Wednesday, 16 November 2011


First, I believe it is always important to define what is meant by bite. Not for those who are familiar with working with dogs, but more for those who have not had to deal with such things or are new to living with a dog.

When we say 'bite', what is meant? Do we mean break the skin & sink teeth in; are we including a nip, leaving no impression in the skin or a tiny mark?

I have a pack of ten dogs, and at one time or another they have all done the bite thing (leaving an impression in the skin or a tiny mark). All they needed was to be instructed the right way not to do this and repetition of incident was not an issue.

We have many means to express ourselves and protest especially with that opposable thumb of ours! Dogs have their mouth, paws and legs to express protest.

As a Dog Whisperer, I also work with Red Zone' dogs who have broken the skin and sunk teeth in - this is not the same as 'leaving an impression in the skin or a tiny mark'. I rehabilitate the red zone dogs. The surrounding circumstances and details of each situation need to be considered.

If we are talking about a red zone dog bite that is one thing. But I believe a nip is a very different thing - easily addressed and when properly done so, re occurrence is normally not an issue. This is just my opinion, based on years of working with dogs and people & their dogs
It is my experience that issues with dogs start with their people. Very, very few instances of a dog biting are unprovoked. The problem resides in the narrow definition we often employ in using the word ‘provoked’. 


Immediate provocation may be very evident to all people. Immediate provocation may also be only evident to those who really understand and truly know how to read, interpret, establish the pathology of dog behaviour and understand the psychology of dogs. I see both instances in my work with people and their dogs. The result is a lot of assumption, emotion, mis-interpretation and miss understanding….of the dog.

Accumulated provocation is something that may be clearly evident (i.e. the dog is taunted repeated on separate occasions. On the other hand accumulated provocation may be very difficult for most people to identify. If the dog’s human companions have never (or have ineffectively) embraced the role of leadership in their dog’s life, the effect overtime is provocation. The lack of a) rules, boundaries and limitations, and b) respectful consistent direction, correction, follow through (coaching & mentoring); is provocation over time. Just as it would result in a human acting out, so to for a dog.

When we pass the dog to someone else - we just pass the problem on. When we summarily euthanize the dog we are making a huge mistake. 

When we do not take the opportunity to correct the dog in a respectful, firm way without anger, fear or other emotions we create psychological damage in the dog. We miss an opportunity to change future outcomes - we make one more mistake in the dogs’ life - we set the dog up for future failure…just as we would be doing with a human. I help people and their dogs repair this type of issue all of the time.

There are very few dog attacks that are not-unprovoked…it is just that no one was there at the right time to intervene in the right way when the provocation first started to build.
A dog that nips has already been let down by humanity - it does not need to be euthanized, it does not want to be bad - it just wants someone to step up to the plate and provide it with kind, considered direction. 

If not addressed in time the nip eventually turns to a bit and the bite can turn into a deathly compressive lockdown. Not the dogs fault - humanities fault. 

For those who have suffered from traumatic dogs bites (either human or animal companions), for those who have died as a result of an attack by a dog and for their loved ones who are left to try to understand - it is a tragic and life altering situation. But 99.9% of this time it is the humans behind the reactive dog who are at fault - not the dog who is euthanized. 

Very few dogs are born with 'bad wiring'.

Because dogs live in the moment it is easier to change a dog's 'bad habits' than it is a human's. Humans carry grudges, dogs do not. Dogs are very forgiving and treat each day, each experience as a new beginning. It is only with difficulty that we are able to convince, permit and allow ourselves to do the same.

Many of my client’s come to me as a last resort before making the decision to euthanize their dogs. Not one of the dogs I have worked with to date required euthanasia - they were not hopeless cases, they just had not received the direction that they asked for and were left to make up their own rules. I most cases one four hour session with me was all that was required to turn the situation around.

If your dog shows signs of reactivity - is nipping or biting…get help, don’t ignore. Get help. But make sure that you get the right help - e-collars, prong collars are not beneficial tools to address this situation, neither is trying to break the state with treats. 

Patience, will, determination, persistence, respect and an understanding of dog and human psychology are key. Coach and mentor the dog, train the people.

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Article and graphics by Karen Rosenfeld 

Please note - this article is for information purposes and is not a substitute for an in-person Session with me. When working with dogs I use many techniques - it is important to note that this article may touch on one or several techniques but not all. I select the technique that I use for a particular dog based on my observations of the dog and an intuitive, instinctive assessment of that dog's and its human's individual requirements. For example when I am working with a dog that is hyper sensitive and very physically reactive I will not use voice or touch. I use a lot of therapeutic touch on some dogs, others require the use of herding techniques and so on. Each and every technique must be combined with:
  • an understanding of the real intelligence, sensitivity and capability of dogs;
  • an understanding of how to read a dog's face and a dog's overall body language;
  • an understanding of the full spectrum of ways that humans communicate and dogs communicate; 
  • understanding and recognition of the individual that is each dog - no two dogs are the same...taking a 'cookie cutter' approach to techniques is not the way to work with a dog;
  • a complete recognition and understanding of all the elements that feed a behaviour and create an issue:
    •  the vast majority of people can only identify one or two elements...which vastly inhibits the ability to resolve behavior issues;
    • behaviours do not exist in isolation - there are always many elements that feed a single behaviour, there all always multiple behaviours that create a behavioral issue;
  • self-restraint and discipline on the part of the human who is directing the dog;
  • sensitivity, awareness, intuition, instinct and timing on the part of the human who is directing the dog;
    • to understand, connect with and adapt quickly and effectively to a dog's learning requirements you must be able to employ the same tools a dog uses - acute sensitivity, awareness, instinct, intuition and timing;
  • kindness, endurance, consideration, patience, persistence, perspective, the ability and know how to let the past go, the ability to set realistic expectations at any one point in time;
  • the creation of structure, rules, boundaries and limitations for each situation at the macro and micro level;
  • understanding of all the elements that make up an instruction and direction to a dog...there are multiple steps involved in an instruction - not just one!
  • absolute honesty - if you cannot be honest with yourself you will not be able to communicate clearly with a dog.
These are just some of the techniques that I teach my clients - it is a holistic, all-encompassing approach. If you are missing any one element of the above mentioned your success rate will be affected to one degree or another in implementing the techniques offered in the article presented above.


