I looked into his wild eyes, and I couldn’t believe my beloved dog was actually attacking me. His sharp teeth punctured my skin as his jaws locked around my arm. My limb started to go numb, and all I could think to do was surrender, to let him continue shaking me. As soon as I submitted, however, he released me from his grip. And in the blink of an eye, he laid down beside me, obviously regretful of what he had done. While some people would have decided to surrender their dog after an attack like that, I knew in my heart that was not the answer.
After all, when I had adopted him a week earlier, I knew the risks of having a dog. Though we humans would like to believe our dogs think and behave just like us, we must remember: Dogs are not that far removed from their wild ancestors, and sometimes, they might react in ways we deem “aggressive.”
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I entered into my relationship with Wiley knowing this, as we all need to realize when we bring a dog home. Yes, being attacked by him was terrifying, but when I reflected upon why it happened, I came to understand him and his needs better. His biting me had not been his fault; it had been my fault for neglecting to train, comfort, and understand him.
Dogs Are Not Humans
When we adopt or buy a dog, we imagine it will be easy, that our new dog will be perfectly-behaved, as though we’re inviting a polished, well-mannered adult into our home. It’s imperative to understand before we enter into any relationship with a dog that dogs are not humans and we cannot expect them to magically know how to act like one.
Why Dogs Bite
In the wild, canines growl, bite, and even attack for many reasons. Your dog is no different. Most animals bite to show dominance or as a reaction to fear. If your dog bites, it is not necessarily because he is mean, aggressive, or bad; it is because he is scared or asserting his position. What he needs is to be understood and trained.
The Importance of Taking it Slowly
When we bring a new puppy or adult dog home, their hypersensitive noses and ears will be overstimulated. They won’t understand this is now home and we are now family. Dogs need time to adjust and learn to trust you. Here are some tips for those first few months with your new pooch:
- Introduce just one room at a time. Keep your pup in a bedroom or the family room for the first few days. Let him start to experience the scents of the new environment, one room at a time.
- Many dogs, especially puppies, tend to do well with a thin line attached to their harness as they roam their new room. This line will help you grab him quickly if he starts to eat something dangerous, bite anyone, or have an accident.
- Use a crate once in a while. If you leave that room or go out, entice your new furbaby into a food-filled crate. Many dogs find crates to be comforting when they’re new to a home. It gives them a sense of security when used in moderation.
- Introduce other pets slowly and one at a time. If everyone appears at once, he will feel overwhelmed and scared.
- Socialize and train your dog as soon as possible.
The Necessity of Training Your Dog
Your four-legged friend will not learn how to behave appropriately simply by watching you. He needs to be trained. The best way to train your dog, no matter his age, is to take him to obedience classes. There, he will learn to interact with other dogs, and you will learn how to teach him to behave well. It is imperative that you continue your training between obedience lessons. Everything you learn in those classes is meant for you to do at home with him, over and over. As he learns basic commands, he will start to understand that you are his parent, the one in charge. He will gain trust in you. And he will learn what is – and is not – socially appropriate behavior.
Training Saves Lives
When we train our dogs and are sensitive to the fear they feel in transitioning to a new home (or new baby!), we learn to understand and work with them rather than surrender or euthanize them.
My dog Wiley had been severely abused and malnourished before I adopted him. He had been a bit wild, tagged like a farm cow, and left to his own devices for days at a time. Suddenly, he was in a home with three cats and a strange woman. I had failed to ease him into it, to teach him room by room and day by day that this was his new life. Wiley hadn’t attacked me to be mean; he had bitten me as a reaction to fear. If I had addressed his fears sooner, it never would have happened. Wiley and I lived together peacefully for seventeen great years after that, and I am so grateful he taught me the importance of training, patience, and understanding.