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Biting as a plea for help

I have been receiving several calls from dog owners lately with the same issue – biting. The dog has started biting humans on the street, other dogs; he lunges at bikes, scooters and children. At home he tries to bite everyone who comes in, including the granny, who is walking around using her stick as if it were a baseball bat (yes, I really had to see that...). What am I supposed to do as a trainer? ‘Teach the dog not to bite!’ many will say. ‘Dogs shouldn’t even growl, let alone bite.’ But I think this is so unfair, isn’t it? Dogs have teeth and a number of vocalisations to express their mood. They will eventually use both if nobody listens to them. And it’s their right to do so. It’s their way of saying ‘I’ve had enough now. Leave me alone!’ It’s their right to correct people and other dogs who constantly ignore their requests for space. Preventing a dog from expressing his discomfort inhibits his natural behaviour and communication. You would never expect a person to be bullied all day long by someone and still be smiling and thanking the perpetrator for the discomfort. How can a dog communicate when they aren’t coping? Ignored, irritated and picked on in so many ways and for such a long time, with nobody listening to what he’s trying to say…that’s when the situation gets out of control. His disappointment and his frustration will soon reach extreme levels. How can he make himself heard? How can he make it clear that he’s sick of being handled and treated this way? He growls and snarls and bites. He clings to the only thing that works and that he feels is left to him to say ‘that’s enough. I can’t take it any longer’. There’s no need to inhibit a dog’s bite. One must instead radically change the dog’s lifestyle. The dog needs to be taught that he can relax, that he can be sure nobody is going to take anything away from him, and that he is allowed to have space. His stress levels and hormones need to be brought under control again – they will definitely be out of balance due to the high stress he has been experiencing. It takes a lot of patience, time and love to do this, rather than coercion and intimidation. Our ultimate goal as trainers and owners must be to free our dogs from the weight we put on their shoulders and to make them happy to share their lives with us. There is no need for constant control, jerking and relentless obedience training. We need to understand that we are dealing with a living being with strong emotions, just like our own. Dogs deserve to be listened to, respected and granted their happiness. This is the only way we can effectively set our dogs up for success and allow them live as an individual, rather than an accessory. Federica Iacozzilli is a dog trainer and behaviourist working in Italy.

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