Tuesday, October 8, 2013

"Does she bite?"

"Does she bite?"

Well, that's a loaded question, isn't it?

My immediate reaction is to say "No" but I guess that's a lie.

Trying to qualify it by saying "Yes, but it's owner-directed aggression and she's only ever bitten Jan and shuts down when approached by strangers and..." I've come to realize no one hears anything after "Yes".

I don't know why I feel so compelled to say no - I've admitted it here on the 'interwebs' for the whole world to see and know that yes, indeed, Bella has been known to bite. What is it in me that wants to assuage strangers fear of her? I do not know.

"Does she bite?"

I may not know why I want to say no but recently I've learned there is value saying "Yes."

A few weeks ago we had a great morning walk with Bella's best beau, Gus, his hu-folk and some friends. Getting ready to leave, I had Bella in the car when some passers-by came over to ooh and ahh over Gus. (This happens to us a lot when we're out with Gus.)

Finally, someone saw Bella hanging out of the car door with her head on my shoulder checking things out. Without a word, they approached us reaching out to pet her.

Instinctively, and perhaps rather rudely, I put up my arm to physically block their approach and said "She's afraid of people."

"Does she bite?"

That's when they asked "Does she bite?"

I said no because, in all honesty, Bella has never, ever shown any sign that she would bite a stranger. She is afraid of them and without fail (to this point at least) runs away or shuts down.

As soon as the word was out of my mouth, the woman re-initiated her approach, reaching her hand out to pet Bella again.

Are you kidding me? You've just been told the dog you are approaching is afraid of people, she's trapped in a car with no way to escape and just because my answer was "no, she doesn't bite", you're going to try and pet her again?

Of course they want to pet me.
I mean, you've seen me, right?
"Yes, she has."

So I changed my response and said "Actually, yes, she can." The woman backed away.

Now of course, she's eyeing me and Bella like 'what are we doing out in public, don't we know we're endangering people'?

Well no ma'am, we're not - you are.

You shouldn't be reaching your hands into cars with unfamiliar dogs in them anyway but for darn sure you shouldn't be doing so with a dog you've just been told is afraid of people. I'm sorry but what the woof?

And so it dawned on me.

People may deride me for taking a "dangerous dog" out in public but if I just say "yes" when people ask me if she bites, I can protect Bella from people who still want to pet her even after I explain that she doesn't like that. The only real question I have is could/would someone potentially 'report us' for saying she bites even if she never has?

Any thoughts, legal knowledge or experience with such a thing? Let me know in the comments.


43 comments:

  1. Donna and The DogsOctober 8, 2013 at 9:58 PM

    I don't have an answer for the legal issues, but it's a great question, and I SO know where you are coming from. I've had people try to pet Leah, and you know what, although she's never bitten, I KNOW the potential is there. And not to mention poor Medi, who I don't think will bite, but when people find out she's afraid for some reason it makes them want to pet her more. Like they think they are "animal people" and they are going to have some breakthrough or something.


    Oh, and I nearly forgot, one of the trainers I've been to once said to tell people your dog is sick if you don't want strangers petting them. Just something to think about...but then they'd probably report you for bringing a sick dog out in public too.



    Now off to check out who Bella's pal is, because I seem to have forgotten or maybe missed that post. I'm assuming his more like Toby, and anyone can pet him. Anywhere. Any day. Strangers are his friend. LOL!

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  2. Best way to keep someone from petting your dog? Or keep them from letting their dog approach your dog? Tell them your dog has ringworm.


    As for legality of it, I don't see why you would be able to get in trouble for saying so. You might be reported to animal control or something, but without an actual bite, I don't think they can do anything. It might, though, cause more problems for you if she did at some point bite someone, and it could be used as proof that you were aware that she might bite people.

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  3. I have no clue of the legality of it, but it might be like how in some cities if you have a "beware of dog" sign you're "admitting" you have a dangerous dog, and the clusterfuck (excuse the language) that goes along with it.


    I don't like people petting my dogs. They aren't shy, they aren't aggressive, I just don't like it. I've been asked a few times if they dogs bite, and my answer is always "all dogs bite/all dogs can bite" or "they haven't, but could". Has the same effect of saying "yes" without the admittance that goes along with it.

