We’ve talked extensively about how to read your dog’s body language to prevent bites, how to advocate for your dog to prevent bites, and how to prepare your dog for life events to prevent dog bites but what if you already have a dog who bites? I want to talk about management techniques for living with dogs who are either already biters or who are on the verge of becoming dogs who bite.
It seems obvious but, don’t push your dog’s buttons. If you have a dog who has very specific triggers, don’t mess with them around those triggers. You do not want your dog rehearsing aggressive behavior–remember practice makes perfect. This isn’t to say shouldn’t be working on the problems but if you have a dog who will bite if you touch their tail, you shouldn’t go around touching his tail just for kicks or to solicit the behavior so you can “punish” it. If you know your dog is fearful of children, taking him to a playground to “get over it” is not a safe decision.
Do not be afraid or embarrassed to muzzle your dog. If you live in a city and your dog frequently gets overwhelmed by the traffic, the noise, and all the people, use a muzzle for safety. Having a muzzle on your dog will keep the public safe while also keeping your dog safe from any quarantine or a dangerous dog designation.
Not all muzzles are created equally and you have to make sure you have the right type of muzzle and that it is fitted correctly for them to be effective. The most commonly available type of muzzle is the nylon groomer muzzle–these are fabric muzzles that keep the jaws closed tightly. They are NOT appropriate for extended use–because they do not allow a dog to pant or drink, a dog can easily overheat while wearing one. If you just need to muzzle for nail clipping or grooming or vet visits, a nylon groomer muzzle would probably suffice but if you need a muzzle for use while out on walks or when people come to your home, you should invest in a basket style muzzle. Basket muzzles, when fit appropriately are extremely secure, allow the dog to pant, drink, and take treats easily. If you have a dog with a serious bite history who is a bit of an escape artist, I would highly highly suggest a basket muzzle with back-up safety buckles/loops that will prevent the muzzle from being slipped off. I recently purchased a Baskerville Ultra Muzzle for Shayne and Rio just to have them comfortable wearing just in case we ever need it. I really like this muzzle… easy to fit, lots of safety hooks/clasps to prevent it being ripped off, durable construction, large enough openings to feed treats through, dogs can easily drink, it is light weight, and seems comfortable for them (more on this muzzle coming in the near future).
If you have a dog who has issues with strangers coming into your home, do not trust their safety to a wooden or plastic pressure mounted baby gate. I can’t even count the number of times those baby gates have been jumped over, climbed over, pushed over, or thoroughly destroyed by determined dogs. If that determined dog is aggressive, it does not bode well for your visitors. Unfortunately there are not a lot of options in terms of indoor gates. Your best bet is a solid door between your dog and your guests. If your dog is a Houdini or particularly persistent, I’d suggest having a lock or a latch on the door so it can be further secured. You want to keep your guests safe and baby gates are simply not sturdy enough or secure enough for many very intent dogs.
If your dog cannot be trusted in a room, you may want to use a secure crate as an option. There are some dogs out there who cannot be contained by the typical wire crate or the typical airline style crate. Maybe they chew holes in the sides… maybe they bend bars, maybe they destroy latches, or maybe they learned HOW to open the latch. Well, sure enough there is a crate made for dogs who have been known to bust out of other crates…the Pro-Select Empire Indestructible Crate. I’ve seen two of these in person and they are INTENSE! I couldn’t begin to imagine a dog escaping from one of these crates. If you really need a secure place for Fido, this is an excellent option (expensive and not a huge range in sizes, but definitely worth it).
Another safety precaution you may take is deciding to use a head-halter as a walking tool. Head halters are not tools that I suggest very frequently but it can be really helpful in keeping people safe if you can very closely control the head and mouth of a dog who may be triggered to bite or give warning snaps. Of the head halters that connect below jaw, I’ve had the best luck with The Comfort Trainer fitting dogs well and not getting into the dog’s eyes. Typically if someone wants a head-halter, I’ll suggest a rear-attaching head-halter (one that clips at the back of the neck, more like how a bridle on a horse works) but with dogs who have behavior issues, handlers need the control of the mouth you get from The Comfort Trainer style head halters.
When you have a dog who has bitten or may be heading down that path, it is your responsibility to do reasonable things in order to keep people who encounter your dog safe. Using management tools like muzzles, shut doors, and industrial strength crates are all important pieces to preventing dog bites. It is much better to prevent dog bites than to stand idly by and deal with the legal system if your dog ultimately hurts someone (remember, depending on your local laws and ordinances, your dog could pay the ultimate price for hurting someone). Be proactive! Protect your pup and protect your neighbors/friends/family! Use sound management techniques and good decision making!