==> You may be one of those who think "not me", but fact is ignorance is no protection - conscious risk awareness is!
How likely is it that you may get bitten by a dog, any dog?
Dog Bite Risk Assessment (beta)
Find out more: Click to save vet cost, training cost, and your nerves!
This is something I wanted to figure out for quite some time, so it certainly is work-in-progress, don't expect this to be the 'final wisdom' (beta indicates this). Since no one else seems to have come up with a Dog Bite Risk Assessment, this first attempt will benefit from further calibration.
However, experience tells us a Dog Bite Risk Assessment (if achievable) is very helpful indeed - particularly when we have children!
So, what is 'Dog Bite Risk' anyway?
I consider the Dog Bite Risk as the sum of three individual risks:
- Likelihood that ANYONE's dog bites YOU or a family member
- Likelihood that YOUR dog bites ANYONE (third party)
- Likelihood that YOUR dog bites YOU or a family member
This MYGERMANSHEPHERD PERIODICAL will address all three, so the total Dog Bite Risk.
Note that if somehow we could reduce Risk 3 to zero, then the Periodical How to save the relationship when your dog bit you wouldn't have been necessary. But frankly upfront: We can't. While almost every dog owner believes that their dog "would never bite" them, strangely, there is indicative evidence that many family members do get bitten by their dog at some point in time.
Indicative because no statistics seem to exist: Even if the family member seeks medical assistance, understandably rarely they admit that their own dog bit them, fearing the dog would be put down!
Similarly, if somehow we could reduce Risk 2 to zero, then the Periodical What to do if our dog injured someone? wouldn't have been necessary. But frankly upfront: We can't. Like with us humans, even the most docile and well-behaved dog can become unpredictable when challenged or threatened by some nasty passerby.
Risk 1 we will actually address in a future Periodical (ie how to avoid that we get bitten by anyone's dog). But note that many months back, the Periodical GSD and Children - Best Practice already touched part of this topic.
- Each of these three risks is subject to very different risk factors indeed. For a comprehensive Dog Bite Risk Assessment we need to consider all these risk factors to be able to assess all three risks.
- The ultimate goal of this Periodical is to provide you with a PRACTICAL TEST that you can use yourself to assess your personal dog bite risk (incl. that of your family members). Cool, eh? Yes, VERY cool indeed!
- If we can make the assessment reasonably good (and take action on the assessment!), then we should be able to significantly reduce ALL THREE RISKS mentioned above, and thus your overall dog bite risk. That's the goal, okay?
- This is a beta because it is the first attempt at such a unique idea/topic! Over time, together we should be able to improve it further, particularly if you share your feedback at the end. - Will you?
Finally, note that if you struggle with any subsequent terms, then you missed out on a past MYGERMANSHEPHERD PERIODICAL! Because each Periodical in the 'Dog Risk' series built on one another - and the next three Periodicals will as well.
The Goal of the Dog Bite Risk Assessment
The goal is best depicted like this:
Assessment of Dog Bite Risk
Our Behavior and Action Steps
Mark that: Without modifying our own behavior and taking Action Steps that bring the assessed dog bite risk under control, there is no risk reduction. Ie, after our assessment, then we must take action!
This Periodical primarily is about the Assessment part - although I couldn't stop, I already included some tips on our Behavior, for Risk Reduction.
Risk 1: Likelihood that ANYONE's Dog Bites YOU or a Family Member
This is meant to comprise all pertinent situations, in particular:
- You or a family member meet a stray dog (on the street, in the woods, on a hike, on holiday, wherever!)
- You or a family member meet a dog-on-leash
- Both of the above may be a close encounter or at a (seemingly) safe distance
- Your family visits another family (friends or not) who have a dog
- Someone (friend or not) is visiting your family and brings a dog along
The key problem: Typically we don't know the dog's history! Traumatized dog, aggressive dog, bitten before, ...?
BUT: At least we know the dog's present energy state. Because we can observe the dog and determine its energy state via the dog body language.
