Behavior and Training

Snarling dog

Why Do Dogs Bite?

The second full week in April—the 9th through the 15th in 2023—is National Dog Bite Prevention Week®. In this post, we consider why dogs bite and what you can do to cut your own and your child’s risk of being bitten. 

A Serious Health Risk—Especially for Children

According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year in the United States, with 800,000 of them requiring medical attention. 

At least half of those bitten are children, who are more likely than adults to be severely injured as victims of dog bites.

Half of all children have been bitten by a dog by the time they are 12 years old. 

Most young children bitten by dogs were engaged in everyday activities while interacting with familiar dogs. 

Any Dog May Bite

A dog of any breed, size, gender or age may bite if provoked—especially if they’re sick or in pain or just want to be left alone. 

A dog in a stressful situation may bite to defend itself or its territory.

A dog may bite because it feels threatened, scared or startled.

A dog may bite to protect something it values, like its puppies, its food or its toy.

A dog may bite when overly excited during play.

Preventing Dog Bites

Fortunately, most dog bites can be prevented.

To prevent your dog from biting—

  • Starting in puppyhood, socialize your dog by introducing people and other animals in multiple settings so he or she learns to feel at ease in a variety of situations. 
  • Using humane, reward-based training, teach your dog to obey at least a few simple, basic commands. For more information, see our post, “Training the LIMA Way.”  
  • Provide regular exercise.
  • Provide adequate health care, including spaying or neutering.
  • Never leave young children and dogs unattended. 
  • Do not allow your children to ride or sit on your dog or pull its ears or tail.
  • Supervise your dog when outdoors, even in a fenced yard. 
  • Don’t allow your dog to roam free.

To keep from being bitten, the American Veterinary Medical Association recommends avoiding approaching or attempting to pet any dog in these risky situations—

  • The dog is not with its owner
  • The dog is with its owner, but the owner did not give permission to pet the dog
  • The dog is in a car
  • The dog is on the other side of a fence or tethered
  • The dog is running loose
  • The dog is sleeping or eating
  • The dog is sick or injured
  • The mother dog is resting with her puppies, seems protective of her puppies or anxious about your presence
  • The dog is playing with or chewing on a toy
  • The dog is growling or barking
  • The dog appears to be hiding or trying to be alone

Read the Body Language

Learning to read a dog’s body language can also help reduce the risk of being bitten by a dog who’s feeling anxious, fearful, threatened or aggressive. It’s best to withdraw from any dog whose body language indicates potential trouble.

Aggressive dogs often try to make themselves look bigger, with their ears up and forward and the fur on their back and tail standing on end. Their tails may stand straight up and wag. Their stance may be stiff and straight-legged. They may stare at or move toward the perceived threat, baring their teeth, growling, lunging or barking. 

Fearful dogs may try to look smaller by crouching to the ground, lowering their heads and putting their tails between their legs. They may repeatedly lick their lips, flatten their ears back and yawn. They may look away to avoid direct eye contact. They may stay still or roll onto their back to expose their stomach. They may try to move away from the perceived threat. 

Many dogs express confusion and conflict by exhibiting a combination of aggressive and submissive body language. To minimize your risk of being bitten, avoid any dog showing any combination of fearful, anxious or aggressive body language. 

Teach Your Children Well

To reduce the risk to your children of being bitten by a dog—including your family pet—teach them about why dogs bite and the high-risk situations they should avoid. 

Some rules to emphasize—

  • Always ask, “May I pet your dog?” before approaching a dog on a leash.
  • Do not run toward a dog. 
  • Never tease, bark or growl at a dog.
  • Leave sleeping and resting dogs alone.
  • Don’t bother very old dogs.
  • Don’t dress a dog in play clothes.
  • Don’t hug or kiss a dog or pet them on the top of the head. Many of them don’t like it.
  • Don’t hang on to a dog who’s trying to get away.
  • If approached by an unknown, overly friendly or hostile dog, stand still “like a tree,” with your arms close to your body.
  • If a dog jumps on you and knocks you down, “be a rock” and tuck into a crouched position, covering your head with your hands.