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  4. I'd be tempted to say yes, but I too would be worried about the legal issue and I wouldn't like that 'oh vicious dog blah bla' judgement. Maybe I would have said, "can you leave my dog alone, please?" Clueless people need to be dealt with in a blunt way.

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  5. The Mr. has said "back the F*%# up" to a friend who kept inching closer to Duke when he was obviously nervous and starting to growl. The guy asked if Duke would bite and he said "I'd prefer you not get close enough to find out." :) I hate when people think they're "great with dogs" because they have experience with a few normal, well -socialized dogs.

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  6. I doubt you could get into any sort of trouble for being overly cautious with stupid/pushy people - saying she might bite is much different than her actually biting. But some towns are known to have some crazy bylaws, and often the people that call bylaw frequently are known for overreactions and exaggerations. So I seriously doubt any legal trouble could happen - and actually you're probably absolving yourself of some liability if you say she bites, they pet anyway, and then something happens and she does. Then they were fairly warned and did not exercise reasonable precautions with your dog. But might be worth looking up the bylaw if your town has some weird dangerous dog provisions.


    When I am cranky and just want to have a peaceful walk with the dogs to clear the cobwebs, I've been known to answer "no" to the question "are they friendly?" and "they can" to "do they bite?"
    If I'm not cranky, I usually just go with "sorry, we're in training right now, so it's not a good time." People take that as more polite. Slightly. They always seem at least a little a bit put off when they don't get to do any petting, but whatever.

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  7. Get Bella a rottweiler costume. That way people will just assume she's vicious and not come near you. A little known secret of rottie ownership - idiot filters! I can't believe that woman reached in your car!!!

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  8. Gus' Mom here. To those new to Gus, Gus and Bella actually met because they're like-minded and a mutual trainer saw it. Gus is still very shy and all it takes is one superbark from him and everyone thinks we have an 85 pound killer on our hands.
    Two ideas, Leslie -- one is your head halt or maybe a soft muzzle that Bella would be okay with. And the comment, "she doesn't like her face touched." That might make someone step back and adore her from afar. Or, tell them that she hurt herself on the walk and isn't feeling well right now. If they push it, tell them it was her mouth that she hurt. Neither indicate a dangerous dog.
    Or, "Bella doesn't bite, but I do!!"
    As for stupid/pushy people, I must add -- there are 2 such folks in Gus' longtime Rally class. Perfect show dogs with perfectly clueless owners. One woman had her standard poodle in the car and the dog started barking at Gus, who barked and lurched and went nuts. The woman laughed at us -- %^%$##&^!! Gus is currently terrified in class, so much for our months of work. Sorry for the vent......

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  9. I know exactly how you fear, my dog has fear aggression and I have worked so hard with him to overcome this. I hate that he is so scared that he feels he has to lash out.
    I have overcome this by keeping him muzzled when around other dogs, which kinda means people don't ask the 'does he bite' question. However the problem people pull away from him completely, which is great except I would love for him to get to slowly greet more people and dogs and learn there is nothing to be afraid of.
    What we need is for people to become more aware of dogs, and bring their kids to be more aware of dogs. We were sat in a beer garden the other Sunday, my dog was unmuzzled as he was under close control and as all dogs had to be on a lead, I could have re-muzzled him before a dog got too close.
    There was one annoyingly family, who's 6 year old son decided the best game ever was to try and wind up my dog (different rant) and then this lovely family with a toddler, who they were actively encouraging to go up to pat all the doggies, however not once had the parents checked with the owners to see if there dog was friendly and pattable. We drank up quickly and left!

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  10. So many people are just plain stupid! You should have learned as a kid not to just go up to strange dogs and pet them but so many people don't get it and then don't understand why they are attacked or why owners get upset. They pet your dog without asking, your dog bites and you have the problem...just not right!

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  11. Bella can bite and if you see someone cornering her, tell 'em to back off.

    "he's not friendly" is what I yell when I pass people on the street. Even though he IS friendly, kind, and great. I've just had so many encounters with "dog-lovers", (people who squeal and lean) I'll never let him have a spontaneous meeting.

