Three Mistakes That Will Get You Bitten

Likely the most common behavior problem trainers, behaviorists and behavior consultants face is dog aggression.  Going into an owner’s home, or meeting a dog at your office or training facility that has a history of biting or snapping at people – or even just ONE person – can be a scary proposition.

We’ve gone into hundreds, if not thousands of those situations and only been bitten once each – neither severely.  And those times were due to the unpredictable nature of the dogs.   Most dog bites are avoidable if you know what to do – and NOT do.

The first mistake that is almost guaranteed to get you bitten is to confront the dog. This is a mistake FIRST because the vast majority of dogs that bite are defensive.  That means they are motivated by fear.  Making a fearful dog more afraid by confronting and intimidating him is making the problem worse.  Confrontation puts not only YOU, but everyone else handling the dog at a greater risk of being bitten.  Now the dog has even more reason to be afraid and defensive.

The second mistake that will get you bitten is forgetting to keep your hands to yourself.  People who want to become dog trainers sometimes think that because they love dogs so much, dogs will just naturally love them back.  We’ve heard people describe how they “just have a way” with dogs, and that a dog wouldn’t possibly want to hurt them.  Even seasoned professionals who know how dangerous it is to reach out and touch a dog with a history of aggression can get on “automatic”, become distracted while talking to the owners, and without even thinking about it put a hand down on the dog’s head if he is nearby. 

Being around a dog that is likely to bite requires constant attention to detail.  And that includes getting in the habit of keeping your hands in your pockets, in your lap, or anywhere other than reaching for the dog.  ANY contact with the dog during a training or consulting appointment should we well thought out and part of a planned behavior modification or assessment.  It’s the distracted, unconscious “reach out to pet” that is most likely to result in a bite.

The third mistake that will get you bitten is not advising the owners EXACTLY where you want the dog to be when you arrive at the house, or exactly how you want them to bring the dog to your facility. If you are going to the home, tell the owner specifically where you want the dog to be – on leash?  Outside in the back yard?  Confined in a room?  Or even free to greet you at the door. 
If the client is coming to you, the dog should be on leash.  But we know of situations where the owner has just opened up the car door and allowed the dog to bound out, almost biting staff there to meet them.  You don’t want this to happen to you!

Also consider whether you want the dog muzzled.   What kind of harness or collar and leash should the dog be on?  All of these instructions should be given to the client ahead of time.
If you are going to the clients home, call them when you pull up to their house and check to see your instructions have been followed.  If they are coming to you, advise them to call you when they arrive BEFORE they get out of the car. 

Our full series on steps to take to avoid being bitten is one of the “Biscuit” collections of articles we write every month for members of Behavior Education Network.  That’s just one of many member benefits.   Check us out at

Here’s a comment we recently received from a new member:

“Thank you ALL for all you do. I just joined and am getting an excellent education on many levels which is making me a better dog trainer and behavior consultant to my clients.”
Colleen S. , CDBC, Ashland OR

So if you’re a behavior or training professional who wants to become more effective and successful and learn from certified animal behaviorists with almost 30 years of experience running a successful behavior consulting practice, then visit and give us a try today.  We provide Scientific Pet Behavior Education and Coaching in a Supportive, Community Environment.


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