Energy state? As per Dan's Energy Meter.
Dog body language? Pictured Canine Body Language Guide
This enables us to behave in a way that calms down the dog, or distracts the dog (particularly helpful when the dog seems too focused on us, or our kids).
Behave how? Dog Training Toolkit
A calm dog will not bite. Full stop. A dog that is distracted (not focused on us), will not bite us (but maybe someone else).
But I am ahead of myself, this was already the Behavior part. What about the Bite Risk Assessment part? Is 'observing the dog and assessing its energy state through its body language' all we can do?
For the assessment of Risk 1 ('Likelihood that ANYONE's dog bites YOU or a family member'), pretty much yes, that's all, sorry. Unless you can ask the dog owner for details about the dog (in situations 2, 3 and 4 mentioned above this should be possible; see later what to ask).
Note that if you (or your kids) cannot interprete the particular dog's body language to assess its energy state (and thus the dog bite risk), then it is all the more important that you (and your kids) behave in a way that is calming to the dog, or that distracts the dog's attention away from you (your kids).
Situation 1 above (encounter of a stray dog):
- Walking to the dog - As mentioned in the Dog Training Toolkit, 'Walking to the dog' can be a calming signal (if we manage to walk very slowly), but often it is not. Walking towards a stray dog almost certainly is not calming the dog, it rather is a high-risk behavior.
- Sitting down (on a tree log or similar) will be calming for the dog. To ensure it's also distracting the dog's attention away from us, don't sit with legs apart, don't open up your arms, and don't sit facing towards the dog (or else it may actually attract the dog to come closer to us, depending on the distance, ie whether the dog feels we are in his assumed territory).
- Collar Freeze - Although the Collar Freeze is calming for any dog (not just for our own), this behavior would require a) that the dog does wear a collar (likely), and b) that we get very close to the dog (which obviously isn't a good idea with a stray dog).
- Turning away or even Walking away are best to distract the dog's attention away from us. - Just do not signal any hurry (that could provoke the dog's prey drive, some breeds still inherit strong prey drive!). Walking away without turning our back on the dog is best (so to say, walking 'sideways').
Situation 2 above (encounter of a dog-on-leash):
- Turning away and Walking away are best.
- But sometimes we (or particularly our kids) may want to get closer to the dog, say to show affection. In this case it is crucial that we (and our kids) can read the dog's body language - even if we behave right (no head stroking, no back stroking, no rapid movements, no staring eye contact).
- Collar Freeze - Indeed, in this case (we want to get closer, eg to show affection), it is best to first gently hold the collar for say 10 seconds (at the underside, not at the neck!), before we or our kids attempt say chin stroking or chest stroking.
If done as described, then the dog will already experience the Collar Freeze as affection (ie like it), because it is calming to the dog (and dogs indeed enjoy to be calm).
Situation 3 (visiting someone with a dog):
- First, we aim to be invited into the dog's assumed territory (freeze for a moment, briefly look in the dog's eyes, and lightly bow).
- Then when we enter, we ignore the dog for the first few minutes (this is not 'rude', it relaxes the dog because the dog realizes there is no need to and no purpose to draw our attention). Sitting down (with closed legs and arms) is good initially. It calms down the dog and doesn't signal an invitation to say hop on our lap (if the dog does this nonetheless, slowly get up and walk a few steps away).
- If we (or our kids) then wish to be closer to the dog (say to show affection), we call the dog to us - ie we do not walk to the dog! If the dog comes, fine. We can be sure (s)he won't bite. If the dog doesn't come, we do not call a second time. We leave the dog alone for a few more minutes (some dogs are shy, others are scared, others are better left alone anyway because of the way they are treated by their owner).
Situation 4 (someone with a dog visiting us):
- Resting place - We put down a dog blanket at the place where we want the dog to lie down to relax. We do not lock the dog away (from its owner).
- Hydration - We place a no-spill water bowl next to the dog (well hydrated dogs are calmer, thus safer).
