Last week, Forbes Magazine had an interesting interview with Ian Dunbar -- who, by most people's standards, is one of the most respected dog trainers out there.
The interview with Dunbar is interesting, as most interviews with him are. And though I confess that I, like Marji, found his take on adult dogs a little disconcerting, there was one area of the interview that I thought was very interesting.
On the second page of the written interview, Dunbar gets into a conversation about bite inhibition that I'm going to post most of the details of here. I've written some before about Bite Inhibition, and that I think the lack of early socialization and bite inhibition is the biggest determinent in major dog attacks -- but isn't something anyone really has data for. But Dunbar's comments regarding bite inhibition and shelter dogs I found to be very interesting. Here's the section:
Forbes: How do you deal with a dog that bites?
Ian Dunbar: The question is not "Is the dog reactive?" Most dogs, like most people, are reactive.
The question is "When it reacts, does it cause damage?"
If it causes damage you're pretty much screwed. It means the dog did not develop bite inhibition in puppyhood. And there's no way to teach dog bite inhibtion safely. There's no way to teach the dog bite inhibition toward dogs and other animals at all.
There ain't no cure. The only think you can do is manage it, keep him indoors and never let him off leash. Or euthanize him. I grade bites on a scale from one to six and once you move from a three to a four, there's nothing you can do for this dog. He's going to die.
Forbes: What exactly do you mean by bite inhibition?
ID: The importance of puppy class is that puppies bite other puppies in play and they learn that their bites hurt because they have needle sharp teeth. So they learn to inhibit the force of their bites before they develop strong jaws. If they don't learn that, the dog is screwed. There's no magic here.....
Forbes: So it's all about the intensity of the dog's bite?
ID: It's the good news and bad news about bites. It's bad that it happens, because the dog is upset and stressed and lacks confidence and it felt the need to bite. That's bad. But the good news is it didn't hurt. That's bite inhibition.
Forbes: Most people don't want any part of a dog that bites.
ID: When I met Ashby, I fed him some food. He took the food and he bit me.
When I met Claude he was going to be euthanized the next day because he had bitten someone at the San Francisco SPCA. I looked at the woman's arm and there wasn't any damage at all. So I went in to see him and started pushing his buttons, which was pretty easy. Touch his collar, you get bitten. Touch his butt, you get bitten.
He bit me fourt times. I said "Great, we'll take him." Why? The bites don't hurt. We have a dog who's scared and reactive, but he's safe. And he's proven safe. Four times he's gone off and hasn't caused any damage.
Forbes: But most people don't even consider these distinctions.
ID: Bite inhibition is the most misunderstood concept in dog training.
Think of a human analogy: Let's say you go into a biker bar and you insult a guy's motorcycle. You can have two kinds of reactions. One can be "You'd better not say that again." That's cool. The other one is he pulls a knife and stabs you.
In shelters, I'm convinced they kill all the wrong dogs, and adopt out dogs that aren't tested. If the dog snaps, they'll euthanize it. I think -- he snaps, thank goodness he's only snapping.
I realize that shelters are often challenged in these situations. It is obviously not a good idea to send aggressive dogs into adopting homes. But do we properly make the distinction between reactive and dangerous? And are shelters mistakenly euthanizing dogs that are reactive, but safe? I'm not sure. Would love to get your thoughts.
For more on bite inhibition:
Modern Dog Magazine: Puppy Socialization and Bite Inhibition
Dog Star Daily: More on bite inhibition (because it's so important)