This is not the post that I had planned for today. It’s Friday. The weekend. Time to relax and have some fun. Unfortunately, my husband Michael spent nearly 6 hours in the Emergency Room waiting to be treated for a dog bite to his face and neck. It happened while he was at work today.
Michael works at a local student apartment complex. He and a co-worker were out on the property, and encountered a college girl walking her dog on a leash. The dog weighed about 25 pounds, and is some sort of Sheltie mix much like Rugby. Michael’s co-worker always has dog treats available, so she stopped to give the dog a treat. She crouched down, extended her hand and offered a cookie. The dog took it and was doing a happy dance, tail wagging, panting and that sort of behavior when Michael approached.
When the dog saw Michael, she started pulling and pawing to come over to him, while her owner was trying to control her on the leash. To Michael, this seemed like a happy, excited dog who couldn’t wait to greet another new friend. He took a step toward the dog, bent very slightly, and offered his hand for the dog to sniff.
Immediately after he extended his hand, the dog jumped straight into the air toward his face and neck, and bit him. The quick reflexes of the dog’s owner and Michael quickly retreating are probably what saved him from a much more serious bite or series of bites. There were two shallow punctures, a small deep place where the skin was peeled back, and several scratches. If the dog had not been pulled away, it’s likely that there could have been multiple bites and much deeper ones as well. As dog bites go, this one is fairly superficial, largely because of the quick response of the dog owner and Michael.
As a dog trainer, I can tell you that it’s VERY serious to me, when a dog charges at a human’s face to bite. The dog had other options…Michael’s outstretched hand, a leg, arm, foot…pants, shoes, etc. She could have gone after any of those things, but instead jumped right up at Michael’s face and neck, which indicates a much more serious intent to injure him. That’s just not good at all in my book. Not. Good.
Michael said that he didn’t see anything from the dog’s body language which would have indicated that she was nervous, worried or working up to an aggressive episode. He was watching her on approach, but she was wiggly, waggly, and seemed very happy to him. He interpreted her pulling toward him as excitement to meet him, and not as anything preceding an aggressive episode. The dog’s response completely shocked him, as he just didn’t see anything overt which made him stay clear.
This is why it is SO CRITICAL to know how to read a dog’s body language. There were likely early signals that the dog was uncomfortable with strangers nearby and those were ignored. Her owner did have her leashed, but either didn’t know what to look for, or ignored her dog’s stress signals. While the dog was apparently comfortable taking a treat from Michael’s female co-worker, she was clearly not at all comfortable with Michael nearby. Fortunately, Michael will be just fine with minimal scarring.
The dog is not as likely to fare as well. This happened at the owner’s apartment complex, and she will likely have to get rid of her dog. With a known bite history, re-homing this dog will be very, very difficult. Very few people adopt dogs who bite. Very few rescue groups or shelters take dogs with known bite histories. If she’s lucky, she might be able to find a friend or relative who will be willing to take her and allow visits. Otherwise, euthanasia is a distinct possibility.
Yesterday’s blog was a book review of a great book on calming signals that dogs use when they communicate to each other. I’ve used these calming signals when I evaluate and train dogs, and I watch fearful or nervous dogs relax much more quickly. Even if your own dog is not aggressive, it’s important that ALL of us understand how to spot nervous, anxious or aggressive behavior in dogs. It might save a bite to you or your kids, and it might also help save a dog’s life.