That Bite Came Out of Nowhere…or Did It?

Dog aggression is a complicated thing.

It seems I spend a lot of time writing about it, thinking about it, learning about it and trying to help clients whose dogs are suffering from it.

I have spent most of my career working with dog aggression in some form or another.

From trying to put an end to it, and control it so that it doesn’t ruin lives.

To trying to build it for police and protection dogs that need aggression to work.

I think that being on both sides of aggression, suppression and building, has helped me to understand it and recognize it even more rapidly and deal with it swiftly.  And for a great video series that shows you how to deal with aggressive behavior, click here.

I have rarely seen a dog bite that “came out of nowhere”.

dog bite, dog aggressionThe truth is that this phrase and the stories that develop from it are like scary urban legends that are whispered around the campfire at night.

They may have, at one time, been based on some minuscule fact or assumption of fact but the whole of the story is just embellished to make for a great tale.

Or to avoid culpability after something bad happens.

The only real time I have seen “the elusive bite that came out of nowhere” was when the dog had a seizure or brain disorder.

Rage Syndrome or Springer Rage

Rage Syndrome (or Springer Rage) is a condition where a dog goes from seemingly affectionate and normal, to extreme unprovoked aggression and biting.

Most data now shows that this is a seizure type of misfiring in the brain that causes sudden onset aggression.

However, this is pretty rare (thank goodness).

The Signs of Aggression Are Ignored

The majority of the time people choose to, or accidentally, ignore the signs.

dog bite, dog aggression

Why?  Why would anyone choose to ignore the signs of aggression, prior to a bite?

The answer is complicated, yet easy.

They don’t want to think that their dog, or a dog that they know or love would actually bite.

In some ways I understand, we are judged by our dog’s inherent temperament and behavior.

We are DRILLED as young children that if a dog is aggressive it is because the owners “just didn’t love it or treat it right”.

And, truthfully some people are just too lazy to want to exert the effort it would take to combat aggression.

The Columbine Syndrome

I often call this the “Columbine Syndrome”.

I lived in the Denver area when the first large school shooting “Columbine” shocked the nation.

But the truth was that there were all kinds of warning signs.

The teens were hoarding weapons.

They had threatened to commit crimes online.

They had told others they were going to commit the crime.

No one believed them.

In some ways I understand.  I mean, before this incident who would have ever believed that such horrors could occur.

But ignoring horrific signs serves no one.

And, getting help will take work and commitment.

My First Cue

My first cue or indication is when a dog owner starts a statement with:

“He’s never been aggressive”

“He’s never actually bitten”

The only reason to try and convince me of these things, is because you know these things exist.

After all, I have had dogs that have “never been aggressive and have never bitten anyone” and I never had to tell anyone that.  My dogs’ behaviors put people at ease.

I never even considered saying “he’s never bitten or been aggressive”.

People say that when they are trying to convince themselves and others.

Aggressive Behavior = Intent

I don’t know how many times I have to say it, but aggressive behavior often equals intent.

And, I, personally would rather you take an innocent behavior seriously (let’s say a play bow with a growl) than ignore a potentially dangerous behavior.

The Man Who Was Mauled to Death in Bed

Oddly, this isn’t a one-time incident.

You can google and find several stories on people who are killed, in bed, by their dogs.

dog bite, dog aggressionAnd, it is my opinion that these dogs have showed signs of aggression, prior to the killing; that were ignored.

Many times, dogs that kill people in bed have possession aggression or resource guard the bed and other things that they deem are theirs.

They may, in fact, growl at their owners for years when they are accidentally touched by the owner in the bed while they sleep.

The dog owner may not even really pay attention, and certainly don’t take the behavior seriously.

Until the final night, where it can only be proposed that the owner irritated the dog by kicking, touching or rolling on him one final time.

Dogs Warn

The truth is that dogs warn us.

They don’t all hackle, growl or bite, dog aggression

Some of them stiffen or freeze.

Some stare with pupils dilated.

Some lick their lips.

Sometimes their tails stand straight up while they wag.

Some uncurl or drop their tail.

Some pin their ears.

Some put their ears straight up.

But usually, in the beginning, the behavior makes our hair stand up on end.

I know that working at a vet hospital sometimes all I can say is, “he makes me uncomfortable” or “I don’t trust him”.

It may be a flash of many of those behaviors, or a blatant behavior but we are all (as adults and some children) given that gift of fear.