    Disgusting someone reached into your car to pet your dog.... but predictable.

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  12. English Rider myeffingponyOctober 9, 2013 at 2:08 PM

    Say; "My dog can be reactive and needs her space"

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  13. Definitely something we have faced with my parent's dog. He is very scared of new people and we keep his interactions to a minimum. But he loves going for walks. The amount of times i have had to body block people is unbelievable. Yes, he is adorable (looks like a stuffed animal) no that does not mean you can pet him after I say strangers scary him. And if I hear "but all dogs like me" one more time, I really may scream!

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  14. I swear I just said those words ("if I hear 'but all dogs love me' one more time...") to someone else. That is the most exasperating phrase to me now. And worse, it's usually spoken by someone who doesn't know anything at all about dogs! :(

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  15. Honestly, we've tried that and I don't think most people know what "reactive" means around here. I swear sometimes people look at me like I'm speaking a foreign language when I talk about Bella needing space or asking them to control their dog.


    She even wears two separate flags most of the time - 1 of the "yellow ribbon" campaign variety and another red one that says something like "please don't approach" and people STILL try to pet her. The trouble with being cute, I guess.. :\

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  16. I love that you guys with good dogs are still telling people no. It will make life a lot easier for those of us who have dogs that really can't be approached - people may actually get used to hearing 'no' more often. Thank you for that.

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  17. We have muzzle trained Bella but we're still working on that with her and, believe it or not, she shuts down with muzzles and head-halters. In this instance, we just wanted to her to have a normal walk with her friend and ours. Heck, we even had a trainer with us.
    I appreciate your catch-22 there and face the same all the time. I'm trying to teach her not to fear people and hiding her away from them isn't going to help that happen. On the other hand, neither is having someone come up and stick their hand in her face so, you know - lose/lose all around.



    We do need to do more to educate people and their children about how to approach dogs. We've done a pretty good job getting the word out about how to deal with an approaching dog (that whole "make like a tree" campaign), you'd think we could do the same with the opposite.

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  18. It is very worrisome for us. I really don't believe Bella would bite a stranger but as we know, every dog can bite.

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  19. Sadly, I am sure this is true. "Idiot filters." Love that.

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  20. I have no legal knowledge, but I totally back you up 100% for saying "Yes," to protect Bella! While Riley doesn't bite people or show any aggression towards them, she's not the friendliest with most other dogs. I used to hate it when people would ask me "Is she friendly?" or "Is she aggressive?" when they'd already have their dogs up in her face anyway. Well, actually what I always hated was having to say "She's not always friendly," or "She only gets along with some dogs." For Riley's comfort, I've learned to tell people in advance of them letting their dog rush her (well, most of the time, sometimes the owner loses control so quickly that I have no advance warning), "She's not friendly." I hate the judgmental looks that she gets, but I'd rather not stress Riley and have the other dog bitten or injured.


    People have about zero sense when it comes to approaching strange dogs (most people assume that every dog loves to be petted, or they mistakenly assume that if they pet one dog, your dog will be jealous and feel left out). They also have about zero sense when it comes to letting their dogs "greet" your dog (read: letting their dogs rush your dog). :)


    Oh boy, this topic gets me all fired up!! (As you can tell).

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  21. Donna and The DogsOctober 9, 2013 at 3:55 PM

    I made the total wrong assumption about Gus! But how awful that the woman with the poodle set your training back so badly. Dog people really should know better, even if the general public does not. :-(

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  22. I have no legal knowledge to help guide you, but... I always say err on the side of protecting your dog no matter what! With Lucas - who did try to bite someone once and is petrified when strangers reach a hand out toward him - I just STERNLY say, "He doesn't like strangers." People glare at me, but it backs them off. That's more important to me, but I totally get the embarrassment factor that goes along with it. Most people just don't have dog sense, and when a dog is as darling as Bella (and Lucas, if I do say so) they're going to stick their hands in their faces. If someone's willing to chat, I'd happily explain all his issues and the reasons I don't let strangers greet him in unfamiliar places! Of course, no one's ever asked (outside of the internet)...

