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Dog Aggression and Biting
by Tracy Atkins
Complete Canine Training, LLC
P.O. Box 151652
The Woodlands, TX 77393
281-825-6404 www.YESPUP.com

Why are dogs aggressive?
Dogs are predators. Aggression is a survival skill required by all canines. The difference is dogs who can justify aggression and those who misjudge it.

What counts as a "bite"?
The courts have held that a dictionary definition of a "bite" shall be used. A typical definition of "bite" is "to seize with the teeth so that they enter, grip or wound."2

To quantify the degree of severity, Dr. Ian Dunbar, has created a the following chart/guide on bite "levels". Each of the six levels are bites and all, even number one, are an indication you and your dog need qualified, professional help - quickly.

Dr. Ian Dunbar's Six Levels (degrees) of Bites:
Level 1: This bite does not touch the skin. The dog is air biting or snapping.
Level 2: This bite makes contact with the skin, but doesn't break the skin. Pain and bruising may result, but no abrasions will be visible.
Level 3: This bite ranges from a one to three punctures in a single bite with on puncture less than ½ the depth of the eye-tooth (fang) with or without some tearing.
Level 4: The dog is putting great pressure into the bite. 1 to 4 puncture wounds with or without tearing, more than ½ the depth of the eye tooth. This is usually accompanied with bruising and likely to require medical attention. These injuries suggest the dog grabbed and shook what was in it's mouth.
Level 5: Multiple level 4 bites. This dog is usually beyond the ability to reason and may feel his/her life is threatened.
Level 6: The dog has killed.

Why do dogs bite?
Dogs bite for many reasons. Over the past two decades it has become "trendy" amongst dog trainers and behaviorists to attempt to resolve and eliminate dog aggression. However, scientific data on a cure still eludes the profession. Too many variables exist and too many trainers are not well versed canine ethology to remedy the problems which develop.

Do all dogs bite?
All dogs react differently to stimulus (very exciting or scary situations). The four most common stress responses in dogs are: fight, flight, freeze and fool around (if you've ever owned a Golden Retriever, you've experienced fooling around!) Typically most dogs will simply leave when the stress gets to be too much.

This may be why some dog's appear obstinate. Imagine telling your off leash dog to lay down while he's at the dog park in the mist of many bold dogs at play. This may seem very threatening to him and he may disobey you not to be "bad" but rather to avoid use his "flight" instinct to avoid confrontation with the other dogs. If he doesn't lay down and you attempt to physically force him, he will be forced to make another decision of how to deal with his stress because you didn't let him "flee" (flight) instinct. Instead, he may move into "fight" mode and defend himself by snapping at you as you force him to lay.

Biting can also result when the dog is highly aroused/excited when chasing people along a fence line or from a tie out/chain. When the dog is restrained his natural "prey drive" or instinct to chase can occur. Problems can result when the dog is restricted from chasing. This is called "barrier frustration" and it can (and does) occur commonly though most dogs don't bite. Bites usually occur when the dog's owner/handler attempts to physically control the dog. The dog is so aroused, he indiscriminately bites the person. This is called "displacement aggression" and is quite common.

Which breeds are most likely to bite?
According to the CDC, Rottweilers and Pit Bulls were involved in 60% of the 27 dog bite fatalities that occurred in 1997 and 1998. Rottweilers were involved in ten deaths, and Pit Bulls were involved in six.5 This certainly doesn't mean other dogs produce fatal bites, but it is a reminder to be aware that most large powerful breeds can cause more severe injuries than small dogs. Keep in mind that it is mixed breeds and not pure bred dogs are the type of dog most often involved in inflicting bites to people. The pure-bred dogs most often involved in bites are German shepherds and Chow chows. 6

In a study reported by a retired professor from California State University at Chino, Robert Plum, it was found that one dog in 55 will bite someone seriously during the course of a year. With respect to breed differences in the tendency to inflict serious injury, Plumb estimates that when a pit bull bites a human, one in 16 (e.g. 1/16) will inflict serious injury; this contrasts with a ratio of 1/296 Dobermans, and 1/156 German shepherds. Certainly more studies and research is needed.

Warning signs of aggression and biting may be possible:
Any health change or long term health problem (especially dysplasia)
Anxious or hyper behavior (fear of new or certain people or places)
Biting or a history of biting (past behavior is a predictor or future behavior) Growling (growls are warnings take them as such)
Guarding (things or people)
New behavioral changes (suddenly obstinance)
Obsessive fence/kennel running/chasing
Severe separation issues
Uncontrollable lunging at people or dogs while on leash
Is my dog likely to bite?

The list of breeds most involved in both bite injuries and fatalities changes from year to year and from one area of the country to another, depending on the popularity of the breed. However, if your dog is obedience trained, maintains a social life (regularly gets out of the house & yard), is neutered or spayed, healthy and is female, your dog is less statistically likely to bite. BUT, that doesn't mean he won't. After all, anything with teeth can bite!

I'm thinking of keeping my biting dog. What should I know?
According to the Insurance Information Institute, dog bites accounted for about one-quarter of all claims on homeowner's insurance, costing more than $321 million in 2003. In 2002, the latest year for which numbers are available, the average claim for a dog bite was $16,600. You should consult your insurance company for any restrictions they may have against future claims.

1. American Pet Products Manufacturers Association (APPMA) 2003-2004 National Pet Owners Survey cited by the HSUS.
2. Webster's Third New International Dictionary (1993) at p. 222.
3. CDC MMWR Weekly 6/4/03 Nonfatal Dog Bite--Related Injuries Treated in Hospital Emergency Departments --- United States, 2001
4. Beck AM, Jones BA. Unreported dog bites in children. Public Health Rep 1985;100:315--21.
5. CDC; Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Dog-Bite-related Fatalities - United States, 1995-1996 (MMWR, Vol. 46/No. 21, May 30, 1997).

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