacerations from pulling the biting dog or victim body part away.
Level 4: One-four deep punctures from a single bite and lacerations or bruising from the dog holding on or shaking.
Level 5: Multiple bite incidents with more than Level 4 bites.
Level 6: Victim death.
It is worth noting that most reported bites range between levels 1 – 3.
Working with dogs at Level 1 and 2 bites can yield excellent results, and the prognosis for these cases is remarkable. Owners or trainers can undoubtedly work with dogs that have bitten to Level 3, but it is essential to be fully compliant and use extreme caution.
Level 4 bites are where the prognosis becomes poor as these dogs lack bite inhibition. They require extensive and careful work with an experienced professional.
Level 5 bites are often hazardous to humans and other animals. Dogs whose bites inflict this level of damage cannot safely be around people. Long-term animal welfare is often dubious. Unless they are homed in a sanctuary purposed explicitly for the canine's emotional challenges, quality of life is inferior.
Not All Bites Are the Same
Some of the other main points animal welfare professionals focus on in the event of a bite are
Bite location on the body
Did the dog bite/release or held/shook
What is the relationship with the person or animal bitten, and the situation in which the bite took place?
The dog may have given warning signals before biting (e.g., freeze, growl, snap, etc.).
Often, bites are due to over-arousal when at play or when excited, and in these cases, the most important thing to remember is that you should discourage any form of teeth-to-skin contact. Regardless of a dog's age or state of arousal, professional trainers recommend disengaging immediately and walking away.
Managing A Bite Threshold
Though all dogs can bite, those with a bite history offer insight into their reactive threshold.
Fifty-one percent of dog bite victims are children
~ The Humane Society
Children are the most common victims of dog bites and are more likely to be severely injured. Most dog bites affecting young children occur during everyday activities and while interacting with familiar dogs. The American Veterinary Medical Association states that the rate of dog bites for children is highest between ages five - nine.
Safety For All
Responsible pet owners focus on protecting their dogs and protecting those around them. As a short-term preventative, this may mean muzzling the dog when you leave the house or avoiding certain places, people, or situations that have caused your dog to be uncomfortable in the past. However, the ultimate goal is to help the dog feel more comfortable and less reactive. Living and loving an emotionally challenged adult or senior canine often requires professional assistance. Why? Because the coping skills have become ingrained. Think of it as 'practice makes perfect.'
Doping Dogs Is A Band-Aid
Imagine your child struggles with bouts of anger outbursts and may even bite. A good-intentioned pediatrician may suggest administering a mild tranquilizer. Problem solved, right? If it is situational such as grooming or a vet visit, taking the 'edge off' may help canine reactive stress levels. However, we question the quality of life if a dog must be tranquilized to live harmoniously in the home environment.
Suppose your dog displays any biting behavior outside the realm of attention-seeking or play-related behavior. In that case, you may want to consider seeking the help of a professional trainer. Aggressive, fearful, or idiopathic (spontaneous) biting requires training protocols based on your dog's specific needs
Professional Resources for Dog Aggression
Since aggression in dogs almost always escalates over time, early-stage intervention is the best time to address the issue. Further, using ill-advised techniques, such as punishment for aggressive behaviors, often worsens in the long term.
Training an aggressive dog can be difficult and also dangerous. In many cases, a qualified professional is needed. If you feel like you need help, your veterinarian will be able to provide recommendations for the following types of specialists:
Living And Loving A Dog With Aggression Tendencies
Maintaining public and personal safety is paramount to being a responsible pet parent. Awareness and willingness to champion an emotionally challenged dog are some of the most gratifying experiences you will encounter. Expanding their world with coping skills frees the dog to live a quality of life up until now not afforded to them.
Our 'I Warned You' Residents
LGCR works from the premise that all dogs will bite humans if they feel threatened or are injured. Therefore, it is paramount to the safety of staff, volunteers, and other residents that engagement protocols be strictly followed while simultaneously respecting a resident's free agency.
We have discovered that promoting 'free agency' (the feeling of being in control or at best having a 'choice') goes a long way toward de-escalating aggression toward other humans and residents.
All residents depicted in this article have either had a previous 'bite incident' or while at the ranch, demonstrated their unease and displeasure with specific human behaviors perceived as 'threats' and resulting in teeth-baring, air snapping, and of course, biting.
Well in advance of ranch arrival, every resident begins with an 'assumption' emotional profile based on oral and written documentation. Over time, assumptions are updated with factual observations (often the complete opposite of previous parent or shelter statements) that lend to constructing a low-stress trigger environment and opportunities to equip residents with an alternative behavior.
"It's our responsibility and promise to residents that we serve as exceptional stewards of their wellness; mentally, phsically and spiritually." ~Rhonda Minardi, LGCR Founder
Our Golden Grumps
By the nature of our resident's age, achieving the 'Golden Years' is a milestone worth celebrating. We believe that every canine deserves respect and dignity.
Through our daily work of recognizing and managing aggression-response triggers, our goal is to promote emotional wellness. Beyond medical caregiving, Living Grace Canine Ranch honors senior dogs' emotional uniqueness because this is Where Love Resides.
Suggested Further Reading: Seven Major Types of Dog Aggression