I was pleased to have a dog owner reach out to me for help with a dog that had bitten a family member in the face. She asked if I worked with rescues that have random biting. So I asked some questions and here's what we got cleared up in one conversation...
The dog was a rescue that had been nipping already. The serious bite incident happened when the dog was on the owner's bed with a treat and another family member leaned in to pet the dog.
Let's address the "rescue" portion of this scenario. If you stand the Westminster winning dogs, dogs from rescues, feral dogs, protection dogs, detection dogs, therapy dogs, old dogs, young dogs, shelter dogs and everything in between in a long line...then take out that 1% that can't be trained by anyone, any program, any methodology...you will have a group of dogs that are pretty much the same. They all have their own "things" but they will respond to structure, boundaries, reward, punishment, and accountability well enough to not be a danger to society.
Somewhere along the way humans have put dogs that are obtained from shelters and rescues into their own category, and that category is one that says the dogs can't have anything negative in their life ever again. They have to be coddled and tiptoed around to make up for these perceived horrible events that have already happened to them. The truth is that a great deal of the dogs coming through shelters and rescues have unknown histories, and plenty of the owner surrenders come in with lies in order to make the owner feel better about surrendering them.
We love the story behind a homeless dog, how we "saved" it and how much the dog loves us for it. We love the attention we get when we tell someone how we "saved" this dog when all we did was sign a contract and pay the shelter or rescue their fee. With a very small exception I don't ask about the story on dogs I pull from shelters. The history doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is the dog standing in front of me and how to make that dog a good candidate for your typical home.
As you can see, the dog in this scenario had already been nipping so the bite wasn't random. The bite was the escalation of the nipping that was already happening. How does this happen? It's actually quite simple, and I'll put it in human terms.
Little Johnny pokes another kid with a pencil and no one does anything. Then he starts tripping kids as they walk by his desk. Again, no action taken. Then he pinches a little girl so hard she cries and has a bruise for days. No action taken. Finally he punches a kid in the face at recess and breaks his nose. Was this random? No! There were plenty of signs, and those signs were escalating. So why do we feel that dog bites are random? Because we haven't payed attention to the behavior leading up to it, or even worse we've made excuses for it. We don't allow a child to run our home yet a four legged predator is given a free pass on some pretty entitled, bratty, and often times dangerous behavior.
Many of us lay the groundwork for the incident to happen...free roaming in the home, access to the furniture, treats, barking at guests...it all adds up to the attitude that the house and everything in it belongs to the dog. I'm not against free roaming, dogs on furniture, treats or even barking AS LONG AS IT'S EARNED, and the barking STOPS when the human says so. When your dog is barking at a guest, most likely they're saying "Get the frack outta my house or there will be hell to pay!" Would you allow your children to talk that way to a guest? No way, right? Then why are you allowing your dog to do it?
Let's get to the real world scenario of a biting dog. Liability. You ignore the signs, nips turn to bites, then a bite on the wrong person and everything you've worked for is gone. And I'm not talking about you paying Redi Med for a few stitches. I'm talking about a lawsuit that you lose because you ignored the signs or refused to address the issue and you lose your home, your cars, your kids' college funds, your retirement savings.
If you have a dog that has no qualms about putting his mouth on humans, look at him right now and ask yourself if that dog is worth losing everything. EVERYTHING.
No? Then get to work.