- Sitting down - Again, first we ignore the dog (until entirely relaxed).
- If we (or our kids) then wish to be closer to the dog (say to show affection), again we call the dog to us - ie we do not walk to the dog! If the dog comes, fine. If not, see above.
Risk 2: Likelihood that YOUR Dog Bites ANYONE
Again, this is meant to comprise all pertinent situations, in particular:
- Your dog bites someone you invited onto your property (guest, friend, relative)
- Your dog bites someone during dog walking while off-leash
- Your dog bites someone during dog walking while on-leash
- Your dog bites someone while roaming the neighborhood after escaping from you (ie as stray dog)
- Your dog bites someone (friends or not) while you visit their property
Note that Risk 2 does not comprise biting an intruder or attacker. Because (in my personal opinion), biting an intruder or attacker is not a dog bite risk, rather a deterrent (or even pleasure, depending on your dog's last meal time )
Here we are 'luckier', typically we do know our dog's history (unless we adopted the dog from a shelter and they didn't know about the dog's past).
For a reasonably reliable assessment of Risk 2, we would need to know the following risk factors:
- What Socialization has been done?
- What forms of Bite Inhibition Training have been applied, how often, and for how long?
- Has your GSD ever bitten someone, in what situation, what were the circumstances?
- Were children involved? Other dogs?
- Is there any chance that your German Shepherd is traumatized from a prior owner or shelter experience?
- What is your dog's general level of aggression? Snarl/growl easily? When anyone approaches the food bowl, etc?
- Is your GSD kept in an outdoor kennel? Chained? Or does (s)he sleep in an indoor crate?
- Does your dog get sufficient daily exercise to stay balanced and calm (sufficient depends on breed, for the German Shepherd: minimum 3 hours a day if adult dog)
- Does your German Shepherd freely roam the neighborhood?
- Do strangers often have contact with your GSD (getting close)?
- Does your dog have comfy resting places near you?
- Is your GSD well hydrated, ie does (s)he have access to drinking bowls full of fresh water throughout day and night?
Note: To get a reasonably reliable dog bite risk assessment, we need to make the assessment always based on the same energy level (ideally level 1 as per Dan's Energy Meter).
Indicators of Energy Level 1:
- Clear Pack structure, ie the dog does not experience a Pack conflict
- Not bored, well exercised (and thus well balanced)
- Well fed, not hungry
- Well hydrated, not thirsty
- Not too cold, and particularly not too hot
- No illness, no injury, no pain
- LOOK how the dog behaves, read the dog body language! Any signs of stress?
Once we consider all above risk factors and we make our assessment always based on the same energy level, we should be able to assess Risk 2.
Risk 3: Likelihood that YOUR Dog Bites YOU or a Family Member
Many dog owners (including German Shepherd owners) are entirely unconcerned about this particular risk. Some (in Germany?), who have a GSD as extreme as this (pictured), may be thinking: "My dog is as docile as a frog."
This is meant to be humorous - if you prefer it serious, say because you acquired an SV Augsburg champion from Germany(??), this Periodical explains the pun. In any case, I am really wondering if the German SV Augsburg-style German Shepherd champions are in so much pain that they could not injure anyone anyway? - As much as we injured them!
Okay, back to the Dog Bite Risk Assessment!
For most dog owners and family members this situation (Risk 3) comes out of the blue. Without a MYGERMANSHEPHERD PERIODICAL like this (and the Periodical How to save the relationship when your dog bit you), few dog owners will sit there contemplating:
"How likely is it that my dog will bite me today?"
In other words, most dog owners are heading head-on towards this situation without realizing it... - But that's not today's topic. Today's topic is about: How can we realize the risk? - 'Realize' in terms of notice it and assess it, not bring it about!
Find out more: Click to save vet cost, training cost, and your nerves!