Let Us Help

Take any aggressive behavior by your dog seriously, even if no one gets bitten. Our veterinarians will help you address the problem and find the help you need to manage the behavior safely and effectively. 

Woman's hands offering attentive dog a treat while training

Training the LIMA Way

January 2023 is the tenth annual National Train Your Dog Month, sponsored by the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT). 

National Train Your Dog Month logo

The association has a website dedicated to the event and filled with free resources to help you train and care for your dog. On the home page, you’ll find links to several episodes of Speak!, ADPT’s podcast for pet owners. Below the podcast section, you’ll find links to 16 videos offering a range of training tips as well as more general advice on dog care. 

The Tips tab takes you to a page linking to 11 informative training-related handouts—all downloadable as free PDFs.

The Resources tab takes you to a collection of blog posts on the Association of Professional Dog Trainers’ main website. The posts are of interest to trainers as well as pet owners. To narrow your selection, choose the most relevant category listed at the top of the page.

Training the LIMA Way

If you browse the APDT site further, you can learn about LIMA—the Least Intrusive, Minimally Aversive training technique sanctioned by the organization. 

According to the APDT position statement on LIMA, “LIMA requires that trainers and behavior consultants use the ‘least intrusive, minimally aversive technique likely to succeed in achieving a training [or behavior change] objective with minimal risk of producing adverse side effects.’”

In elaborating further, the association “takes the stance that there are no training or behavior cases which justify the use of intentional aversive punishment-based interventions in any form of training ranging from general obedience and tricks to dealing with severe behavior problems. This is in agreement with the American Veterinary Society for Animal Behavior and available literature. 

“Trainers who use aversive tools such as choke collars, prong collars, shock collars (including ‘stim-collars’ and ‘e-collars’), bonkers, shaker-cans, citronella spray, water spray, leash-pop/leash-corrections (with any type of collar/harness), yelling, or any other technique designed to cause fear, pain, or startle in the dog are not practicing LIMA as described and used within APDT. 

“Trainers who are unable to train a specific behavior or to a specific outcome without resorting to aversive techniques should use resources such as the APDT community pages to contact and work with trainers who do.”

As of 2021, APDT has required its members to certify they will follow LIMA principles. The Brownsburg Animal Clinic team wholeheartedly supports this approach to training.

Whether you train at home on your own or choose to work with a professional trainer or behavior consultant individually or in a class, we recommend you learn to train the LIMA way. Before hiring a trainer or signing up for a class, ask if they use any of the aversive “old school” tools and techniques named above and if they do, keep looking until you find a more progressive, enlightened professional.

Take a Class

Our friends at Misty Eyes Animal Center in Avon offer training classes based on positive reinforcement principles. Here’s what they have to say about their approach to training: 

“We understand the history and use of punishments in training; however, science has proven positive reinforcement is more effective in every meaningful dimension. Positive reinforcement teaching techniques use non-confrontational methods of training to work a dog’s brain. The focus is on rewarding positive behavior, establishing rituals and training actions that are incompatible with negative behavior, addressing a dog’s frustration and body language—all while enabling the dog to feel good inside (confidence is key)! If you reinforce a dog’s desirable behaviors, there is less of a chance that he/she will indulge in other behaviors you do not like. The dog’s decision-making is influenced without the use of force and trust in the owners is not violated through threatening treatment. This builds an amazing relationship and bond between human and canine.”

Misty Eyes course offerings include—

  • STAR Puppy Class for puppies 8 to 20 weeks old
  • K-9 Good Manners for dogs six months old and older
  • AKC Canine Good Citizen class to prepare dogs six months old and older for CGC certification
  • AKC Trick Dog class for dogs six months old and older with previous training or completion of the K-9 Good Manners class 

For more information about classes at Misty Eyes Animal Center, visit the training page of their website

Let Us Help!

