Good Dogs Bite Too: Training Can Help

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A dog pet health insurance growls and shows his teeth.

This year, the first Dog Bite Investigation, Treatment, and Prevention Conference was held in Atlanta, Georgia. I attend a lot of training and animal behavior seminars, but this one was different. The attendees were made up of various professionals, all with a common interest of decreasing the number of dog bites. Lawyers, doctors, veterinarians, animal control officers and teachers, law enforcement officers and forensic investigators were present as well as dog trainers and behavior consultants.

The goal of this conference was to spread the word about the growing problem of dog bites, team up with other professionals to help decrease the number of bites, and educate people about why bites happen in an attempt to reduce the number of incidents.

The numbers are astounding. More than 4.7 million reported dog bites occur each year. 800,000 require medical attention. Fatalities are increasing each year. As of August 12, there have been 16 fatal dog bites in the United States, 12 of which were small children. The sad part is that these numbers are increasing, and the truth is, that any dog can bite.

In many cities and states, law makers have put breed specific legislation or BSL, into place in an attempt to reduce the number of dog bites. BSL has done little if anything to reduce the number of dog bites and fatalities. As an example, Pit Bulls have been outlawed in the UK, yet the number of dog bites have increased more than 150%, since the breed has been outlawed.

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Georgia recently passed a dangerous dog law, which makes the owner accountable for the behavior of the dog. This does away with BSL. As one law maker stated, “Not all bad dogs are Pit Bulls and Not all Pit Bulls are bad.” This statement cannot be more true. As a dog trainer I work with many breeds of dogs, including those considered “dangerous breeds.” But in my experience, I have never found a certain dog breeds to be more dangerous than others.

There are many things that determine whether a dog may be aggressive. Genetics, aversive training methods, lack of training, abuse and medical issues all come into play. In my profession, I am well aware of the fallout of aversive training methods, so I did not find this to be a surprise. Let me expand on this a bit. When you train a dog using outdated force based training methods, the dog often becomes frightened, defensive, insecure, worried and frustrated. They feel that they have no option but to defend themselves and bite. There is absolutely no reason to ever train a dog using force and punishment. Methods that cause pain to the dog by using training tools such as choke chains, pinch collars and electric collars can also increase anxiety and fear which may lead to aggression.

Another concern is the lack of training. All dogs need training. I do not mean the stringent militaristic training that we often see from some trainers, but rather training to create good manners in dogs. This kind of training gives the dog direction and lets him know what is expected. A good trainer will not force or control a dog, but rather teach the dog what they would like him to do. This creates a partnership between the dog and the owner.

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