Generally, before biting, dogs will give warning signals, such as growling, barking, and snarling. Now, if these warnings are ignored, because the human is not paying attention or chooses not to, or in some cases such as with children, unable to understand the warnings, they may lead to a bite or even an attack. These signals begin with subtle behaviors such yawning, blinking, lip licking and escalate to biting.
However, these signals are not in and of themselves aggression–if the dog wanted to bite, he’d just go ahead and bite. Because the dog is looking to avoid a fight, they give these warning signals in the hopes you will give them more space.
If dogs had words, you might hear this:
please leave me alone……….. Please Leave Me Alone……………. Leave Me Alone!…….. I SAID LEAVE ME ALONE!….. GO AWAY, I MEAN IT!!……… BITE!!!
Not all dogs, will give a warning, however. Especially if they have been punished for things like growling. So never punish your dog for growling. Thank him for the warning and step away.
Once your dog has bitten, things get ugly, fast. There the monetary costs of the bite–medical attention, potential disfigurement and/or disability, animal control involvement and quarantines, and getting sued. You might even lose your home owners insurance–if that happens, you probably will not be able to get insurance at all as long as you own the dog.
Then there are emotional costs: If it was a relative, friend or neighbor that was bitten, now they “hate” you. Even if the bite is relatively minor, the bonds of trust between dog and owner may be irreparably broken, and re-homing a dog that has bitten is difficult at best (who really wants a dog that bites?) Don’t forget the cost to the dog, either. He could lose his home, be taken to a shelter where he will undoubtedly be euthanized, or Animal Control might declare him vicious, or simply confiscate and euthanize him without your consent.
So please, please forget the whole dominance, “I am the Alpha, you will not growl at me” mindset. A television trainer talks about being a “calm, assertive leader. Good leaders inspire and motivate their team, not bully and dominate them. Listen to the dog’s warning signs and walk away, if possible. There are easier, safer ways to get your dog’s respect and obedience. Family Dog Training can show you how.
Aggression is a serious problem, and won’t get better on its own. In fact, the passage of time makes finding solutions difficult. Seek professional help at the first signs of irritability in your dog. Although not all dogs can be taught to love other dogs or people, Family Dog Training can teach them to be polite. With good training and proper management, the dog and its humans can live safely and peaceably.