• Michael D’Abruzzo

    October 2, 2011 at 12:26 am

    Hi vjspata!

    There are a few things to consider and work on here, but the first thing is always going to be safety. Therefore, before putting a plan into place I would imagine every possible scenario that can trigger a bite and prepare to prevent it. This would include not having Mercy out of site with the children. Toddlers are statistically at the highest risk for bites out of any age group. They are clumsy, at eye level, and do not read dog body language very well. Also, I would start “party hat” training. Give Mercy a positive experience wearing a comfortable basket muzzle. This will be needed not only for work with the children, but also if you are working on fear aggression with strangers. There is a video in the members section, we also have this shorter version on youtube:
    Next, what you will need to do is review the pack structure exercises in the “self-help” section and I would also review the “establishing the relationship” section in the aggression rehab. These are both very similar and based on the same concepts, but this MUST be drilled in as the details of how and why leadership is established is important. You will notice that things such as taking away bones or hugging a resting dog are NOT in there, and that is most likely the reason Mercy is somewhat reactive to the children. Generally we teach this to parents in our puppy classes because this can be considered a violation of respect toward the dog. Dogs do not understand this as normal social behavior and it becomes more like bullying to the dog and eventually the dog becomes more on guard with those who do not respect these natural boundaries. The fact that many dogs tolerate it doesn’t mean they enjoy it.
    The type of biting you are describing is sometimes called a “hit”. It is exactly what you were sensing, a type of disciplinary bite. The problem is that Mercy is not growling first. Normally dogs WILL give a growl warning before doing this. Many American bred shepherds are known to be prone to this type of biting without the growl and there is most definitely a genetic factor at play and that is important to understand, since it is not something to be held against the dog. She will always be more prone to bite if stumbled upon as well. Understanding what the dog is prone to is an important part of the training plan.

    A starter plan for you:
    – get started on “party hat” training
    – teach the children to NOT remove anything from Mercy’s mouth, hug, kiss, or disturb her while she is sleeping. Remember, this behavior may also be mimicked at a friends house with their dog and the bite can be worse. It is important to teach children how to behave around their own dog first so they are less prone to be bitten by all dogs.
    – Be sure that Mercy is not in competition with the children over anything. This includes furniture, human beds, adult attention, and toys.
    – Do not allow Mercy to lay in the path of the children. Give her a “place” out of direct traffic to lay that the children are taught to leave when she is there.
    – Use a muzzle around the children until the children and Mercy are consistent with showing new behaviors
    – Do continue with positive interactions with the children as them feeding her, tossing the ball, or participating in treat based training
    – The adults will do all training that includes any type of corrections

    Mercy does not sound like a horrible dog, but she is a german shepherd that most likely has a genetic based issue that makes her prone to skipping steps in the aggression cycle. Because of this you will need to be more diligent in training and management for at least the next three years if you want to prevent more bites. Even a “hit” can cause a tear on the face of our delicate skinned children, and a “hit” is one step from a full bite if certain behaviors from the children aren’t discouraged and the dog isn’t set up for success through proper management and continued positive associations.

    Let me know what you think. We are here to help you. Remember, safety first.