My Dog Bit My 10 Year Old Son

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Sam Basso
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[PLEASE read this article: When Should It Be OK For A Dog To Bite?] In ALL biting situations, you should PAY your veterinarian to examine the dog for illness. I estimate that 50% of dogs that bite have an underlying medical problem that caused the bite. I have worked with MANY biting dogs that have had medical problems, so much so, that I almost always now have a full medical workup done on these cases before I work with the dog. I’ve seen cancer, valley fever, allergies, arthritis, Addison’s disease, thyroid problems, sore teeth, and on and on. Don’t let your EMOTIONS overrule common sense. Sick and injured animals are often aggressive! And in some circumstances, some bites are normal responses, and were the fault of the person or animal that was bitten. For example, it is normal for a wild animal to guard food. A leopard will drag an antelope up into a tree to hide it from competitors. Dogs will guard food (certain toys, bones, rawhides, meat bones, piece of steak, etc.), too, if the food is tasty enough. That doesn’t indicate a vicious dog. But you do want to supervise such a situation around children, and know your dog. Female dogs will guard their puppies. That is normal, too. Dogs that are teased, hurt, cornered, or provoked will also bite. That is also normal, and not something you should do with a dog, even if you are a kid. Rough treatment or neglect can also make a dog fight back over time, and sometimes cause the dog to bite someone that doesn’t deserve it… the dog has had enough. No dog can be expected to take anything you dish out to them.

IF YOU HAVE PAID FOR THE VETERINARIAN TO DO A FULL HEAD TO TOE EXAMINATION… BLOOD WORK, AND A FULL EXAM FOR HIDDEN MEDICAL PROBLEMS… AND THE DOG TURNS OUT TO BE MEDICALLY WELL… IT STILL ISN’T RIGHT TO PUT THE DOG TO DEATH… Now you should PAY for a good, professional dog trainer and behaviorist to work with you. Veterinarians are NOT behavior experts, and shouldn’t be giving you behavioral advice. Just because a dog bites a kid doesn’t mean the dog should be killed or given away. It’s much more complex than that. At the same time, you can’t ignore the problem and hope it goes away. Sometimes the problem is the dog, sometimes the problem is the family. Sometimes people are in over their heads with more dog than they can handle… the dog is normal and healthy, but this family shouldn’t be owning that individual dog or breed. Get professional advice! I should also mention that many “certified animal behaviorists” that veterinarians recommend are not qualified to address aggression problems. So, you need to be wise as to where you get your advice on behavior.

Also, this article is about an older, adult 5 year old dog, not a puppy. Most puppies with mouth you and your kids, is really no big deal if you work with the puppy, and that is fixed through a good Puppy Manners lesson. If your Akita, or any other dog, is a puppy, this is NOT the article for you. I have other articles addressing puppy Manners. Please read those instead.

Hello,

My son was bitten on the neck Sunday night after trying to take a rawhide bone from our Akita. It’s a 5 yr. old dog that we adopted only a few months ago in September. The second Akita I’ve owned. Wounds to the neck include bruising, scrapes and 4 puncture wounds, one being an inch long that could have been serious.

Other relevant information is that my son was on his stomach and knees about 2 feet from the reclining dog when he took the rawhide bone that was in between them. The dog rose up quickly, barked loudly and horribly, and pinned my son to the ground with his mouth, and held him there briefly. My son screamed, and the dog released him. I ran into the room only after hearing all this and being told by my son that the dog bit him, I saw a significant amount of blood and an oval gash on my son’s neck. I was in total shock, and I admit to striking the dog. I could understand the bite would be normal behavior between two dogs, which probably wouldn’t cause any injury, but I’d hoped and believed my dog would be smart enough to understand that my son was a boy and not a sibling dog. I’m not sure at all if my violent reaction would instill something in the dog’s mind as to never doing that again.

Prior to this they’ve gotten along very well, the best of friends, except the dog would occasionally growl when my son overdid it by being too physical, playing, wrestling, running, pushing, riding, etc.. Unfortunately, my son didn’t listen very well when I told him to back off if the dog growled and that he should respect that growl, that it meant he should stop. The only other time the dog might growl was when someone tried to shoo him out of a bathroom.

