DBPM–"Bite Proof" dogs

Okay, so there are no such things as “Bite Proof” dogs–not even close. All dogs are capable of biting but there are certainly things people can do to help create a dog who is comfortable in a wide range of situations and who is less likely to bite.

Not going to be mentioned in this article are things like reading body language, advocating for your dog, not forcing them to “tolerate” inappropriate experiences that happen frequently (like tolerate daily ear pulling by a child). So let’s ignore for a moment many of the things I’ve already spoken about.

So what are things you can do to help build a bite-proof dog?

1. You cannot spend too much time teaching your puppy/dog that handling is a good thing. Far too many handlers fail to really spend the time needed to acclimate their puppy or their new dog to proper handling. They just expect Fido to accept having his nails clipped, or accept having his collar grabbed, or accept having their ears examined. Take the time to classically condition good feelings about being handled in all sorts of situations.

Think about things that are going to happen in the future and plan for them–being wiped off with a towel, medicine for an ear infection, collar grabs, nail clipping, tails being tugged (gently), being restrained for an exam, maybe even being held on the floor if they get injured, getting a bath, being hugged, etc. Pair all these events (or small approximations of these to get to the end behavior) with yummy treats so it becomes a happy thing to have some of these mildly unpleasant things happen.

A dog who is very comfortable being handled is less likely to get startled and snap during some type of handling and it can prepare a dog if a child (or adult for that matter) starts acting inappropriately by pulling a tail playfully or playing with a dog’s ears).

2. You cannot socialize your pup to too many new environments. When dogs/puppies have been exposed to many many different environments (and the sounds/sights that come along with these places), your dog/puppy will be comfortable when in new environments even if they are a bit concerning. Dogs who feel comfortable or at ease in a given environment are less likely to bite because they are fearful, anxious, or on high alert.

There was once a Petsmart I visited with Shayne that was in the basement of a building. The ceilings were low, there were strange sounds coming from the upstairs neighbors and the building machinery; it was a bit of a scary place for her. She was definitely stressed out the first time we visited–the sounds were sounds she’d heard before but they were somehow more scary… she saw a motorized lifter vehicle thing inside–something she’d seen many times before in different stores–but this one was TERRIFYING. When I got Rio, this store was one of the first we visited. I very intentionally took Rio to hundreds of different places during his socialization just to work on being comfortable in a wide variety of situations–we went to dog friendly book store, dog friendly hardware store, all the local pet stores, out door cafe’s, down to the train station, rode a train (pets are allowed on leash or in carriers on this train), went to a few different beaches, countless different parks, when to the farmers market weekly, went to a HUGE crowded Arts Festival, went to outdoor concerts, watched fireworks from a few miles away (every boom= yum!), road the train to NYC where we took in the sights and sounds of the city, etc. He is comfortable in most any situation I put him in and as a result he’s less likely to bite because he’s fearful or stressed in a given environment.

3. Your puppy/dog should have great experiences with as many different sorts of people as possible. If you want your puppy/dog to be comfortable around a lots of people, you have to give them lots of positive experiences with people. Socializing with lots of people is more than, “I have lots of friends and family who want to play with my dog.” You’ve got to create positive experiences for your dog/puppy with tall people, short people, people with differing skin tons, elderly people, young children, kids in capes, teens with baggy clothes and skateboards, women in work suits wit umbrellas, police officers in uniforms, etc. Lots and lots and lots of different people–different being an important piece to this puzzle.

If you would like your dog to feel comfortable in crowds start having positive experiences with smaller crowds leading up to large crowds–maybe a t-ball practice with 10 parents casually walking around, then maybe a soccer game with 25 parents hanging about, maybe a company picnic with 60/70 people, etc. You’ve got to focus on your dog and making sure you make each one of these experiences positive for the dog. Lots of treats, do some training, give your pup regular breaks if it is really densely populated event, and watch their body language. If they are getting anxious/fearful, get them out of the situation–teach your dog early on that you WILL pay attention to their body language and you will respect it by getting them out of a situation they are uncomfortable with (they don’t need to use their mouths to bite because you will acknowledge lower level “cries for help” so to speak).

4. Take advantage of common sounds to desensitize your pup to noises. Dogs who are fearful of noises may start to panic and in turn are more likely to bite if really scared. Like I mentioned previously, I took Shayne and Rio to a parking lot near our apartment in NY where we could see the fireworks display from the town over (about 4 miles away)–we could still hear a muffled boom .. and every time we heard a boom, the dogs had treats showered down on them as a way to make that scary noise a good thing. Every time we were outside and a train screeched into the station Rio got a reward. When I first got Rio, every thunderstorm I was home for, I’d throw handfuls of kibble on the ground after every thunder. The dogs may get startled by a strange noise but they aren’t fearful or freak out–which is a good thing.

5. Create a confident dog. Dogs who are confident are much less likely to bite because they are generally comfortable and not fearful, anxious, or concerned in different situations. Training, particularly positive reinforcement training, can be used to build a dog who feels confident. They are told over and over again that they are correct, their mistakes aren’t forcefully punished, and they certainly start, I think, to feel like they understand how to get things they want/need and how to exist in our human world. I think that focusing on teaching the dogs what we WANT, we give them a lot of options of what to do when they don’t feel comfortable–they have group of behaviors that have been heavily reinforce that they can use to try and get what they want/need from their handlers–even if that want/need is to just get out of a situation. Confident dogs are also less likely to guard their resources which is a frequent bite scenario. Insecure dogs, on the other hand, can easily overreact, feel the need to use their mouths to get out of a situation or to get what they want, and can easily feel the need to guard their resources. *Confident dog should not be confused with pushy, demanding, or overly controlling dog.

Confident dogs, who have been positively exposed to strange noises, who have had positive experiences in a wide range of situations, who have had plenty of positive experiences with a diverse population of people, and who have had extensive positive experiences with body handling are dogs much less likely to bite. They’ve been prepared to handle many different situations that happen in life. They are not “bite proof” but it goes a long way to raising a dog who is less likely to bite in situations that commonly result in a bite.

  1. Love these tips! We are in the process of moving to a more densely populated location, and I have gone into UBER training mode with Rufus. While he is comfortable in situations, he is weary of strangers, so as long as he can be calm and focus on me, that seems to make a world of difference.

  2. I think you’re on to something here, Tena. I have similar things I’m working on for my dogs and babies book to help people see that it’s not just “do things to your dog to ‘get him used to it'” but it’s also not a matter of holding your breath and hoping for the best. There really are specific, not that hard, things everyone can do to reduce the chance that a dog might bite in a challenging situation. Otherwise, you’re left in an everyone loses situation if you feel like your dog was “justified” in biting b/c of the provocation.

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