Major Trouble

Major, Major, Major. You have to stop doing it, or they are going to put you on a one-way train back to Delaware. On the other hand, the White House drama you’re stirring up has helped bring attention to National Dog Bite Prevention Week (April 11-17). For that, Sir, I am obliged.

Dog bite prevention is actually a favorite topic of mine because there are over 4 million dog bites per year in this country, and most of them are brought about by inappropriate human behavior. I have to believe that educating humans can improve these statistics. Furthermore, a veterinarian’s duty is to protect the “human-animal bond”. Once a dog has bitten someone, his relationship with everyone around him (not merely the injured person) shifts indelibly, and not for the better. Just ask Major.

A previous piece outlined how people can act to protect themselves from receiving a dog bite, but Major Biden’s situation turns the spotlight on another vital player in these scenarios: the pet owner. Dogs bite when they are confused or afraid (or both), not because they enjoy controlling others or relish the taste of human flesh; in other words, situations cause dog bites. As the pet owner, you are directly in charge of situations. Your dog needs you to protect him from behavior triggers like loud noise, unfamiliar people, fast-moving children, and other things that undermine his confidence. Dog owners can not be clueless bystanders when their pet is interacting with another human being. They bear a considerable responsibility to read the signals sent by their pet and to insulate him from upsetting situations.

Human beings respond to stressors in a boundless variety of ways that don’t result in bodily harm: we might slam something down on the table, grumble a curse or two under our breath, or fire off a sarcastic remark. Canines have a much more limited repertoire. As their caretakers, we need to accept the truth of Prevention Week’s 2021 slogan, “Any dog can bite.” Yes, even the gentlest pet can end up lashing out, if the situation is right. Embrace this. Know that your cuddly companion has a breaking point (somewhere), and be his best friend by protecting him from it. If he’s insecure about his food or toys, soothe his fears by helping to keep these things safe from others. If he’s uncomfortable around children (or Secret Service agents), respect his wishes and don’t ask that he cozy up to them.

We need to stop being apologists for biting dogs and lean into the fact that everyone loses their cool at some point or another. Your trusted, affectionate companion and a dog that bit someone can be exactly the same individual. When you downplay his past mistakes and expose him to the same upsetting stimuli again, you are holding him to an impossible standard of perfection. If he signals that he’s unnerved by something, be respectful and allow him to bow out of the situation. As his owner and ally, you are responsible for protecting him from doing something he can’t take back.

Dr. M.S. Regan