Dog bit my son, what should I do?

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Dog bit my son, what should I do?

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Old 02-20-2014, 08:42 PM
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Dog bit my son, what should I do?

Let me give you the background story.
I had a border collie who recently passed away. He was one of the best dogs I've ever known. We got another border collie as a puppy. This collie was a sweet puppy, but always just a little shy. I did his obedience training myself, and he is a very well behaved dog, but we didn't socialize him with a lot of other dogs, just the one we already had. When he was 6 months old, a big dog came running into our yard and they got into a scuffle, and this began his reactiveness with other dogs. We brought him to a puppy training class at that point and found ourselves constantly working on de-sensitizing his reactability toward other dogs during the classes. It got a little better, not great.. I had a couple babies, life went on. He never had any problems until we moved this summer. He is now 4 years old. We had strangers and repair crews in and out of the house. I brought him to home depot during this time and he snapped for the first time at a person when a nice stranger tried to say hi to him. We sold the house, lived in hotels for a couple months and finally settled into our current house. His aggression got really bad toward strangers during the move and during our hotel stay, but he settled down once we settled into the house. We have been here several months now, and he just started to show aggression and being territorial over his food and his crate. Yesterday, my 3 year old son tried to put a leash on him and he growled at him. Today, my son tried to hug him as usual and without a warning growl, he snipped and scratched my son's forehead with his teeth. He was not being overly rambunctious and I was literally sitting two feet away from him.
I called a behaviorist. The behaviorist will charge $650 for 4 hours of assistance. He indicated that dogs and kids don't get along like the internet portrays and it is best to keep them separated with baby gates, etc and keep contact behavior to a minimum unless it is supervised (but, I was RIGHT THERE, so I thought I was supervising) Anyway... he has always been really calm with the family and reactive toward other people/dogs, but with my children getting bigger, I worry that one time is all it takes. I can try the training, I can send him back to his breeder and say it just isn't worth the risk..
Is this really how it is with kids and dogs? My kids don't sit on him or hit him or anything like that. I don't think they are rough with him at all. My son usually just ignores him, since he has been around his entire life. My daughter is 1 1/2yrs and adores him. They give him hugs and play ball with him and we let them feed him.
Are all dogs going to be a high risk? Are all border Collies a risk, like people said, but I didn't believe? Or is this border collie just different? Should I pay a ton of money and try the training, and still possibly never be able to trust him in the same room with the children? I just don't see how that could be a happy life for anyone. Or, is this a "not worth the risk" situation and I should contact his breeder for return?
Please try not to flame me, I'm already completely heart broken about this. Snapping at my baby is just something that really crosses a line for me.

Last edited by Jarudi; 02-20-2014 at 08:47 PM.
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Old 02-20-2014, 09:04 PM
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Your dog is super stressed out from everything you have described happening in the household.
He has experienced what we call "trigger stacking" which is a fancy word for a huge build up of stress. Your son hugging him was just the last thing he couldn't handle it.

One thing you need to know is that dogs actually do not like hugs. To a dog this is almost like an attack.

Hire the behaviorist. You need an education and a bunch of coaching to help your dog and your kids.

From your description, your dog is not really all that unusual for a BC. They are a bit more high strung and sensitive than your typical ideal labrador. That said, your dog does not sound at all beyond help. If you gain a better understanding of his needs, you are likely to be able to manage things a lot better so he is not such a stress case.

Again, hire the behaviorist. It will be money well spent. You definitely want to avoid having a real damaging bite to your son. Sounds like this one was just a scratch, but enough to scare everyone in the household. Consider it a warning you need to listen to.

Understand that dogs have exquisite control of their mouths. Your dog does not want to hurt the boy, but you all are ignoring all his warning signs that he is totally stressed out. You are only seeing his stress now that he has had to escalate to nipping.

Hire the behaviorist to help you understand your dog. It will save you so much problems in the future.
Money well spent. And better than medical bills getting your kid stitched up!
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Old 02-20-2014, 09:37 PM
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Ditto Tess. Your dog is not a "bad dog" by any means, and this situation can most likely benefit from a behavior consultant. It wouldn't be a waste of time or money to go that route, really. Between now and the time the behaviorist can see you, practice safe management--ie no interaction between the dog and your kids. Use baby gates, crates, separate rooms, etc to manage their space.

Again, many dogs are uncomfortable with kids (they act in very confrontational ways in dog language whether or not they mean to) and few dogs like hugs. Also, dogs often give out signals before biting--if you didn't notice any, you may not be familiar with the more subtle language they use (link below) and/or you may have punished the more obvious signs of discomfort/stress (like growls).

