My Very First Dog Bite
Being a professional Canine Behavior Consultant comes with risks. Especially when we work with extreme cases such as dogs that have fear, anxiety, aggression, resource guarding, etc. Knowing that we have been very careful for the last 20 years to pay close attention to a dog’s body language and vocalizations to determine the likely emotional state of the dog, and proceed accordingly and cautiously. It is for those reasons that we have never been bitten by any dog (except Wayne, who was bitten in the face at 2-years old, but that does not count in this exposition). That all changed recently at a dog event.
At the event, there was a very stressed little dog in a kennel, vocalizing. The sounds the dog was making were very upsetting to me so I tried to comfort this small pup so he might relax. However, he was too stressed and afraid to accept any comfort from a stranger. At that precise moment, I was in “Help the poor, stressed dog” mode and not my usual “Behavior Consultant” mode as I was not working with a client, so my guard was down. In attempting to comfort the stressed dog, I opened the kennel and the dog darted out, biting my hand as he went. Though mostly superficial, it was still a bite that left some minor puncture marks. This was my first dog bite, EVER! I was so mad at myself for letting this happen. It was completely my fault. The reason I have been able to avoid getting bit all these years, I believe, is because early on, I learned how to read dog body language. If you “read” dogs, they will tell you everything you need to know. Teaching pet parents to read their dogs is one of the things we strive to do. In hindsight, I saw the warnings, but I was so focused on relieving the dog’s stress that I failed to take the appropriate precautions. I now have a small scab on my hand to remind me to always be more careful, even with small scared dogs as scared dogs of any size are unpredictable and every dog is capable of biting.
If I had to do it again, I would still do everything I could to help that stressed little dog, but I would do so while paying closer attention to his body language and proceed more cautiously the next time. If you are interested in learning more about canine body language this 5-minute video is a good introduction.