The problem is that some people ignore it.

I was once told that a certain breed was known for “staring” and freezing but it didn’t necessarily mean that the dog was a threat.

Personally, I don’t believe that.

I believe my gut.

I don’t ever want to discount my gut.

I may be wrong, on occasion, but I would rather be more cautious than to let my guard down and be tagged by a dog!

Don’t Lie

Don’t discount what you feel.

Don’t lie.

Don’t tell yourself that you are wrong for feeling what you are feeling.

Don’t just hope that it goes away.

Aggression doesn’t get better when we ignore it.

Aggression is actually a self-rewarding behavior.

It is important to get on a behavior modification regimen and begin training.

If the aggression is severe consider seeing a boarded veterinary behaviorist who can prescribe medications that can help while on the behavior modification program!

Want To Learn How To Eradicate Nearly ALL Your Dog’s Aggressive Behaviors?

Enroll in our twice a year LIVE 8 week MASTER-CLASS on Emotional Re-calibration Training (ERT) specifically for Over-reactive, Fearful and Aggressive dogs.

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  1. Ashtyn says:

    I have just stumbled upon this article while searching the internet. I haven’t had a chance to fully read through this site, which I plan to do! (I love what I have been learning so far!) I am just wondering, are you able to help with behavioral training? I have a dog who bites me and others in my family. He’s 5 now. He has bitten here and there through the years. 1st when he was roughly 6 months old. I need help with him badly, obviously. Things I have tried doing to curb the behavior have not worked. I don’t know if this site or you, the writer, monitor these comments. If there is a chance you could help could we get in contact with one another? Thank you.
    -Ashtyn Jones.


    Minette Reply:

    Aggression can’t be managed by a trainer over the internet. You need a boarded veterinary behaviorist to help


  2. Amanda Quigley says:

    I have found great information on your site. My family adopted a 2 year old rescue last May. We used a reputable DNA site and she is 77% German Shepherd and 23% black lab. It took a few weeks for her to become comfortable. We are quite positive she was abused and is fearful of men. She was doing great. We had 30 people over for the holidays, no issue. We can bring her outside the home to a pet store, the Vet, for a walk and she still needs obedience work but isn’t aggressive. Over the past 45 days she has become overprotective of our home. If someone rings the doorbell she immediately becomes aggressive and we do not trust she will not bite. Other than that she is the sweetest girl. She would never hurt anyone in our family or outside the home. Again, the issue is when a stranger attempts to enter our home. Is it abnormal for this behavior to have gotten worse recently?


    Minette Reply:

    You think she did great over the holidays, but perhaps it stressed her out and brought about some of this behavior.

    However, what caused it is not as important as making sure that it doesn’t end in a bite. Put her on a leash and go back and work on obedience so that you have control over her when people come to visit.


  3. Sonny's Mom says:

    My favorite excuse comes from the dog-walker who approaches with a lunging dog, while calling out: “Don’t worry– he’s FRIENDLY!” I quickly learned what this actually means: “I have ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA know how to handle my dog’s behavior.”


  4. Kat says:

    Seriously! I purchased Impukse Control. There us a receipt in my email but no link? I go to your site to find a log in and don’t see one. I’d appreciate a link to getbto the training!


  5. EVA Lacks says:

    Good for us to recognize our dog will not behave if we do not train, and sometimes I do not know what to do. My dog is a new challenge for me.


  6. Marina says:

    My dog has bit me on way to vet but she is so loving kissing grandchildren to bits but don’t know if I can trust her


  7. Lynn says:

    My dog is a 7 year old, 3 1/2 pound chihuahua, that I think is retarded. From the day I got her I took her to work with me, using public transportation. Some people she loved and others she became very aggressive. I retired about a year after I got her. My other dogs I had in the past I trained with no problems. When the door bell rings, she starts barking and becomes very aggressive so many times I have to put her in the bathroom, because she will bite. I take her most places we go and many times I have to hold her so she will not hurt any one. I give her lots of love & play time. She is not driven by food, almost have to force feed her. She was coming to me when I said come, then one day she stopped, and will only look at me no matter what I try to give her as a reward. The only vet in 50 miles, just laughs when I tell him about her behavior, but she is always muzzled in his office. I love her, but she drives me crazy at times.


  8. Pam Sharrock says:

    when is your next ert training?


