Virtual assessment of a dog who’s just bitten the owner on the face…

Nov 18, 2014 |

Pat Parelli says that people don’t take the time it takes, but they do take time to do the same stuff over and over and over…

Dear ***,

“Fail to prepare then prepare to fail!”

Please excuse me keeping this email rather impersonal, but I am sure you will agree with me that things that are not properly researched, diagnosed or interpreted can not be adequately assessed giving owners the best options to tackle those problems, and in many cases, will be completely wrongly treated and therefore will end up being more harmful and dangerous than not having the whole issue even looked at at all. It’s particularly true that you get what you paid for in this case – and I do not mean money value, but the actual commitment issue, professional’s involvement, practical tests, appropriate regimes of training recommended etc.

I see many cases that lead to attacks on people, usually having some similarities: dogs having hardly any interaction with owners or outside world, no training, not enough exercise (physical or mental), harsh handling in attempt to establish “Dominance”, inappropriate physical settings (for instance, full male with no outlet for his energy / hormones etc), no socialisation, situation at home being tense due to rather heavy arguments etc.

If anything, most of such dogs should be immortalised in stone for not turning on earlier!

Now, as you can see, some behaviours happen not necessarily when something is done wrongly, but most often as it was not done properly either from the start, or at the time.

Ask yourself: Has the dog been conditioned to close proximity of people / owners? And by conditioned I do not mean just “Used”, but have they taught him to ENJOY the company of people or stay still when addressed / approached and be excited by it? Simple reward training does that in just a few repetitions!

What was the emotional state of the dog at a time?

Basic socializing teaches dogs to look forward to the factor it’s been trained to mix with ideally by pairing walks, transport, visitors, children, touch, handling, brushing, animals, noises etc with strongly positive unconditional stimuli that allows the dogs to develop a reflex, responsible for processing such  information may it come up in future. Say, the dog sees the postman. “Oh, I am going to get a sausage in a sec!” – thinks a happy dog who was conditioned to like the Postie while being fed sausages near or by him. Dog sees a big track on the street – “Wow, cheese truck, yam!” – would be a thought of a dog who was subjected to plenty of cheese near the noisy vehicles…

What was the owner doing at the time of an attack? Nothing unusual? Please believe me that I never look for an excuse for the dog’s behaviour, please don’t get me wrong, but it’s often a two way street, “It takes two to Tango!” How good is the owner with his dog / common sense / handling? And what was put in place to teach one to give right vibes and for the other to receive them without much fuss?

Learning / Emotional Development does not take place without Environmental challenges

that induce the development of Problem Solving Ability enabling dogs to learn to predict and avoid danger, then exploit environment to gain maximum benefits.

On our side we can focus on: Habituation as a passive way of establishing needed behaviour, Classical Conditioning is an Unconditional pairing of Stimulus with the events / objects of the outside world allowing dogs to develop emotional attachment to / distance from the stimuli, so can be also seen as passive learning, or Operant Conditioning (Trial and Error) as an active approach because the outcome / feedback of the behaviour depends on the dog’s actions.

Dislikes of something usually is displayed by the following:



Passive Avoidance        __    __

Active Avoidance         __    __

Defensive Aggression   __    __

Offensive Aggression   __    __

(or Flight, Freeze, Faint, Fiddle about, Fight)

 Can you try and match each behaviour with the state of mind / emotional state of a dog demonstrating it?


1 – Rage

2 – Depression

3 – Frustration

4 – Anger

5 – Misery

6 – Discontent

7 – Pleasure

8 – Ecstasy


Now imagine how different would the ways to remedy such behaviour will have to be in each case!

Dogs are very predictable – they demonstrate the behaviours they have been practicing over and over again not wishing for anything to change – most are very conservative and stick to the same routines in various scenarios. Why some still bite – lets look into slightly different field. How healthy is the dog? Are his ears sensitive? Tooth Ache? Knotted hair, clots of mud in their pads? Broken nails? At times more serious conditions result in all sorts of aggressive responses: brain growth, previous traumas, thyroid glands hyperactivity, cancer of certain parts of their brain, Epilepsy and various fits, hormonal instability etc – always worth looking into that as one might find something that will soon grow into a much more severe issue.

Dog bites / fights are never pleasant. They are devastating, shocking and nerve racking. Bit on the face is bad. Scary and has long-term implications. Would the owner recover and still wish to give that dog a chance in life, as rehoming it may only mean one thing for such a dog.

The greatest thing of all is that the dogs do not live in the past. They get over things, they forget and they learn to see things differently and to act differently, given a chance. But they do not go to college and can not Google what to do, so it is the owners who have to pick the bill. We, on the other hand, are not that great at learning new skills – the saying that “Teaching an Old Dogs a New Trick” mostly applies to us! So get off the couch and off you go to a training class, agility, or field trials, nose-work or tracking classes, obedience club. Lets leave the extreme remedies out – there are the practitioners who use Electric Shock Collars (whatever they are called in various hands), those who recommend the teeth filing (blunting) as well as their total removal as “it is the dog that needs to be fixed” – we can research a different avenue! We can be fixed! The good news is also that when the dog bites on the face – this is an equivalent of humans slap on the face – offensive, obvious, but not going to kill you. But when the dogs do it to each other they expect you to pull away, but having the reaction time difference as appr. 1:5 we are not going to pull back in time, so most dog bites on kids in the UK happen on their face – dogs warn others this way to get “off their face” which is not such a good news to us due to cosmetic reasons. So the dog didn’t mean to hurt. And can be helped, like all the others. And should have the life every dog deserves, long, happy, safe, healthy and fulfilling and stimulating, both mentally and physically.

Please also consider connecting those separate incidents of, say, being approached, or continuing to remain close to other dogs, together and see if you can design that perfect, happy, relaxing session / walk for your dog (and yourself as a result!).


“Good musicians understand that it is the subtle pauses between the notes that create the flow, balance and harmony of a beautiful piece of music. Good horsemen understand the same thing applies when working with their horse.”

                                                                                              Mark Rashid

We are dog people. Do your math!



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