Your family dog is a beloved member of the family, and if your pet has a history of biting within your family, it puts you in a difficult situation. Dog bites should always be taken seriously, and fortunately, there are things you can do to help your dog acclimate, help reduce their stress, and to help them overcome any lingering fear. If you have questions or concerns about how best to proceed, reach out to an experienced New Jersey dog bite lawyer for the help you need.
The American Kennel Club (AKC) shares that, under the right circumstances, any dog can bite – even one that’s never displayed aggression in the past. There are several reasons that dogs tend to bite.
Most of the aggression displayed by dogs is rooted in fear. Your dog may become fearful when they feel cornered, when someone comes too close, when their space is invaded, or for any number of other reasons. A dog that is overcome by fear can react aggressively in an attempt to create distance.
Dogs that are started awake or otherwise startled to attention can bite out of confusion and disorientation. Such attacks can take everyone by surprise, including your pet. The older the animal, the more likely it is that it’ll exhibit dangerous startle responses due to losses in terms of both vision and hearing. The old adage of letting a sleeping dog lie stems from this startle response, and teaching your children to respect your family pet’s sleep is well worth the effort.
Many dogs – across breeds – have strong resource-guarding instincts. Your pet can place considerable value on all the following, and any indication that the item may be taken away can incite aggression in the form of biting:
Additionally, many dogs have a strong guarding instinct, which can translate to biting if they fear intrusion into your home or fear for the safety of family members. This protection mechanism is based on your dog’s perceptions, which may not coincide with reality. For example, if your children are roughhousing and your pet fears one of them is in danger, it could bite to protect one child from the other.
A dog that is sick, injured, or is otherwise experiencing pain will instinctively protect itself, and any interference – even interference that’s designed to help – can lead to biting and other forms of aggression. If your pet’s been injured, always exercise caution when it comes to handling, lifting, or moving them. If your dog’s behavior changes for no discernable reason, getting them to the vet as soon as possible is advised.
It’s important to know that it can be very difficult to predict when a dog will show aggression, and even animals that have clear warning signs in one situation may not show warnings in another. Nevertheless, there are signs of escalating aggression – shared by the ASPCA – that every dog owner should know and be on the lookout for, including:
These represent signs of escalating aggression, but it’s important to know that while your dog’s aggression may develop slowly, it can also come out of nowhere, which makes remaining hyper-vigilant to small changes in behavior critical. Further, it’s important to teach every member of your family these warning signs, which should always be taken seriously.
If your family pet shows sudden signs of aggression, there are steps you can all take to protect yourselves, including:
These means of protection are important for every member of your family to know.
If your family dog bit you or a member of your family and it broke the skin, the best policy is to seek medical attention. While you know that your pet is up to date on its shots, it’s important to recognize that dog bites are very prone to infection and can lead to secondary health concerns when they don’t receive the prompt medical care they require.
If the family member whom your dog bit is a child, the matter is that much more serious, and you shouldn’t delay seeking medical care. Children are especially vulnerable to the risks associated with dog bites.
When the bite affects a joint, such as an elbow or knee – or a joint in the hand – it increases the risk that the victim will suffer long-term effects and likely face ongoing treatment. When the bite is on or near the victim’s face, it can lead to permanent, disfiguring scarring that requires plastic surgery. Erring on the side of caution when it comes to dog bites is always well advised.
The best time to socialize a dog is when they’re still a puppy, but if your pet comes to you older or is exhibiting new signs of aggression, it’s important to know that there are things you can do to help train and socialize the dog. Some dogs are fearful of specific things, such as men in overcoats, and others are seemingly fearful of nearly everything – from the sound of the wind to rustling paper and beyond – and these animals are better defined as anxious rather than fearful.
Pups are generally considered to be in prime socialization mode when they are from about 3 weeks to 16 weeks old. Using proper socialization techniques during this period helps to diminish fear, anxiety, and aggression in response to situations, sounds, sights, people, and beyond. At this age, puppies learn about staying safe in the world from their mothers, and they are programmed to explore the world around them bravely.
As dogs age, however, they become more and more skeptical of new sounds, sights, and experiences. Puppies are hardwired for effective socialization, but as they grow older, successful socialization requires considerably more effort.
While you’ve no doubt heard that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, the fact is that most dogs – regardless of age – can benefit from socialization techniques. When it comes to dogs that are no longer puppies, there is a clear path forward.
The first step in the process is identifying your pet’s triggers – or the things that incite stress or outright aggression in them. Take the time to carefully consider when your pet’s demeanor changes or when they exhibit signs of aggression. Common examples include:
Once you’ve assessed your dog’s triggers, you’ll be far better prepared to systematically address them through desensitization, which means helping your pet become more accustomed to the triggers themselves.
It’s important to also identify your pet’s threshold when it comes to their triggers. This means that point at which they demonstrate signs of aggression in response. For example, if your dog’s trigger is strangers at the door, think about when they begin to exhibit aggression. Is it when the car pulls into the driveway, when the stranger stops their car, when the stranger gets out of the vehicle, when the stranger begins to approach, or when the stranger arrives at the front door? Your answer to this question is their threshold.
If your dog’s trigger is a family member or certain situations within your family home, the matter becomes that much more dangerous. If this is the situation, you’ll need to focus your efforts and remain in caution mode.
Whatever your pet’s triggers are and their thresholds for those triggers, it’s important to put safety measures in place before you begin the socialization process. This generally involves erecting a physical barrier that separates the dog from its trigger. Additional safety measures you can take include:
As your dog gets used to addressing their triggers in a controlled environment, it fosters socialization while decreasing its related fear.
A healthy dog that is well-cared for is less likely to lose control of itself. Your pet’s four basic needs include:
If your dog hasn’t mastered basic commands, it’s time to focus your attention on training cues like the following:
Finally, never forget the value of training treats. While they can’t take the place of a good dog trainer and are unlikely to erase aggressive behaviors, they can help your dog pass by – or ignore – known triggers while they focus on their treats.
In New Jersey, the dog’s owner is responsible for any damage the pet causes, and the state does not employ a so-called one-bite law that shields the owner from liability if the bite is the animal’s first sign of aggression. In other words, you are responsible for your dog’s aggression – even when it’s directed at a family member.
If someone in your family has been attacked by your family dog, it’s time to take action, which generally means getting the professional training your pet needs. Because dogs are such a threat to small children, it’s important to never leave them alone with a family dog – even one you trust.
If you – or someone you love – however, is harmed by someone else’s aggressive dog, you can seek compensation for the physical, financial, and emotional losses experienced.
David J. Cowhey is a knowledgeable dog bite lawyer at The New Jersey Dog Bite Lawyer, whose practice focuses solely on dog-bite concerns and who is well prepared to help you resolve your claim favorably. Learn more by contacting us online or calling us at 866-343-3181 today.