    Minette Reply:

    email Julie at customer service and she can let you know


  9. Kelly says:

    I have a Goldendoodle that I got at 4 months old, he’s now 6 months old & bites/mouths all the time. I give him plenty of things to chew on, while teething but my arms are tore up. He will not listen to the word no. If he gets something he’s not allowed to have, I tell him no, that bad, put it back. He will continue to do it all night long.. it’s so frustrating‼️


    Minette Reply:

    Get our impulse control program!


  10. Sue Francis says:

    I have a 10 month Golden Retriever that jumps but bites and continues to bite and jumps on you. He has been doing this since about 16 weeks old. He is on zip line during the day and at night he is in a stall since there are coyotes out. He gets really aggressive when I put his harness on and go around his back to put the lease on . He lays down and bites and the jumps up and bites. When he is off the lease he is fine but still will jump and bite .


  11. Carolyn says:

    I have a German Shepard that I got when he was 2 and he randomly bites people that come in the yard including friends. I don’t trust him with anyone except my immediate family, I make sure my husband or myself is in the yard before they come in, I believe it’s more stress biting than aggression do you offer any class for this situation? Thank you


    Minette Reply:

    I recommend a boarded veterinary behaviorist to assess your dog and his behavior.


  12. Randall Cooper says:

    If my dog sees a squirrel, chipmunk, etc while looking out our doorwall, he will bark, jump, etc. and when we try to stop him he bites at us. Hasn’t bitten us yet but he does make the attempt. He is a Boston Terrier that is the nicest dog alive except when he sees what he wants to chase. We know we should not yell at him during his outrage but not much, other than shutting the drapes, will stop it. We need help before he does bite someone.


  13. Jacque Poitevint says:

    I rescued a 4 mo old pure Siberian Husky. She & her Bro were kept outside and she was very sick when I got her. She was drinking stagnent water and her diarrhea was white. I was told by a vet friend that when they get them in the pound like that they quarenteen them because they are very contageous, even humans can get the sickness. I think the two of them were very abused and she was so afraid when I brought her home she would not come in the house for a long time. I have 2 other dogs and when they finally let her in the pack she started coming in the house and laying on the floor but would run out when I came in the room. I just ignored her behavior and she finally became comfortable with doing what the other dogs did but today she will still bite certain people. I think she sinces their thoughts, which are bad, it takes her a long time to warm up t but o certain people but she finally does.When the new cleaning lady came over one day and I could since she did not want to mop the floor and she was racing around and throwing things and did a horrible job. As she was walking out the gate Ruby bit her on the butt. That is her thing. It is never hard but she lets you know she does not like your attitude. I don”t blame her but I feel dogs can since your thoughts and behaivor. I do not use treats with my huskies and they learn just fine. I look right at them and talk to them in a calm voice. Ruby lets me know when someone is a bad person, I just ignor her and she eventually gets used to a person, if they are not bad. If they are a bad person they do not ever come in my yard again. Ruby and her brother were definately very abused very badly but I feel she is growing out of it.


    Minette Reply:

    Dogs that bite are a liability, you could lose everything you own and she could lose her life. I suggest you take it serious.

    I also suggest that you look into the science of primary reinforcers and why it is crucial to use them to your advantage


  14. Sally says:

    Sue, I use a spray bottle of water when my dog starts to bite or show aggression. I spray right in his face. He stops . Then minds me till next time. No harm.


  15. Charlotte says:

    My dog has sent four other dogs to the vet with nasty bites and we have had several near misses. She freezes briefly with ears very stiff and then charges at the other dog. But not all dogs and not every time. We have an appointment with a specialist vet in a couple of weeks and in the mean time she is wearing a basket muzzle while in public and is never off leash. The bites have mostly occurred when she has been surprised. I’m working with her on going to me when she is startled rather than charging off. If I can’t find a way to help her settle, she will always have to be controlled in public or face being put to sleep. I feel I have let her down badly but I will do everything I can to help her.


  16. Sally says:

    Our 3 yr old rescue has come a long way in 6 months. He is very sweet with us but tries to bite our hands when we pet him. He follows me down the hall & bites at my legs or pants. I use a spray water bottle to stop him. He is aggressive when people come in front door so I put him on a lease. Later on, I can unleash him and he is friendly. Why does this little spitz bit & gnaw? I can touch my cheek & say kisses and he while lick. Is this dog crazy? Love him❣️


    Minette Reply:

    He needs more structure and exercise!


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