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  23. I swear if I hear one more person say "but dogs love me", I am going to lose my sh*t. (Pardon my language but it speaks to my frustration.)


    I shouldn't but do believe there are people dense enough to continue approaching a growling dog. :\ Good grief. Good of Mr. Punks to set him straight.

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  24. I'm learning to care less about what people think and more about what's best for Bella. It is not easy for me to stand up to people but you're right, sometimes they just need to be dealt with bluntly.

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  25. Yeah, I'm not sure what the regs are other than we have leash laws and some good anti-BSL laws here. But it's definitely a good idea for me to look into it.


    You know, normally this isn't an issue for me - it doesn't really matter what mood I'm in because I don't usually handle it - Bella takes care of it herself mostly. ("You can't pet me if you can't catch me!") But in this case, she was in the car and had nowhere to go. And maybe I was feeling especially cranky but we had such a good outing that was about to be blown to smithereens if I didn't do something. I now have a good arsenal of alternative, more polite responses to draw from. Hopefully I'll remember them and be ready. :)

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  26. What about getting Bella a Working Dog vest from Amazon, and telling people she's in training?

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  27. maybe it is better people think you are mad, rather than your dog ;)

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  28. Words With WienersOctober 9, 2013 at 8:15 PM

    Sorry, no legal knowledge on this matter... just wanted to chime in because I relate. We have Dachshunds (always rescues), whom not-so-affectionately can be known as "land sharks"... in other words, yes, they can and will bite.
    Mine specifically? Mine have never bitten a stranger so far, but the possibility is always there, ESPECIALLY with children. We don't have kids and never have kids over at our house, so they are just not socialized to kids. So when we decide to venture out in public (say PetSmart, for example), and I hear children scream "WEENIE DOGS!!!" and come racing up to my dogs, I cringe. Really, really cringe. I'm almost certain that one of them is going to bite the ever-living-loving sh*t out of a child.
    Then why do I take them in public, some might ask? Well, because they deserve adventure too, geez! They do not and will not approach strangers (adults or children); in fact, they give as wide a berth as possible to strangers... so it takes a stranger approaching them for there to be any danger of a bite. So am I supposed to keep my dogs out of the public because YOU can't control your children around them?
    When people are kind enough to ask first, I tell them that the dogs are nervous of strangers and it's best that they not be petted. But what we usually run into is the scenario above... kids that just run up to them with no warning. EVEN if they were okay with kids, they would still not be okay with a child unexpectedly charging directly at them. There's nothing we can do... if we are stern with the parents about letting their children go after our dogs without asking, then WE are the bad guys.
    So I know how that feels. You can't admit that they MIGHT bite, but you can't stay mum about the possibility either. It's a conundrum. But honestly, it shouldn't be. I have never, not once, petted a another person's dog in public without asking. But usually, I don't even ask. I just admire their dog(s) from a distance, and even though I may be DYING to love on them, I respect their space and leave them be. Now, if a dog approaches ME for lovins, then that's a whole different story, lol. Then I'm happy to dole out all the lovins they want.

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  29. LOL - thank you for that. I needed a good laugh. :)

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  30. That's an excellent idea. I've thought about them in the past but have never followed through. It might be time.

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  31. I don't know anything about the legality of it but I've been sorely tempted to say that Shyla bites in similar situations. Because, when a dog is terrified and trapped by an approaching person, you never know what they might feel they need to do to defend themselves. It is amazing how some people do not even slow down when you say that your dog is afraid of people. Some assure me that "all dogs like them".



    I personally think that almost any dog could bite when in a car and a person "invades" the car with their hand. I never ever do that to any dog, except for one who I know very well.



    Bella does look like such a sweetie - I can see why people want to pet her.

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  32. I have been In similar situations with Morgan. She hasn't bitten, but she definitely has the potential and it would most likely be a stranger if it happened. I tell people that she might and they shouldn't take the chance. Of course, if we have Morgan out somewhere, we have one of the other dogs, and I usually intervene with one of them while my husband manages Mo and removes her a bit from the situation. No way am I risking having someone come up to her, though!

