When I was probably eleven or twelve years old my own dog bit me—right in the face. I still have the scar. I understood immediately that it was my fault, my dog felt terrible about it, and no, we didn’t even consider having him put down. When I was a year or two younger, I was riding my bike with a friend near his house and a neighbor’s dog bit me in the leg. Much to my chagrin, the dog was put down. Was it the right decision? I don’t know and at that age nobody was asking my opinion about such things anyway. But how do you know if a dog that has bitten somebody is a dog that you can work with or not?
The circumstances surrounding a bite and the dog’s history can tell you a lot so I always start by asking a lot of questions. What were the circumstances surrounding the bite? Has he bitten before? What were those circumstances? Is there something the incidences have in common? In the case of my dog, he had been beaten up by another dog and had a torn ear. We were both headed into the house, standing in between the screen door and the inner door. Absentmindedly, I reached down to pet him and inadvertently touched his wound. It was the only time I can remember that he bit anybody and the tail between his legs told me that he knew instantly that he had done a bad thing.
Dogs, by nature can be quite opportunistic and sometimes dogs learn that they can get their way by biting or threatening to bite. In these cases, a dog bite is often the culmination of a history of the dog testing the owner’s authority and not finding much there. These dogs (and there owners) are usually the most rehab-able. A lot of people simply don’t understand the importance of being an authority with their dog or how to go about it.
Anyway, if your dog has bitten somebody or you’re worried that he or she might, don’t assume that it’s the end of the world. Sometimes people say that if a dog has bitten somebody, then that dog is by definition a biter, and that there’s nothing you can do. Don’t believe it. Although there are some dogs that cannot be rehabilitated, there are many more that can be. Without minimizing the seriousness of a dog bite, it seems that in our overly litigious society, dog bites have taken on a scariness that has as much to do with the fear of lawsuits than with the incident itself.