Here are some links you can take a look at while you are waiting for your appointment: (I would double check that your behaviorist meets the guidelines in there and isn't someone using methods that will likely just make the situation worse.) (Lots of body language info!) (Great links to sites and articles with kids + dogs safety info.)

From that link, your situation made me think of this little article from that link Why Supervising Dogs and Kids Doesn’t Work | Robin Bennett . Don't worry--you're not alone, there!

Finally (why you don't want to punish growling)

Good luck. I hope the behaviorist will be helpful.

ETA: You asked "Are all dogs going to be a high risk?" The short answer is yes. If you return this dog and then get another but you skip learning about body language and safe interactions, this will very likely happen again. However, if you do those last things, even this dog could be less of a risk. Like I said, your dog isn't a bad dog. He was acting quite normally, although in a way unacceptable to us humans. Some dogs have more tolerance than others, but you should always err on the side of caution to protect the dog from being put in an uncomfortable position and the child from getting bit. The relationships portrayed on TV and in fiction books are unfortunately distorted to say the least--few of us actually have "Lassies" in our homes...

Last edited by crock; 02-20-2014 at 09:45 PM.
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Old 02-20-2014, 10:06 PM
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Originally Posted by MarkAD View Post
"One thing you need to know is that dogs actually do not like hugs. To a dog this is almost like an attack."
I have to call baloney on this. My dogs love hugs. So please don't generalize.

"Hire the behaviorist." I would not. However find a trainer who knows border collies and works with them. They are much better equipped to train you and your dog for a better relationship. It well be a lot of work but much better for you and the dog.

I did not see anything about how much exercise or work the border collie did during these stressful periods or in general. Border Collies are working dogs and happiest when working or playing very hard.
Actually she's right. Most dogs DON'T like hugs; it's not at all baloney. There are of course some that do...Like yours. But for a lot of dogs, it can be very intimidating. Just like people, not all dogs are comfortable having other things in their face/personal space. Saying that dogs don't like hugs is a very safe generalization to make.

Also, a trainer and a behaviorist are nearly one in the same...The biggest difference being that a behaviorist has a college degree and is usually far more educated on canine behavior principles in general, as well as the principles of learning. They're more likely to be able to help than a trainer. A good trainer is hard to find because the field is totally unregulated. You need absolutely nothing to call yourself a "trainer". A behaviorist can help any breed.
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Old 02-20-2014, 10:30 PM
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I agree with what Crock and Tess have said don't have a 'bad dog' at all...From his perspective, his world has been very unstable for the past several months. This causes already anxious/shy dogs to become reactive when they wouldn't usually resort to such drastic measures.

The first thing that would be wonderful for your border collie--as well as the relationship between you and your dog--would be for you to get involved in running/walking/biking/hiking with your dog. Participating in an activity that will take the edge off of his anxiety via exercise is crucial right now. Particularly as you approach the necessity of a behaviorist and/or further training. A dog is going to be much more capable of focus when they are not strained with pent-up energy.

My second recommendation goes hand in hand with the above...get a lightweight, orange safety-vest for your dog. This is generally just enough to give people pause when approaching your dog, and approaching strangers is exactly what your dog does not need right now. Awkward or not, stop people from offering to pet your dog. It is part of the bond of trust that must build between you two...he needs to feel secure in the knowledge that you are in control of his environment, and he has less to fret about with you there. The more comfortable you can make him, the better.

This includes offering him a place of safety/solitude in the house, where the kids are not permitted to go. Feed him in his crate, and keep his food/crate behind a baby gate where the kids are not allowed to go. Keep him behind the same gate unless you're supervising him or the kids are not around.

As much as your daughter adores him, it will be very important that you sit the kids down an explain that there are good and bad ways to show love to a dog. As tolerant as your sweet boy has been up until this point, he is reaching his limit, and he is doing his best to show you in the only way he knows how. You are very fortunate that his nip was only a warning. He does not *want* to hurt your kids, he just wants his space. But teaching your kids that hugging dogs is not appropriate may help prevent them from getting bit by a neighbor's dog who is not nearly so tolerant.

Personally, I would not spend $650 for an issue this minor. I'm not trying to downplay the event, certainly biting your child is no small act and should be taken very seriously. These guys here gave forth some GREAT resources. But, as suggested, I would simply search for a trainer with border collie experience, who has dealt with this kind of nervous/fear aggressive behavior. Ask for references. (References will be the key to tell you whether or not that individual is worth your time and money.)
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Old 02-20-2014, 10:39 PM
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Dogs get desensitized to hugs and conditioned to like them. They are more receptive to them after a trust has been built between hugger and hug-ee, or if the dog is so confident as to know that he has control of the situation and can get away if need be.

