It’s probably in every dog lover’s top five nightmare scenarios — your dog is attacked and bitten by another dog, possibly seriously enough to require veterinary care. It can be traumatic for everyone involved, human and dog. So what’s the best way to deal with the situation, when it happens and afterwards?
If it hasn’t happened to you yet, the first thing to remember if it does is to stay calm and quiet. Yelling or otherwise panicking will just make it worse because it will fuel the aggression between the dogs. But do try to get the biting dog off of the other dog as quickly as possible.
Also resist the temptation to immediately show your dog affection after being bitten. Your dog needs you to be a calm, assertive leader in that moment, probably more than any other. By staying quiet during the incident and calm afterwards, you can avoid reinforcing any traumatic associations your dog might make with the bite.
Remember: dogs live in the moment, so once the bite is over it should be over, unless you hang on to the past and relive the trauma, which your dog will sense.
But what happens if your dog has been in a fight and been injured or bitten, and then starts to show fear or aggression toward other dogs all the time? Here are some steps to take.
Check your own energy first
When your dog displays fear or aggression toward another dog, what’s your state of mind? Are you reliving the bite and afraid that your dog will be bitten again? If this is the case, then you’re the one reminding your dog, “Something bad happened, and it might happen again right now.”
Look at your energy and body language. Are you tense? Nervous? Moving stiffly or trembling? Breathing unevenly? If you’re on the walk, all of these signals will go right down the leash and alert your dog, and she will react accordingly.
If it seems that your dog is becoming fearful or aggressive because of your energy, then learn to achieve a calm, assertive state first, then see if this changes your dog’s behavior. If it does, then congratulations — you’ve helped your dog get over negative associations with having been bitten. But what do you do if your dog’s behavior doesn’t change?
Check your dog’s behavior
The next step in rehabilitation depends on how your dog is reacting to other dogs. She may be timid or nervous and try to avoid other dogs; she may be fearful but show aggression toward other dogs, or she may show aggression and no fear.
- If your dog is timid and showing avoidance…
If your dog tries to avoid other dogs, or starts showing signs of fear like shaking or going low to the ground, then the best route to rehabilitation is socialization with other dogs. Expose your dog to other dogs in controlled settings, like with friends’ or neighbor’s dogs, or take her (on-leash) to the small/timid dog area of the dog park, if available.
Don’t try to force him to socialize with other dogs, but don’t let him try to hide behind you, either. The goal here is to get him used to being around other dogs without feeling the need to panic or run.
You can also help a fearful dog by boosting her self-esteem with things like running obstacle courses, giving her a job to do, or teaching her new tricks. By taking your dog to a group training class in obedience, agility, socialization, or Treibball, you can combine self-esteem building with socialization.
- If your dog is fearful but showing aggression…
Fear aggression can be difficult to deal with, but not impossible. You can tell the difference between it and non-fearful aggression by watching your dog’s body language before it lunges. If the dog seems submissive and in retreat but then abruptly lashes out, then the source of his aggression is fear, especially if he seems to give a warning nip and then back away.
In these cases, your dog needs you to be a calm, assertive, and confident Pack Leader more than any other, fulfilling the primary function of providing protection and direction. You can also use socialization, although initially in a much more controlled manner. Dogs with fearful aggression can respond well to pack walks because their instinct to move forward with the pack will help override their fear.
- If your dog has become aggressive…
Dogs become aggressive when they’re frustrated, and they become frustrated if you don’t provide them with clear rules, boundaries, and limitations.
You can help to reduce their aggressive tendencies on the walk by making it a ritual through which the dog earns the right to go outside. Before you put the leash on, she has to sit calmly; she can’t go out the open door until you’ve gone out and then invited her; and she has to stay next to or just behind you.
You can also help limit aggression by knowing when and how to correct it — with a short sideways tug of the leash at just the moment the dog starts to show any sign of it. This can take practice to get the timing right. If you’re having trouble with the correction, your dog still shows aggression that you can’t control, or the dog is large or a power breed, then consulting a professional trainer is probably the best approach for both of you.
No one wants to see their dog get bitten, but it’s up to us as Pack Leaders to do the right thing, not only when it happens but after the fact, to rehabilitate our dogs and restore balance.
Have you had to rehabilitate a dog that had been bitten? Tell us your story in the comments below!