Living With a Dog Who Has a Bite History
Lisa Bartel, CPDT-KA, DN-CET
Lisa Bartel Dog Training
Living with a dog with a bite history can be upsetting and scary. I remember when my dog bit for the first time. A male teenager was walking through my backyard without permission and my mom had Jasper on leash. The teen asked if Jasper was friendly as Jasper was barking and lunging and snapping at him. Since Jasper was familiar with my mom and she doesn’t have a lot of experience with dogs she told the teen Jasper was friendly even though his body language was screaming “NO” very clearly. The teen reached over Jasper’s head and Jasper clamped down on his hand. The teen screamed, got his hand free, and ran home and his parents came to our house and wanted all our information and rabies vaccine and reported it to the police. Although fully vaccinated against rabies, per Pennsylvania's state regulations regarding dog bites and rabies prevention, Jasper was on bite quarantine for 10 days where he was sequestered to only our home and yard for potty trips. (For more about rabies facts, regulation, and prevention
After the bite, we called the rescue we adopted Jasper from and said we couldn’t handle the stress of having an unpredictable dog. He was our first ever dog and the bite incident left us feeling unsettled and feeling that we lacked the experience or knowledge to keep him. There was no information on his intake form from the rescue about concerning behavior and we were ignorant, as new dog owners, about abnormal dog behavior and behavior modification options. The rescue said they will not rehome a dog with a bite history for safety reasons (which I now completely understand) and that we can drive him back to them in Buffalo, NY to be euthanized or we can euthanize him at our vet’s office.
We cried and agonized about the decision and even made an appointment for him to be euthanized. However, we took a breath and stopped and thought about it more. IT WAS NOT JASPER’S FAULT...he was afraid and did what he learned to do was effective. We canceled the vet appointment. We called a positive reinforcement trainer and signed up for 16 weeks of training classes. We installed a fence. We educated ourselves. We changed our lives (which isn't an easy thing to do).
Jasper always had to be managed and watched and we always had to make sure he was not in a situation where he felt the need to bite because the severity of his bites. On the attached Canine Bite Levels chart by Sophia Yin, Jasper was a level 4 biter but fits the level 5 description. His bites occurred in the first few months after we adopted him besides some fights with our second dog we adopted.
We altered our lives to make it safe for Jasper. His environment was closely managed, he was muzzle trained, and never off leash. He did pull me down and drag me halfway across a street reacting to a dog, but I never dropped that leash.
We also worked very hard with Jasper through a behavior modification program and he learned the world wasn't as scary and he did not to react as quickly or as intensely as he used to. He learned to use his bark before his bite.
He was a loving member of our family.