Bad dog: When the family pet bites

Ace did something bad last night. He bit my boyfriend in the face.

This made me realize I cannot tolerate any aggressive behavior from my dog.

The bite was a small puncture wound on the side of Josh’s nose, an inch or so below his eye. A small puncture wound, yes, but the nip was not from playful mouthing or an accidental tooth hit. For a half-second, Ace made the decision to bite.

The bite happened this way: Josh and I were play fighting with Ace in the room, something we do at least once a week. We always let Ace jump up on the bed to “give kisses” in our faces.  Well that’s what happened this time, only Ace’s excitement escalated, resulting in the nip. Clearly, we were asking for trouble. Had anyone else told me this story, I would’ve thought, well, you’re a dumb ass.

Looking back, I realize I have tolerated, even encouraged some behavior in Ace that was wrong. And Josh is just as guilty, always wanting our dog to protect us and be a tough guy. Ace is literally one of the most submissive, gentle dogs I know, which is why we never thought twice about playfully rough housing with him.

In the last year we have taught Ace to chase the cats when they do something bad like scratch the couch, taught him to “give kisses” in our faces, wrestled with him to the point where he is growling and mouthing, played tug-a-war even when he’s growling and praised him when he snapped at our cat Beamer when he tried to take Ace’s food (Beamer has an issue with stealing everyone’s food). Well, all of these games are over as of last night.

The bite happened so fast neither Josh or I disciplined Ace until seconds later. By that time Ace had already moved on and forgotten all about the incident. It was too late to correct him. He served some time in his kennel anyway, but I can guarantee Ace had no clue why he spent the rest of the night in his  kennel.

I know most of us play with our dogs too roughly. We wrestle and play chasing games. We even think it’s cute when dogs “play” growl or “play” bite. But dogs get confused and excited. And when dogs get too excited they enter a different state of mind. Dogs are dogs. As their owners, it is our responsibility not to forget what animals are capable of.

I don’t know what I would do if Ace caused someone to need stitches. I don’t know what I’d do if he bit a child. Remember that 70 percent of all dog-bite fatalities are children.

As I write this I am thinking in particular of my friends with giant breeds (you know who you are). I can’t help but think of how one playful nip could turn into a very bad accident. I also think of the owners of small dogs who think their little pooches could cause no harm. Well, all it takes is the right nip.

This is a reminder for me not to be careless with my dog. I work hard to train Ace, to give him what he needs and to keep him and others safe. But I have made mistakes. Remember to be aware of the little things now in order to prevent accidents down the road.

By the way, last night when Ace slept in his kennel, my cat Scout was in my bed purring up a storm. I mean snuggling and drooling like he hasn’t done in months. A coincidence?

Ace the cute black lab mix lying in the grass

19 thoughts on “Bad dog: When the family pet bites”

  1. I too am a dog lover, and I hope you are able to correct Ace’s behavior. It can be a very serious problem.

    I had a german shepherd about 15 years ago who became aggressive to strangers as he reached adulthood. I can tell you from first hand experience that when a dog bites a person, the police treat it similar to a gunshot. And, you are liable not only for any medical treatment (as you would expect), but also additional settlement. At that time, for not much more than breaking the skin (no stitches required), insurance companies were paying an average of $5000 and more for more severe damage.

    So I wish you success. By the way, if you have trouble, there are actually dog behaviorists who may be able to help you.


  2. i wrestle with stranger all the time and hes generally an incredibly gentle and playful dog but there are those moments in which instinct trumps training. If hes on a tight leash and close and someone nears, he does growl, and then as soon as i say NO. he snaps out of it, its strange how quickly

    let me know what works for you to temper the agression

    K9 Amiga’s last blog post..What’s His Story?

  3. Oh dear. How traumatic for all. I believe you are right in your observations on how you brought this on by encouraging Ace to snap at Beamer, wrestle and mouth with humans etc. Dogs ARE dogs and younger dogs often nip in rough play with other pups and young dogs. Luckily most dogs have a thick skin and coat to protect them form these nips. As they mature just a bit, pups are taught never to nip at adults. They are diciplined harshly when they do so. Humans need to think like adult dogs or pack leaders. I encourage our clients to never let their dogs mouth them even gently. Dogs should be taught that humans and cats are off limits for any mouthing or licking. We are pack leaders not litter mates. Then our dogs don’t have to ever make a judgement call in the heat of play.

  4. I’m glad no one had to go to the hospital and I hope Josh is well. I always kept my dog’s face away from mine. I don’t know, something about getting kisses from someone who licks her own rear end. I did give her a little kiss on her head very often, but kept her from reciprocating. I bet Scout thought the whole thing was pretty funny though…some coincidence.

    Apryl DeLancey’s last blog post..5 Questions and a Recap

  5. That is a scary thing. Our two are very small, but I agree, even small ones can do damage, especially to children. The littlest one of ours is the most gentle dog I’ve ever known, but she “mouths” your hand when she wants attention and when she plays. Never bites down, but I can’t seem to break her of it. She’ll stop if I tell her to, but she always does it again later. I wonder if part of the problem is other people letting her do it without correcting her, thinking it’s not an issue.

    Crystal’s last blog post..My…

  6. castocreations (hzk)

    I am so sorry you went through that. 🙁 A dog can never be 100% trusted … even if 99.9% of the time they are perfect.

    Trooper is a “big” dog (though not huge) and could easily and seriously hurt someone if not controlled. I don’t like it when his daddy plays rough with him but he *seems* to know the difference between rough housing with papa and playing with me. He never wins when he plays with me. Tug of war is always won by mama and if I say ‘drop it’ he drops it or he gets ‘taken down’. Once he drops it I give him the toy on my terms.

