Dogs don’t bite by accident, and any bite is cause for grave concern. But biting needn’t mean the dog is a lost cause. In many cases, a dog that has bitten another dog can be rehabilitated if necessary and trained. However, some owners feel they cannot continue to keep a dog with a bite history. The key to making the right decision in this regard is to understand the context of the biting incident.
Biting is always bad, but it’s important to distinguish between a nip delivered out of fear and a series of multiple, deep bites that cause injury. Dog trainer and veterinarian Dr. Ian Dunbar grades dog bites on a scale of severity, from one through six, to help determine the risk posed by a dog after he has bitten.
If you witnessed the bite, you’ll have a good idea what motivated it. Dogs bite other dogs for various reasons, including fear, territorialism and self-defense. If your dog bit another dog because he was being attacked, this is an entirely natural, yet very unfortunate incident. However, it's unlikely this bite is indicative of aggressive tendencies, and it doesn't necessarily suggest that your dog is a risk to others. If your dog bit out of fear, it could mean he has an anxiety problem that needs addressing. If it happened without any clear provocation, you’ll need a behaviorist to assist you in assessing your dog’s temperament in order to judge whether he's safe.
The moments after the bite incident are crucial in determining whether your dog is still trainable. A natural reaction after deliver a bite would be for the dog to display signs of distress and anxiety. If your dog bit, then ran away or hid, this is consistent with the behavior of a dog biting out of fear. If he curled up and went to sleep, this may suggest that the dog sees biting as a normal and acceptable reaction. This doesn’t mean he’s a lost cause, but it does suggest he needs professional training.
One of the key determining factors of whether a dog is trainable after a bite is how the owner feels about the dog, knowing he has a bite history. Some owners may feel defensive of their dog and be keen to help him overcome any behavioral issues. Other owners may feel that keeping a dog with a bite history is too risky and will look for ways to rehome the dog. It’s very difficult, however, to rehome a dog with a bite history.
In cases of severe or repeated bites, the police may become involved and take the matter out of the owner's hands by ordering a dog destroyed if they deem him too dangerous. In some states, owners of dogs that bite are held criminally liable for the incident, regardless of whether the dog has a bite history. In 2012, 16,459 claims were made against owners of dogs that had bitten people. It's advisable to consult a vet or pet behaviorist after a dog bite incident to ensure your dog isn't a danger to other pets and people.