As always, our veterinarians are happy to answer questions and offer guidance about behavior problems and anxiety-related issues your dog may be experiencing. 

If you need more specialized help, we may refer you to Veterinary Behavior of Indiana.

With a sound, positive approach to training your dog, you can vastly improve your dog’s and your own quality of life, build a closer bond and have fun while you’re doing it! We wish you success!

Dog trainer Ian Dunbar speaking

Ian Dunbar on Dog-Friendly Dog Training

We came across this very insightful TED* talk by Ian Dunbar, a veterinarian, dog trainer, animal behaviorist and author. Over the past several decades, Dr. Dunbar has written many books and DVDs about puppy and dog behavior and training, including AFTER You Get Your Puppy, How To Teach A New Dog Old Tricks and the SIRIUS® Puppy Training video.

For much more information and free resources by Dr. Dunbar, including a comprehensive online dog training textbook, visit Dog Star Daily.

*TED is a nonprofit organization devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks (18 minutes or less). TED began in 1984 as a conference where Technology, Entertainment and Design converged.

A cartoon cat sitting on a counter eating jam

Why Do Cats Do What They Do?

Why does your cat behave as he or she does? This 5-minute TED-Ed video, called “Why do cats act so weird?” has some answers.

Written by Tony Buffington, a veterinarian and professor with a special interest in cats,  the animated video covers a number of common feline behaviors, tracing them back to their evolutionary roots. It’s fun to watch, too!

Three border collies hugging

Hugs May Be Stressful for Dogs

We came across a Psychology Today blog post in which author Stanley Coren suggests that most dogs find hugs stressful.

The research involved analysis of photographs posted on the Internet. More than 80% of dogs being hugged showed signs of discomfort, stress or anxiety.

We encourage all our dog-owning clients–especially those with children in the household–to read the article. If your dog shows any signs of discomfort when being hugged, it’s a good idea to find other ways to show your affection.

Doggone Safe homepage

Reduce the Risk of Dog Bites

We’ve discovered an organization dedicated to teaching dog lovers like you how to educate children—and adults, too—about reducing the risk of being bitten by a dog.

This website belongs to a non-profit organization called Doggone Safe, founded to promote education initiatives to prevent dog bites and increase child safety around dogs. The organization also provides tools and resources for professional dog trainers, behavior consultants and pet care professionals to support dog bite prevention education. 

You don’t have to be a pet care professional to become part of Doggone Safe’s efforts to prevent dog bites. We encourage you to visit the Doggone Safe website to find out how you can become a certified Dog Bite Prevention Educator right here in the Brownsburg community.

A blue-eyed reclining cat

Behavior Issues for Cats

We joke about “herding cats” as an impossibly difficult task, but behavior problems in pet cats can be serious and, fortunately, can be addressed.

A good overview of behavior issues in cats is on the ASPCA’s web site. Covered topics include—

Let Us Help

Call us for additional insights on how to address these and other behavior problems your cat may be having.

Fireworks display

Managing Your Pet’s Noise Anxiety

Over the upcoming extended Independence Day weekend, chances are at least 40 percent of our canine patients will experience anxiety during the celebratory fireworks—the most common trigger for dogs with noise aversion.

Fireworks are a source of suffering for 81% of dogs diagnosed with noise aversion. That’s why the busiest day of the year for intake of runaway dogs in animal shelters is July 5 and why we strongly recommend that you not take your pet to any holiday celebration that includes a fireworks display.

Unlike most people, noise-averse pets do not enjoy fireworks, and may become anxious enough to break free and run away. Trying to find a lost pet after dark in a large, crowded public space is a challenge we don’t want any of our clients to face!

Summer thunderstorms can trigger similar fears, causing panic and dangerous reactions, destruction of furniture and fixtures, self-inflicted injuries and frantic escapes.

