When the bite is worse than the bark
Look down a New York City sidewalk these days and you’ll notice more dogs than ever being walked by owners or dog walkers. Man’s best friends are famous for the companionship they offer to their owners, but dogs by nature like to chew, and biting is an outgrowth of that. An unfortunate consequence of this popularity of dogs and their nature is that millions of people are bitten by dogs each year in the United States.
New York State law can be complex in regards to dog bites. While the state has a one-bite rule – this means that the owner will not be held responsible if he or she had no reason to think that the dog was prone to biting – it is quite clear that the property owner is frequently liable for covering all Veterinary and medical bills.
Owning dogs has challenges even for owners with the best of intentions of raising and owning a friendly dog.
Here are 7 tips to preventing your dog from injuring other people or pets.
- Stick a chew toy in their mouth if your dog starts to gently (or not so gently!) chew on you or that cherished antique table. Similarly, don’t stick your hands in or near their mouth as you play — this only signals that biting is playing.
- Wrestling often leads to biting. While playing is an important part of developing a relationship with your dog, games of fetch, tug-of-war and tag are great ways to be playful without initiating physical contact.
- Train your dog! It sounds simple, but it takes patience, time and effort. Teach your dog simple commands like “sit,” “stay,” “no,” “come,” “drop/let go” and “heel.” By doing this the dog learns behavior do’s and don’ts. This is particularly important for the socialization of city dogs, which come in contact with lots of people as well as other dogs.
- Pick good playmates. This may be difficult to do at the neighborhood dog run, but try and be selective about who your dog plays with so it doesn’t get bit or pick up any bad habits. Monitor your dog so it behaves as well. Ideally, playmates should have had their shots.
- Be mindful of how you discipline your dog. Just as with humans – aggressive behavior begets more aggressive behavior in animals. Utilize timeouts rather than hitting.
- Think like a dog. Yelp like a puppy or a dog that’s hurt if your dog starts nibbling on you. Dogs naturally understand this reaction and will often back off.
- Think like a dog pt. 2. Establish yourself as the alpha dog, or the one who is in charge. Do not worry – this pecking order is part of the dog pack social structure. A good way to do this is putting your dog through training exercises using the leash. Praise it when it does well. Immediately correct it if it doesn’t and then move on.
If none of these tips do the trick, please consult a qualified professional. Either a Certified Applied Animal Behavorialist (CAAB or ACAAB) or a board-certified veterinary behaviorist (Dip ACVB) can help. A skillful dog trainer can also be helpful.
Unfortunately, these additional steps may not guarantee success. Some dogs, like some New Yorkers, find it difficult to be friendly with strangers who come to their door or walk past their house. While most bites are not serious, if a dog bites you, your child or your pet, you probably have at least some legal recourse. And it’s possible to pursue additional damages if the attack is severe. Consult an attorney knowledgeable in the area of premises liability to see if you have a case.