Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Six Levels of Dog Bites

Aggression is a natural survival behavior that is required for survival. In dogs, especially when referring to dogs that are acquired for companionship, we attempt to develop a high level of bite inhibition, meaning, control.... It is false to assume that we remove aggression from the animals... we don't. Through training and by enforcing consistent rules and boundaries, and by keeping arousal levels to a point that they are still manageable, we reduce the likely hood of a dog ever having the opportunity to practice aggression.

However, this is not what happens in pet dogs. Unfortunately, irregardless of how many training classes one may have taken with their dogs, not being consistent with enforcing these rules, and allowing such high levels of arousal during a casual greet for example, gives dogs the opportunity to push their limits, and limits of other dogs and people.

I take any dog bite towards a human very seriously. A bite towards a dog, is different in my opinion, and I will explain why.

I believe, dogs must be taught to develop such great control towards human redirection, physical handling and restrain exercises, that they should always refrain from using their teeth on human skin. By the way, I am not talking about a dog defending itself if it is being abused by a human.... in that case, I feel quite differently.

One of the exercises Doglando dog's must adapt to rather quickly, is the grabbing of the collar exercise. Here, when a dog is grabbed by its collar by a member of the staff, the dog must defer. It should not ever choose to use its strength, body, weight or teeth against the staff. Unfortunately, this is a major issue for many dogs.

Needless to mention, we are bit over and over again, not by the same dog, but with every new dog coming in as he/she learns how to be a good dog.

It is astounding to hear a pet owner define the severity of a bite based on what they see. I guess, one does not take a bite seriously, even if it resulted in open wounds, gashes, or stitches, unless the bite resulted in major trauma. I have been on a receiving end of a dog bite many times. Most often, because I reached in to grab a dogs collar (a familiar dog's collar). Here is the first statement we ofter hear:
"let me see what he/she did" or "Let me see the bite." Based on their opinion of how bad the bite appears to be (an in many cases they are seeing it hours after the incident, so healing and scarring has already begun), most will brush off the idea that their dog displayed aggression.

So today, I thought I would help you understand the seriousness of any dog bite... and what exactly is considered a bite, as per Dr. Ian Dunbar's Bit Assessment Criteria:

1. The bits does not break the skin. Air biting and snapping in the air is considered a level one bite. The intent is there.

2. The bite makes contact with the skin. A level two bite will leave bruising but no abrasion is visible.

3. The bits leaves on one, two or three punctures. Punctures of a level three bite are less than 1/2 the length of the fang in size, and some tearing could occur.

4. Likely to require medical attention, these bites are classified as 1 - 4 punctures, with or without tearing and more than 1/2 the depth of the fang tooth.

5. Multiple level four bites and usually beyond the ability to reason. A strong defense behavior, this dog strongly feels it's life is being threatened. This is a concentrated, repeated attack.

6. A level 6 bite results in death.

Most often a dog bite does not result in death, when referring to a bite towards an adult human...but could be a likely result if towards a child. In this case, when a bite is towards an adult human, it is even more important to understand the dog's intent beyond the damage caused.

Tomorrow we will talk about why dogs may bite, but for now let's remain focused on the intent of a dog when it bites.

In simple terms, the intent refers to a dogs intentions, what does the dog mean by the bite, what state of mind is the dog in, does the dog have the intention to harm, cause danger, kill, damage, tear, rip or is it non intentional. You maybe thinking at this point, how is a dog bite non intentional. It can be... our staff has been bitten by a dog many a times, while they tug a toy, or just as they went to throw a ball, the dog jumped up in an attempt to catch it before it released the hand. The dogs did not have any intention to bite, but they had every intention of getting to the toy, thus making their jaw a very powerful thing. In this regards, we always teach the dogs to remain at a safe distance from us and a good release to let the dog know when we are ready for them to get the toy.

At Doglando, when we measure the intensity of a bite, we don't measure it using the scale above. We measure it based on the intent which is based on the dog's body language, resistance, fight, stare, breathing pattern, time frame it takes the dog to deescalate and calm down or get to the point it is verbally re-direcatable and physically controllable.

For example, lets say I grab a dog by its collar, and it flips out by shaking its head trying to back out of the collar, then lunges at me, makes contact on me using its front legs, wraps its front legs around my hand, attempts to manipulate its head to get to any of my body , vocalization and any other physically intensity, all this would be taken into consideration on what the dog's intent is. We don't wait for the bite to realize the dog was serious or threatening or challenging us. Once we are able to get the dog, we continue measuring how long it takes for the dog to be redirected and at what point the dog becomes accepting for us of holding its collar.

It does not end there. In many cases we have the bite to judge from, and a dog with very poor bite inhibition may tear skin, not necessarily because it was aggressive...... Puppies. They have no awareness of just how sharp their teeth are.... that does not mean the dog is aggressive.... but if this puppy does not learn how to refrain from making teeth contact on human skin, then it will become a bigger issue later on.

So going back to the intent of a dog's bite... that is the most important part of the evaluation, then the damage of the bite. When the intent is understood, their is better understanding on what kind of a dog you have... and with that you can be a more responsible pet owner, knowing and understanding your dog's limitations, triggers, and responses to situations that may lead them to be aggressive. Knowing this, you will be able to teach your dog to become more tolerant one small step at a time.

Keeping the dog at a threshold whereby not allowing the dog to be aroused to a level it can not be deescalated during this phase is imperative. If you work through this, you will be successful in teaching your dog not to ever use its strength, body, weight and teeth against a human.

Those four things are the most important lessons a canine companion should learn.... it translates into RESPECT.

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