Cats can be noise-averse, too, but their fear responses are usually not as pronounced. A cat may retreat to a favorite hiding place when frightened by noise, but otherwise appear unfazed. So most of our clients’ concerns about noise anxiety involve dogs.

Diagnosing Your Dog’s Noise Aversion

Illustrations Showing Noise Aversion Symptoms

The manufacturer of Sileo, a drug we prescribe to treat noise aversion, offers a checklist you can download and print to diagnose your dog. (Hit the back button on your browser to return to this page.)

Home Remedies for Noise Aversion

Home remedies we recommend in mild to moderate cases include playing soft music to mask the noise and carrying on as usual. It’s tempting to comfort a fearful dog, but a better approach is to signal all is well by engaging in normal behavior. A little cuddling is fine, but anything you can do lighten the mood is most helpful. If you can, just be present to your dog.

You may create a “safe spot” for your pet in a windowless interior room, like a closet or bathroom, complete with bed and blankets, where he or she can feel secure while riding out the storm or fireworks display.

Making favorite treats and toys available can help—especially toys that might distract, like a peanut-butter-filled Kong toy. In administering treats, just be careful not to reward fearful behavior.

Thundershirts, which work by applying gentle, constant pressure to the pet’s body, similar to swaddling a baby, are also popular and have helped many dogs and cats.

Helpful Medical Treatment

If noise makes your dog anxious, and home remedies aren’t working as well as you’d like,  we can help.

For more severe cases, there are drugs we can prescribe to reduce anxiety and keep your dog relaxed and safe during fireworks, storms and other noisy conditions.

The drugs we most often prescribe to alleviate anxiety symptoms are Xanax and Sileo, and for the best effect, we recommend administering them 30 minutes prior to the anticipated noise.

If home remedies are not effective and you would like to see if drug therapy is indicated, the first step is an office visit to assess the severity of the anxiety and discuss treatment options with you.

While we can’t promise a quieter summer, we may well be able to provide a calmer, more relaxed summer for your noise-averse dog. If you’d like our help, call to schedule an appointment today.

Fireworks display

Are You Ready for July 4?

With Independence Day fast approaching, are you prepared to protect your pet from the anxiety and injuries that can come with exposure to fireworks?

Fireworks are Noisy!

While most humans enjoy the lights and sounds of a fireworks display, many pets experience the noise as unnerving or even terrorizing.

If you think your pet may be afraid of fireworks, see our recently updated post about how to diagnose and treat your pet’s noise anxiety.

Order Anti-Anxiety Refills Now

If your pet takes a prescription drug to manage anxiety, we encourage you to call in your refill request today to make sure we have the drug you need in stock and are able to dispense it well before the fireworks begin.

Fireworks Can Burn!

Lighted fireworks can cause severe burns and trauma to the face and paws of a curious pet. Keep your pet safely away from the area where fireworks are being ignited.

Fireworks Can Be Swallowed!

Unlit fireworks can be swallowed, obstructing your pet’s digestive tract and introducing potentially toxic substances, including potassium nitrate, arsenic and other heavy metals. Make sure any fireworks you’ve purchased for your celebration are stored safely out of reach of pets (and children).

Are You Ready?

We encourage you to protect your pet from fireworks this Independence Day! If you have questions or need our help in evaluating your pet for noise anxiety issues, learning about home remedies or discussing medical treatment, call now.

A mixed breed dog lying on cobblestones, showing teeth

Preventing Dog Bites

Sponsored by the American Veterinary Medical Association, National Dog Bite Prevention Week® takes place during the third full week of May each year. The goal is to teach people about preventing dog bites.

The AVMA’s web site has a page dedicated to dog bite prevention.  We encourage you to visit the page and learn more about how you can lower the risk that your dog will bite. There are also tips on how to avoid having a dog bite you or someone you love.