Aside from getting rid of the rawhide bone, any help with understanding how to correct or reduce the risk of this behavior would be appreciated. Bite training? See, I’ve gone from almost wanting to shoot the dog on the night that it happened to trying to understand why I shouldn’t to what can I realistically do now. I worry how I could ever deal with an unpredictable dog. No, the dog has not been neutered. It’s difficult to evaluate the level of risk, not knowing what difference it would make in the same kind of circumstances if he had been or gets neutered. Adoption or euthanasia are the other options I’m sadly having to consider.

Others are pressuring me to do something immediately. For example, my mother said, “You must get rid of the dog, Roger. I don’t even know why you are hesitating to do so. You are doing your son an injustice if you keep this animal. How can a person value a dog over a child!!!! ”

Update. My son did see the dog again today for the first time after the bite. The Akita was his usual very playful self, running around in circles out in the backyard and was being very goofy, licking my son Kenny on the hand. As if nothing happened, being the happy dog we thought he would always be like under every circumstance. And My son was able to overcome the fear a little, and he actually liked seeing the dog again, but the trust certainly isn’t the same. He’d been quite terrified to come out of the house to interact with the dog, initially.

Thank you,

MY RESPONSE

This is a hard one because some of this is the dog and some of this is your fault. I believe an experienced dog owner would have not had this unfortunate event, so this all depends upon your point of reference. I’m going to try and take this apart for you so you understand what is going on.

**My son was bitten on the neck Sunday night after trying to take a rawhide bone from our Akita. It’s a 5 yr. old dog that we adopted only a few months ago in September. The second Akita I’ve owned. Wounds to the neck include bruising, scrapes and 4 puncture wounds, one being an inch long that could have been serious.**

As a general rule, dogs should be more forgiving of young children than adolescent children. Your son is approaching puberty, or is already there, so your dog is going to challenge him more than if he was younger. That being said, this biting incident is a bit of a gray area, in terms of what is to be expected. On the other hand, we expect that a dog shouldn’t be doing this to a kid or any family member.

Akitas don’t have a good reputation with being trustworthy, unsupervised, with kids. Whether this dog has problems, or is just poorly managed, I don’t know. The dog would have to be evaluated in person, not over the internet. Akitas are good dogs, but they are more “raw” in terms of being less refined than many European breeds. There are fewer generations of them being bred to be house pets. So, they will be more intensive with doing “dog” behaviors, and will be more acting on pre-programmed survival behaviors instead of on training. All Akitas need proper socialization, supervision, containment, manners lessons, obedience training, play time, comfort… just like all dogs.

Here is what the AKC (American Kennel Club) says about the Akita and children: “Akita temperament can range from calm to bouncy and aggressive, so the breed should always be supervised around small children and other animals. Akitas like to be “pack leader,” so obedience training is also necessary for a harmonious household.” They also say: “Akitas may be intolerant of other dogs, particularly of the same sex.” So, they are going to assert themselves with those they see as being unruly, lower on the pack order, or challenging the pack order, whether they are kids or other dogs. And they are going to be competitive with other male dogs. Since we cause dogs to bond to humans, they also recognize male and female, so they are going to know that a male child is being bratty and give them a warning and be firmer if certain behavioral boundaries are crossed by a male child. All of which agrees with what I’ve said about how to manage this breed.

This bite was out of defense of prey, which is one type of dominance aggression. Dogs will guard prey items from other dogs, and some dogs will guard prey items from family members. Aggression is a tool to intensify an animal’s ability to survive in the wild. Many predator animals guard their food, even from others in their group / pack. Guarding of food is NOT an abnormal behavior. It is something that can be helped with training in most cases. I’ve even seen young puppies guard toys and food. It is a mistake to over-react to this, or to make it worse by punishing the dog. But, it is definitely not a behavior you should try to fix on your own. You must hire a professional.

The bite wasn’t that bad (a more highly provoked dog could have done much worse damage), so it was more of a warning than one with a great deal of intent to harm. This dog has been warning for quite a while, and your family hasn’t respected those warnings enough. Human skin is soft, compared to a dogs skin. Dogs are programmed by nature on how to bite other dogs, not on how to bite other people. If your dog had done this to another dog, then most likely the other dog wouldn’t have been injured. On the other hand, your dog was serious about what it was doing, and you now know that these warnings and situations can’t be ignored.