    And I never chase him. I let him chase me and he thinks that it’s super fun. 🙂 I never want chasing him to be a game. I want chasing ME to be the game in case he gets away from me (this happened when he was super young near a busy freeway *sob*).

    And I know that my big doggies can so easily hurt with their mouths that we try to train that hands don’t belong in the mouth. This is good and bad. Good because if my hand gets in his mouth he doesn’t bite down but bad because he doesn’t WANT my hand in his mouth even when I need to check something or brush his teeth. 🙂

    I had to take trooper down more than usual the other day. He would NOT stop growling at Kodiak when I was preparing their food. I went through my usual routine…told him to stop, then touched his nose with my finger. Then wrapped my hand around his muzzle. Then grabbed the back of his neck. He was STILL raising his lips and growling. So down he went to the floor, on his belly. STILL growing. Sheesh. I was getting ticked but I just rolled him over and let Kodiak stand over him. And finally all was well. He submitted and didn’t growl at his brother again.

    It was cute when he growled as a small puppy but he can’t ever be allowed to get away with it and think that he’s ever in charge.

    I hope your boyfriend is okay. Ace will be okay too. 🙂

    castocreations (hzk)’s last blog post..Can You Adopt a Deaf Moose?

  7. I read this post last night and wanted to think about it before I responded.

    First off, I would not completely freak out. He is still very young and has alot of energy. He still is learning his limits and his place. It does not sound like he “bit” your boyfriend as much as he “nipped” him. There is a huge difference.

    Although neither is tolerable, nipping is a very easy fix with training and consistency. Where as a bite requires a different approach entirely.

    I would implement a NILF type policy around the house and elevate your bf’s status in the household a bit.

    He is at the teenage stage and they can get a excitable and test you. Just keep up the good work and watch the situations that make him excitable.

    Lora’s last blog post..Zeus’s New Posh Collar

  8. Lindsay Stordahl

    Thanks Lora, you put it very well. That is exactly what we are doing, making sure to watch what gets Ace so excited and work on teaching him it’s not OK to act like that. It was our fault, not Ace’s.

  9. Hi, this post really made me think. I need to shore up some of Pepper’s behavior, she’s quite an opinionated little girl – and sometimes I tolerate things with her that I would never tolerate if she were the size of Ace. She’s a pain about new people coming to the house. She does not like new people and she’ll be pretty rude about it. So I’m brushing up on the whole “pack leader” thing. Thanks for sharing about that – not a pleasant thing but at least, like you said, it was not worse.

    Bonnie Story’s last blog post..My Garden Helper

  10. Help! I had this similar kind of thing happen yesterday. Our 2 yr old Australian Shepherd, Achilles, is our BIG baby and he is very sweet and loves people. But when my boyfriend and I are not home, he becomes aggressive to the other people in the house, not letting them enter our rooms, and yesterday he crossed the line and bit my boyfriend’s mother’s arm twice after she caught him digging through the trash. No stitches needed but the trauma and pain she went through is bad enough. He has never bitten anyone and he will not bite me and understands the word “Ow!” immediately letting go of anything even if it he isnt touching you. My boyfriend got the call soon afterward about what Achilles had done and came home immediately and it was very apparent Achilles knew what he had done, he was shaking before he even punished him.

    It’s obvious he considers my boyfriend and I the pack leaders because he is an AMAZING beautiful dog inside and outside. We walk him without a leash, he is very friendly with other people and dogs, and even greets people at the door with kisses and belly rubs. But this is far beyond his usual behavior and we are at our wits end trying to figure out what to do. His mother stays at home with us and she doesn’t work so she does not want to be alone with him after this incident, but he is our baby and we don’t want to put him down or give him away.

    Someday we will get married and have a family of our own, but I don’t want to have to worry about my children getting attacked by the one family member we depend on to protect our home.

    What should we do?

  11. Lindsay Stordahl

    Hi Darleen. Thank you for your comment. I am sorry for your unfortunate experience. Obviously your dog does not respect your boyfriend’s mother. What is different about how you interact with the dog and how the mother interacts with the dog? Do you enforce rules and she does not? Do you walk the dog and she does not? Does she let the dog jump on her and push her around?

    Teach your boyfriend’s mother how she can be more of an authority figure around the dog. And you and your boyfriend need to make it very obvious that you view his mother above the dog as well. Do things that raise her status like totally ignore the dog when you are talking to her. Don’t let the dog come push his way in between you, etc.

    It would be a good idea to find a local dog trainer in your area who can help because a dog bite is nothing to take lightly.

  12. My spaniel/begal mix bit me this morning a bunch of times on my hand when I tried to pick up her meds she dropped out of what I was giving her. She’s not food agressive but does growl when she’s guarding something and has bitten us one before. I didn’t expect her to do this though. She’s been a little more growly than usual we’re thinking because she’s on meds for an injury she’s sustained to her back when running. She’s usually very sweet but I have about 7 wounds on my hand from her that broke the skin. Do dogs react differently when not feeling well or are on meds?

  13. Lindsay Stordahl

    Many dogs will act differently when they are on certain medications. Dogs will also act differently if they are in pain. I hope your hand is OK and that this is the last time something like this happens.

  14. our dog of seven years bit our 6 year old son in the ear night before last. she cut and bruised his ear. we live in the country. im ex-ranger. BANG! no questions asked. Humans before animals. sorry!

  15. glad this is nt dis much big issue bt my dog has bitten 3 times, twice my dad n once my aunt.. they were hospitalized for weeks… i cnt understand changing behavior of my dog…. he is too aggressive. out of control.

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