But a dog being hugged by a stranger with no prior conditioning... at best he will think it's play and at worst, an attack.
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Old 02-20-2014, 11:01 PM
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Inky, for the most part, that is good advice. However, I would disagree that biting at a child, regardless of severity, is a "minor issue." People get rid of dogs or put them to sleep all the time for bites, when in most cases, with some education and management, they are totally preventable--a behaviorist is totally reasonable here and much better than the other options. What is $650 compared to a hospital bill for stitches, a child afraid of dogs, and a dog who loses his home after a worse incident?

Clearly this dog is uncomfortable with the child and with the hugs. This is whether or not he'd tolerate them from someone else, whether or not another dog may tolerate them or even like them.... The child tried to hug him and the dog did not like it. Of course, stopping all hugging is going to prevent that situation again but not others in which the child also probably makes him uncomfortable. People need in-person training for all sorts of things--a behaviorist will be a great asset with a dog like this, who tends to be on the fearful side anyways.

Regardless if you, Jarudi, do contact the behaviorist, please read the links I provided. The growl is not the only thing you should take as warnings; the hugs are not the only things that your dog probably doesn't feel comfortable with.

Also, here are two more insightful links:

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Last edited by crock; 02-20-2014 at 11:07 PM.
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Old 02-21-2014, 01:14 AM
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This isn't the same circumstance, but it's still a good article.

My Dog Bit My Child
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Old 02-21-2014, 01:46 PM
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First and foremost, he's not a bad dog. Given your recent circumstances and everything that's happened this far in your dog's life (but mostly all that moving around recently) he was due to lash out. Your child hugging him may just have been the straw that broke his patience.

I've been involved with quite a few Borders in my life and every one of them was different. Some (like my three and one of them named Pete, though they're not pure while Pete is) excel with small children. Seriously you could leave a two year old in the back yard and Scamp would "herd" that child around within the parameters he believes to be safe. He also protects children from anyone he perceives to be a threat, hackles up and warning growls. He is stoic, tolerant, patient, and allows them to grip his hide to pull themselves up onto their legs when learning to walk. And you better believe we monitor him closely. He doesn't give even subtle warnings. Pete is very much the same way. (They used Pete as my babysitter. lol)

Then there's Borders like Sam. If you even bring a child near the room Sam is in, he bolts. He constantly growls at small children, has snapped once or twice always with punishment, (old timey farmer who went soft and let the dogs inside) and has had to be locked away. This dog is a hard working cow dog with the attitude of his owner. "Work hard, get 'r' dun, eat a hefty meal!" He treats children like he doesn't have the time to deal with them and takes the effort to remove himself from the situation, that was what he has recently taught to do anyway.

I say these things so you can get a feel for how Borders /can/ be. They're versatile and can go just about any way you'll let them. They're smart problem solvers but different personalities all the same. So how your dog is with children really comes down to how he's conditioned to respond and react to the stimulus as much as what kind personality he is. Given that he has snapped recently though, I would take preventative measures to keep them separated.

I would like to bring to light the fact that you guys have recently faced a *lot* of changes. You have left den after den in your dog's eyes, and I'm betting there's been a couple consistent things present in his life while you guys have been moving around. First, his kennel. Second, his food bowl. Third, his family. Some Borders thrive from stability and consistency while others are more versatile and accepting. All, however, are sensitive. While you've been moving around you likely have been worrying about where to go, what to do, how to move forward. That kind of energy is hard for a dog to ignore, and the anxiety can build in them as much as it can in us. (The stacking everyone is talking about.) I'm betting he views his kennel as a safe haven, one that is stable and won't go away, as well as his food bowl. The new territorial behavior over these things says, to me anyway, "this is my space/food, leave me alone while I'm here." Probably because this is where he feels most secure.

A dog's adjustment time can be vastly different from ours. I've seen dogs adopted by a family a year ago still treat the world with skepticism and their families like near strangers, even though they've had them for a year. Other dogs are quick to adapt to the fold (especially young ones, like puppies.) Other dogs never do. I'm wondering if your dog truly has settled into this house, or if he's biding his time waiting for the next move, and making sure he has his kennel/bowl to help him cope. He might not be one of the dogs who is as adaptable to change as others can be.

I'm no expert though, this is just my take on your situation. Definitely go for the behaviorist, because your dog is worth it, and definitely work on those kids' interaction with dogs, because he's still worth it and that knowledge will carry them a long way.

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Old 02-21-2014, 04:08 PM
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Kenya and Pumpkin don't mind hugs. Pumpkin pesters me for hugs. I wouldn't assume any dog does or let kids hug a dog. The risk is greater with kids as well.
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