Reasons Why Dogs Bite their Owner or a Family Member
In the order of relevance:
- The dog owner or family member is not the dog's accepted Pack leader (ie the owner failed to establish every family member as the dog's accepted Pack leader)
- The dog is almost permanently being kept on a high energy level (above 5 as per Dan's Energy Meter; note that dogs assume their Pack leader's energy level, because dogs are energy recipients): kept outside, no resting places close to its family members, not enough water to drink, shouting, metal/chain/choke/prong collar, leash pulling, unlimited attention-seeking, etc
- The dog owner or family member approaches the dog during Feeding (without prior Bite Inhibition Training), or they attempt to take a bone, toy, or other assumed possession away from the dog
- The dog owner or family member hasn't learned how to read the dog body language
(Plus other reasons - which are not relevant for us dog lovers here - say, chaining the dog outside, hitting, and other cruelty)
Note that dog behavior problems like dog aggression or dominant dog behavior are not dog bite causes, but they are dog bite symptoms (risk indicators). This is important to understand - but we will repeat it when we get to the Periodical how to prevent being bitten (the Behavior and Action Steps part), not next week though.
Practical Dog Bite Risk Assessment Test
Now let's combine all of the above to get to a (draft) Practical Test how you can assess your personal dog bite risk!
- The term "a dog" refers to a typical dog (standard dog ), acknowledging the fact that in reality of course every dog communicates and reacts slightly different, and that some dogs that we may come across may be traumatized and communicate and react very different.
- The term "regularly" shall mean at least once a week (this is used as broad simplification).
- Intentionally, the questions below require Yes/No answers, they do not allow to be vague. Where you feel unsure, it may be wise to answer "No".
- If your dog now is a senior dog, but in earlier years you could have answered "Yes" to the questions below, then you may do so now as well.
- The Test combines all three risks into one result. If there's enough interest, I might put in the effort to create individual Tests for each risk.
Dog Bite Risk factors
1 Can you (and your family members) calm down an excited dog (whether by using Tools from the Dog Training Toolkit, your personal "tricks", or whatever)?
2 Can you (and your family members) distract a dog's attention (whether by using Tools from the Dog Training Toolkit, your personal "tricks", or whatever)?
3 Can you (and your family members) read a dog's tail language, even if docked?
4 Can you (and your family members) read a dog's posture, even in the dark?
5 Can you (and your family members) read a dog's eye contact and facial expression?
6 Has your dog been systematically socialized with a broad variety of adults and children in different environments and different situations, even while behaving in unusual ways?
7 Do you regularly interrupt a dog meal, either to add a tasty morsel or to briefly take away the food bowl?
8 Do you regularly take away a bone, chew toy or other toy from the mouth of your dog?
9 Do you regularly interrupt Play with your dog, and only continue to play when you see that you still have complete control over your dog?
10 Do you regularly perform Mouth Care on your dog (toothbrushing)?
11 Does your dog get sufficient daily exercise?
12 Does your dog have free access to filled drinking bowls throughout the day and night?
13 Does your dog have dedicated comfy resting places near you?
14 Does your dog wear a leather collar indoors and at night?
15 Do you feel that you (and every family member) are your dog's accepted Pack leader?
16 Does your dog fully comply with your visual cues?
17 Do strangers ever get close to your dog?
18 Has your dog ever bitten someone who did not challenge or threaten your dog?
19 Is there any chance that your dog is traumatized from a prior owner or shelter experience?
20 Does your dog ever freely roam the neighborhood without your presence?
21 Does your dog regularly pull on the leash when dog walking?
22 Do you regularly shout at your dog?
23 Do you (or a family member) often come across off-leash dogs?
24 Does your dog suffer from an irritating or painful illness or injury?
25 Does your dog wear a choke, prong or electronic 'training' collar outdoors?
26 Does your dog regularly get your immediate full attention without being called?
27 Does your dog appear to be regularly bored?
28 Does your dog regularly pace around, restless or confused (hyperactive)?
29 Does your dog regularly snarl or growl when anyone approaches the food bowl, a bone, or a toy?
30 Is your dog kept in an outdoor kennel?
31 Is your dog chained?
==> Next edition: Dog Bite Treatment <==