Why Good Dogs Bite — Part II: You Just Got in the Way

“But I Don’t Wanna Have... a Bath… a Nail Trim… Ear Drops…”

Some dogs may exhibit aggressive behavior to prevent owners from performing certain grooming procedures or administering medication. Sometimes this is because the procedures can be painful if the owners are not careful, such as when brushing out knotted fur or burrs, cutting a toenail too short, or placing ear or eye drops in an infected area. Other times, owners may need to restrain the pet securely, and the pet may not like being held tightly. Unfortunately, our dogs do not understand that we are trying to help them and in their minds may perceive us as being forceful, threatening and at times even inflicting pain. That’s why it is so important to take the time to go slow and observe your dog’s body language. Pairing treats with certain procedures may help. For example, whenever I need to clip my dog’s toenails, I whip out my mixing spoon filled with peanut butter. As my husband offers my dog the wonderful treat, I quickly clip the tips of his nails. I might get through several nails, one paw or all four paws. It all depends on how my dog is doing that day. If he appears fearful or stressed, I stop, allow him to enjoy the rest of his treat, and we end on a positive note. I want him to always look forward to the next time the peanut butter spoon comes out instead of hightailing it out of the room!

At the Vet’s Office…

At the veterinary hospital, some dogs become really anxious and are fearful. For this reason, I do not allow owners to restrain their dogs for examinations, especially if there is a chance the dog may bite. First of all, I do not want the dog to associate the potentially “scary” situation with the owner. I would rather preserve the trusting relationship with the owner — the dog should always associate the owner with wonderful things! Secondly, owners are not trained to appropriately hold dogs in a comfortable and secure manner. Also, depending on the dog, some are calmer when the owners are present in the room, but some are not. Please discuss with your veterinarian which method is most appropriate for your pet.

As you can see, various factors can contribute to a situation in which your dog can exhibit aggressive behavior. Please pay attention to your dog’s body language. If your dog gives you warning prior to a bite, such as growling, lip-licking, avoiding eye contact, snarling, ears averted to the side or pulled all the way back, tail tucked or is moving away, give your dog space. Many of the situations that provoke aggressive behavior can be avoided or managed to help reduce the risk of bites.

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