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  33. I wish the DINOS (Dogs In Need Of Space) campaign took off, or became more widely recognized - they advocate putting a yellow ribbon on your leash so others know to stay back. Thankfully Enzo likes wearing his basket muzzle and gets very excited when we pull it out. He likes going out, he just doesn't want to meet people.

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  34. Humans suck for many reasons and this is one of them. You've had heaps of good suggestions Leslie. I think 'warning' vests and collars are great ideas but they don't really help if your dog is in a car and approaching stupid people can't easily read what they say. My only suggestion would be to have Bella in a crate when she's in the car, does she hate being crated? Another thing in favour of having dogs in crates when travelling in the car is the safety factor. Having said that I don't have crates for my dogs, I'd have to buy a van!


    The legal question is interesting. I don't know the answer to that either.

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  35. I usually say "anything with teeth can bite"...some of the worst bites I've seen have been from human toddlers!

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  36. I loved the yellow ribbon campaign, and have strongly pushed it where I can. But was put off when someone asked me if you are in legal problems if advertising that your dog may bite by wearing a yellow ribbon? I didn't know what to say!

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  37. It's been a great discussion here this week and thanks for your contribution to it. Bella isn't fond of crates and, to be honest, I'm not sure I could fit one that's big enough for her in my car.


    That said, from a safety perspective, Bella is both seat-belted and kept behind a barrier in the car. Maybe I need to get bars for the windows as well? ;)

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  38. I thought of you when this happened and wonder if Morgan is somewhat protected from 'idiocrasy' at least in part, by her breed? Have you noticed any difference with how people approach the hounds vs. the shepherds? Of course, I also know how well you manage the situation.

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  39. Oh that "all dogs love me" is going to be the death of me! Arg!


    But I do think telling some people that she's afraid of people is like a challenge to them. 'Oh, sure, she's afraid of people but I'll win her over.' Ugh. No, really, trust me, you won't. :(


    You're doing such an amazing job with Shyla - she is such a beauty. And I would imagine that because she's a Lab it's even harder to convince people she's not gregarious. Your fighting against breed reputation there. I think sometimes Bella gets a bigger pass from people because she's black. I guess in one way the stereotype works for us.

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  40. It is a conundrum. And it's been so gratifying to hear other people express their frustration with it, too.


    I have to admit, I don't usually take Bella anywhere there would be a lot of kids running around. It just wouldn't be wise. And I have been very lucky that the children who have approached her, ask first. (I adore you parents for teaching that!)


    I love those moments because it gives me a great opportunity to explain why and not just say no. I love to tell them she's scared and what we're trying to do with her. You can tell they're broken-hearted but I think they feel for her more than the adults do when I explain to them that she's afraid. It's been very sweet the few times it's happened.

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  41. Words With WienersOctober 11, 2013 at 5:44 PM

    Yeah, we don't take them to parks or anywhere else a lot of kids might be either. But they love trotting around in PetSmart, so I like to be able to take them there sometimes. There aren't usually very many kids there, but when they ARE there... I get nervous. I feel bad for the kids, because I wish they COULD just pet my dogs with no worries.
    The more I think about it now, the more I worry. In the off-chance a bite did happen, it would be disastrous and tragic. Likely very little harm would be done to the child (there would only be a quick warning snap - they wouldn't bite and hold on), but we could still lose a dog over it and I would lose my mind for letting that happen.
    Sigh... PetSmart trips may have to go. Or I'm just going to get them shirts/vests that say "Please Don't Pet Me" and to hell with what people think.

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  42. My response? "Only people who pet her after I've already told them she's afraid of people." :-D Or how about, "Let's not find out, shall we?" ;-)

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  43. I think reporting you for saying "she could bite" wouldn't hold any weight. Bad analogy but it would be like getting arrested to boasting to your friends that you sold drugs once (it could be true or not true but there is no proof either way so nothing can be done). I know what you mean about wanting to just tell people she bites to keep the clueless ones from overstepping their bounds. Now when I pass owners who seem to want to let their dogs approach mine, I say "they are not friendly to other dogs" so I can avoid any issues while out enjoying my walk. I, too, have gotten my share of "shame glares" when I say that but I don't care....it makes the walk more enjoyable for me, Chester and Gretel.

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