Your intuition about this wasn’t enough to see that a problem has been building, your supervision has been poor, and your son does not listen. That is a major family issue that needs addressing among all of you, that goes beyond this incident.

**Other relevant information is that my son was on his stomach and knees about 2 feet from the reclining dog when he took the rawhide bone that was in between them. The dog rose up quickly, “barked” loudly and horribly, and pinned my son to the ground with his mouth, and held him there briefly. My son screamed, and the dog released him. **

To the dog, your son’s posture was one that would indicate that he was going to compete with the dog for the toy. Competition sets up a challenge for dominance: who is going to get the rawhide? Your son is too young to exercise dominance over the dog, so the dog won the prize. And the dog will always win the prize over a kid.

Dogs are more likely to guard things that resemble real food than they guard fake toys (plastic, rubber, etc.). Dogs give off warning signs when they are guarding a bone or a toy. They stand or lay over the top of it, they stiffen, they grumble or growl, and if pushed, they snarl and chop, chop, chop, bite. Your son showed signs of submission, and the dog stopped.

**I ran into the room only after hearing all this and being told by my son that the dog bit him, I saw a significant amount of blood and an oval gash on my son’s neck. I was in total shock, and I admit to striking the dog. **

Since the issue was between the dog and your son, your reaction of hitting the dog won’t prevent a future incident, but it was understandable. Hitting is what people do in those kinds of confrontations, but dogs / wolves don’t have hands, so they don’t hit, they bite.

It is never wise to leave kids and dogs alone together when a dog is chewing on a rawhide or other real type of toy, or with a food bowl. Especially when you were having issues with your son listening to you about his handling of the dog. You had a family problem here that was part of the set up of this bite.

Also, you are probably not going to be able to “cure” your dog from using aggression to possess a rawhide. Thus, this is a situation that needs to be better managed. In addition, make sure your dog’s nutrition needs are met. I’ve seen way too many hungry dogs act this way. People put dogs on the silliest of diets, trying to keep them thin, and at the same time the dogs are kept very hungry all the time. So, a simple rawhide becomes food instead of just a toy.

It is also never wise to bother or tease a dog that is feeding. And to this dog, this rawhide was food. Some things are programmed into animals, and one of those things is the struggle for survival (read Darwin). To the dog, this is an issue of survival, and even though it seems like just a toy to you, it digs deeper than that for a dog.

**I could understand the bite would be normal behavior between two dogs, which probably wouldn’t cause any injury, but I’d hoped and believed my dog would be smart enough to understand that my son was a boy and not a sibling dog. I’m not sure at all if my violent reaction would instill something in the dog’s mind as to never doing that again.**

A dog will act like a dog. It thinks you are a dog, and will treat you like you are a dog. Dogs aren’t “smart enough” about anything. They are dogs. They are programmed to do dog things. And certain breeds have different propensities than other breeds.

**Prior to this they’ve gotten along very well, the best of friends, except the dog would occasionally growl when my son overdid it by being too physical, playing, wrestling, running, pushing, riding, etc.. Unfortunately, my son didn’t listen very well when I told him to back off if the dog growled, and that he should respect that growl, that it meant he should stop.**

You and your son have had plenty of warnings, which have been ignored. Your son’s relationship with the dog is too competitive = too physical, playing, wrestling, running, pushing, riding, etc. You just don’t do that stuff to a dog, especially a dog that you don’t yet know very well, have only had for 4 months, that has been grumbling and warning you that it doesn’t like the treatment you are dishing out. Maybe this was a tipping point. It is also possible this dog has undiagnosed arthritis, and is sore or has a past injury that makes the dog sore. This could also cause the biting. If a dog is sore, then it lowers it’s threshold for using aggression, to protect itself from injury, or for any other reason. I think this dog needs a trip to the veterinarian for an examination for undiagnosed medical issues.

**The only other time the dog might growl was when someone tried to shoo him out of a bathroom.**

This also needs to be investigated and worked out. With training, a dog will willingly do this kind of thing. Without training, the dog is feeling pressured and threatened.

