My usually sweet and gentle dog bit me!

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allieb87's picture
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Joined: 2010-10-31

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I've had Herman since this July and he's always been remarkably calm and even-tempered. So calm in fact that I broke a lot of my own training rules and wasn't as consistent as I should have been. I even gradually started to allow him on the couch and then one day the bed. I know it was a huge mistake and I'm feeling horrible especially considering that I think this led to the incident that took place this past week.

Herman jumped up on the couch with me one evening after a day of being allowed to lounge on the bed as well (it was the first time I'd ever allowed it). I was about to get up for a glass of water so I gently pushed his haunches so I could move. He growled at me. I was a little shocked so I gave a firm "No!" and attempted to push him off again. Big mistake. Huge. I really do know better. He leapt up and snarled, barked and lunged at me before finally getting two quick bites on my arm. I panicked and reacted badly but managed to get him off the couch. Once he was on the floor, my smaller dog growled and leapt at him and he reacted. When he began to lunge at the smaller dog I gave another firm "No!" and he immediately dropped to the ground. I then told him to get in is kennel and he made a beeline for it, tail tucked the whole way.

The bites were very minor and didn't break skin at all but the whole thing scared me a great deal. I've had dogs my whole life and I've never ever been bitten. I've also been around plenty of "bad" dogs and been able to handle them without any problems. Herman is generally so obedient and sweet. I know I messed up and I'm feeling awful about that but it's also made me a little wary. I've stepped up obedience training a lot since it happened and Herman has responded very well. He's also never going to set foot on the furniture again obviously. He still seems a bit high strung though... he's been barking at cats, squirrels etc. through the window more often and can't quite seem to relax. I don't know if this is an actual problem or if I'm just reacting badly and seeing behavioral issues that aren't really there.

I know this is most likely dominance aggression. My question is whether my admittedly lax training could have somehow permanently altered his temperament. Should I be more wary of having him around house guests or other pets? I know some trainers will tell you that a dog who has bitten once can never be rehabilitated but that seems awfully bleak to me. I've also heard people say that you can never truly "cure" dominance aggression but instead just have to keep it at bay with consistent, firm training. I'm fully willing to admit my errors but could this really mean that my sweet, loving, even-tempered dog has been permanently altered? Will he ever truly see me as alpha or will he always be looking for an opportunity to test me?

One other detail I should mention is that I've been under a great deal of pressure in my personal life lately and have been quite stressed and grumpy. Herman is extremely sensitive and tends to get mopey when I'm down. I'm wondering if his reaction to my stress in combination with the dominance issues could have built over a few days leading to this.

What do you all think?

AlphaAdmin's picture
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Joined: 2010-01-18

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No, he's not altered. And yes, it is possible that your stress and/or depression could have contributed.

Alpha dogs are usually calm and steady. Remember, they aren't the biggest meanest dog - they're the best leader. Your stress may have communicated to Herman unfitness for leadership. But more likely - actually - I'd bet some serious money - the cause of this was innocent inner-pack discussion.

Allowing Herman the choice resting spots told his doggie mind that you two were equals, and equals have to remind each other not to jostle the other off the choice spots. That's why the 'bite' wasn't really a bite - more like a nibble. I see dogs do this to each other all the time... The last thing he wanted to do was hurt you, you're his hunting partner, he just didn't want you thinking you could throw him off the nice warm dry sleeping spot.

The good thing is, you did act well when it happened. A submissive dog would have "awaawawaw" and got off the couch. But you chased him off the couch and then protected another dog. That told Herman's little doggie mind that he miss judged, and is why he flopped to the ground submissively.

That flopping-down was the end of the conversation, essentially saying, "Ok, ok, I got it, you're in charge!"

Don't feel wary. It's over. Just be sure to maintain your statuses a little more strictly. Don't walk around him but through him, make him wait for his food, walk him in the heel position, no choice spots... Another good thing to do with alpha dogs is to exert your dominance on them ever now and then.

One way I do this is by approaching a dog directly and stand in their space until they show submission - usually sitting or otherwise relaxing. Don't let him dodge around you. Just stand over him until he gives in, then walk away. And when he's doing something like barking at the cats, enforce your rules about that.

allieb87's picture
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Joined: 2010-10-31

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Thank you so much for your excellent answer. I knew I was probably worrying too much about the whole thing but the bite or nibble or whatever it was it what had me reeling. If he had just growled I probably would have come to the same conclusions you did. Like I said, I've never been bitten and Herman was the last dog on earth I thought would ever do so but what you said makes perfect sense. I didn't think he was trying to hurt me either but he looks pretty scary when he shows his teeth and I hadn't been on the receiving end of it before... makes me feel sorry for the squirrels.

He always walks at a heel and waits for his food so we'll continue to do that and work on some other commands as well. He's been pretty submissive since the incident and has been doing some of the things you're talking about without my prompting. Right now he's lying at my feet and snoozing. I feel much better having read your response. Thank you!

tom
tom's picture
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Joined: 2010-12-31

Hi, my dog just reacted the same way your dog, Herman, reacted when he bit you on the couch. Just wondering, since then did he improve or get worse?

Thanks,

Tom