DEAR DIDI: I was out bicycling when a lady walking her dog began screaming behind me. I glanced down in time to notice a wiener dog at my feet. It actually managed to jump up and bite my foot! I pedaled faster and sped away leaving the woman to retrieve her unruly dog. I don’t know who she is or where she lives. When I got home I discovered the dog left three puncture wounds around my Achilles tendon. It has hurt for a week but wasn’t bad enough to see a doctor. I keep thinking … if this had been a large breed dog. Are small dogs not held to the same standards? I haven’t met one yet that was trained. Are small breeds not able to be trained, or at least, well trained? Why do small dog owners let them wander off leash through neighbors’ yards? -Anonymous
DEAR ANONYMOUS: Small breeds are absolutely held to the same standards ethically and legally! California is zero bite tolerance state. The problem is that people don’t report the bites because they don’t want to make trouble. Medical bills, time off from work or major bodily damage was not incurred. “So, what’s the big deal?” seems to be the thought process of many small breed dog owners. Some knowledgeable experts estimate that up to 80 percent of all dog bites in America are actually inflicted by small breed dogs. Any dog that bites must be taken extremely seriously no matter the level of damage he or she is capable of inflicting! It isn’t cute. It isn’t funny. Any owner that thinks the biting, no matter how occasionally, can’t be helped because of the type of breed their dog is, needs to get a clue! Get professional help from a qualified trainer or behaviorist immediately.
Seventy-five percent of claims to homeowner’s insurance these days are from dog related issues. The average payout is $30,000 according to some statisticians. Had you seen the dog a few seconds sooner and swerved to avoid the bite you could have fallen and broken something. Worse yet, you might have swerved into an oncoming car and been seriously injured or killed. The owner of the dog could be held financially liable for damages to all involved. I am not an attorney, but these are typically scenarios I see as a behaviorist because owners fail to take steps to prevent issues ahead of time. Then they seek my services to fix things after the fact. Owners often think, “my dog wouldn’t do that”, “that would never happen”, “you are exaggerating”, etc.
Small breed dogs are attractive to people because they are so adorable and the size leads people to think that they are controllable. Small dogs are absolutely capable of being well trained and well behaved. Some small breeds are actually bred to be working dogs and desperately need direction, rules, boundaries and consequences. Any dog without those things can turn into a tyrant, bully, or spoiled brat. Small breeds are not teddy bears, dolls, toys, or cats. They are dogs. They help our lives, make us feel better when we are down, make us laugh, and can be an absolute joy to have in the family. But, a pet dog that bites anyone, for any reason, is a serious problem and a liability that should be immediately addressed. Responding to a biting dog with physical punishment will only make the dog (any dog) worse. Please seek qualified professional help if you have a small dog that chases people, bites family members to any degree, escapes out front doors uncontrollably, barks incessantly, growls at family members, etc. These are not safe or acceptable behaviors from any dog, including the small breeds!
Dierdra McElroy is a graduate of Texas A&M University and is an Animal Behaviorist specializing in canines. If you have questions or concerns about the pets in your house, you can get them answered through a future column of Didi’s Dogs. Email your questions or inquire about dog behavior presentations at firstname.lastname@example.org.