**Aside from getting rid of the rawhide bone, any help with understanding how to correct or reduce the risk of this behavior would be appreciated.**

If you keep the dog, you need to obedience train the dog, supervise and correct your son appropriately, and respect this dog as a dog.

**Bite training?**

No. That would not be advised here.

**See, I’ve gone from almost wanting to shoot the dog on the night that it happened to trying to understand why I shouldn’t to what can I realistically do now.**

All understandable reactions after something like this.

**I worry how I could ever deal with an unpredictable dog.**

I’m not sure this was unpredictable. You said you had warned your son, that the dog was giving warnings too, and that you knew that dogs would do these kinds of things with other dogs. You had the tools to prevent this, but didn’t connect the dots.

**No, the dog has not been neutered.**

This won’t fix this problem.

**It’s difficult to evaluate the level of risk, not knowing what difference it would make in the same kind of circumstances if he had been or gets neutered. Adoption or euthanasia are the other options I’m sadly having to consider.**

An experienced dog person would probably not have had this incident. On the other hand, no one has done a professional evaluation of this dog’s temperament, so I don’t know if this dog is unpredictable/ wacky.

**Others are pressuring me to do something immediately. For example, my mother said, “You must get rid of the dog, Roger. I don’t even know why you are hesitating to do so. You are doing your son an injustice if you keep this animal. How can a person value a dog over a child!!!!” **

What if this had been a pig/ sow in a barn? You had warned your son not to climb in the pen with the sow and its piglets, and eventually the sow had charged and bitten your son. Would you blame the sow or your son or yourself? Just like sows guard their piglets, dogs guard bones/ rawhides. And just like you can’t keep pestering me before I tell you to cut it out, you can’t keep pestering a dog an expect it to just take all you dish out.

On the other hand, you are dealing with a specific Akita, which might not be trustworthy, something that hasn’t yet been ascertained.

**Update. My son did see the dog again today for the first time after the bite. The Akita was his usual very playful self, running around in circles out in the backyard and was being very goofy, licking my son Kenny on the hand. As if nothing happened, being the happy dog we thought he would always be like under every circumstance. And My son was able to overcome the fear a little, and he actually liked seeing the dog again, but the trust certainly isn’t the same. He’d been quite terrified to come out of the house to interact with the dog, initially.**

Well, a lesson has been learned. By all of you. But, if you get another dog, and do the same things you have with this dog, you might end up with the same situation all over again, regardless of the breed. It is hard to know what the dog is like. This dog needs an in person evaluation, too. But on the people side, you need to make some changes: don’t get a dog and not train it, don’t pester a dog, don’t mess with a dog and its prey objects, don’t hit a dog, don’t leave a dog unsupervised with a kid and prey object, listen to the warnings you get and respect them, learn more about dog behavior, do a more in depth veterinarian examination with every dog, and learn more about the breeds you select. On the dog side, you need someone to evaluate this dog.

Dominance is always situation specific. Sometimes it is in relation to a specific person, or a toy, or a place, or food. Your dog’s dominance surrounds toys and food. So, work around that. The way to work around it isn’t to put more pressure on the dog. That will make the aggression even more intense. The idea is to diffuse the conflict. A good trainer can show you how to do that.

From a non-emotional standpoint, it is too soon to decide what the right course is. You need to implement changes, and you need to get the dog evaluated by someone qualified. If the dog seems ok, then you and the dog need some serious training and a change in how you relate to one another.

In other words, I am not going to recommend euthanasia at this juncture without knowing more.  Because you haven’t yet hired professionals, if you can’t or won’t make changes to the way you deal with the dog, find the dog a new home.

These incidents are probably preventable.

I hope this helps.

I’m sorry this happened to your family.

Sam Basso

HERE IS MORE INFORMATION ON BEHAVIOR MODIFICATION FOR DOGS THAT ARE AGGRESSIVE TOWARDS KIDS

Sam Basso is a professional dog trainer and behaviorist, in the Phoenix/ Scottsdale metropolitan area. He’s known for being fun, kind, intelligent, and humane. Sam Basso has a unique personal touch. He has appeared on his own TV show, been a guest radio expert, gives seminars, publishes a dog related blog, does rescue volunteering, and is active in promoting animal welfare and fair dog laws.