  1. Our 4 year old terrier-poodle cross just bit my 9 year old daughter's friend in the arm, hard enough to puncture the skin through her sweater. They were playing an video game and not bothering him at all. A week ago, he bit an associate of my husband's who was gently petting him. He punctured the skin on his hand. Our dog has always been somewhat timid and barks a lot, especially at people when they come to the door (including us), but biting is new behavior for him. What are your thoughts? - CCM

  2. Two bites in two weeks, no longer holding back, but now puncturing the skin...your dog's behavior is definitely reached a point of escalation. This is not an indication that your dog is a bad dog, nor is it an indication that your dog needs to be 'Put to Sleep' (euthanized). I have worked with many clients whose dogs have exhibited this behavior and far worse. In a four hour session I have had no trouble rehabilitating the dog and showing the people how to provide proper leadership for their dog. So please do not listen to friends, family, neighbors or any Dog Trainer, Behaviorist or Veterinarian that says the dog must be put on drugs or be euthanized. However, if your dog does not get the direction that he requires the behavior will continue and worsen. The biting is not the issue, it is simply a symptom, insecurity born of lack of leadership is the issue. This is a psychological state (yours and your dogs)and is easily reversible. You need to have some coaching on how to properly provide direction, , structure, rules, boundaries for your dog. You also need a little help understanding your dog. As well you need to understand all of the ways you are communicating the wrong message to your dog. This should not and cannot be treated by employing dominant or aggressive training methods, pinch collars, electric collars and cannot be cured by 'treat training'. Read this to understand a little more I suggest you get help to resolve this ASAP. I can help you if you are in the Ottawa Area or the Ottawa Valley as I service that region.

  3. Karen, I strongly disagree. My dog would attack other dogs and people totally unprovoked. He was a wonderfully loyal dog to me but there were numerous instances where he would go clearly out of the way.....break his leash or pull me to the ground to go bite somebody a block away. Turned out the poor dog had Canine OCD and Anxiety phobia. Yes, I had to have him euthanized after he bite (broke the skin) of several people. I still cry and feel bad but it was getting worse...a typical sign of OCD in dogs. Yes, dogs can have mental problems just like people.

    1. Your dog's 'behaviour' is TYPICAL of many of the dogs I work with, who have been labelled as 'OCD'. These dogs do not NEED to be killed - they need to be properly supported to treat the behaviour via DIET and BEHAVIORAL MODIFICATION. Many people come to me saying 'there was no trigger'. The fact that you do not understand the trigger does NOT mean that the trigger is not present. I have yet to find a situation where there was no trigger. The fact that a trainer or veterinarian or owner does not have the dietary and behavioral knowledge to support healthy behavioral change is not a limitation of the dog but of the human. Fixing 'behaviour' starts with the teaching the human. You can choose to learn what you did not know at the time, which could have saved your dog's life or you can continue to 'disagree' due to lack of informing yourself. Sometimes hearing the TRUTH is painful - but that is how we learn and grow - or conversely choose not to. I recommend that you start here and by the way I live with a dog that was as your dog WAS - the difference is this dog had and embraced the opportunity to shine - a chance that your dog never had


Important Note

1.0 Use of Foods, Herbs, Alternative Medicines:

Safe use of items and protocols in the article above, is your sole responsibility.

Foods, herbs and alternative medicines have health issue, condition and conventional drug interactions. Safe use of all substances and protocol are your responsibility.

Before you use any substance or protocol do your research. Check for cautions, contradictions, interactions and side effects. Do not use substances or protocols not suitable to your animal's individual circumstances.

If your animal has an underlying condition substances and protocols may conflict.

2.0 Definition of Holistic…

Food, herbs, alternative medicines are NOT ‘holistic’ they are a substance and MAY, or may NOT be ‘NATURAL’.

If you use a ‘natural’ substance (ie. an herb) you are using a natural substance, not a holistic substance.

Holistic is not defined by use of one or several substances. Holistic is an approach.

Definition of “holistic” from the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary & Thesaurus © Cambridge University Press


"relating to the whole of something or to the total system instead of just to its parts"

"Holistic medicine attempts to treat the whole person, including mind and body, not just the injury or disease."

Holistic is a way of approaching life, and within that health, and well-being.

3.0 Expectation a natural substance remedies a health or behavioral situation.

A natural substance used to treat symptoms. But, if factors causing the underlying issue remain you do not have a remedy.

Remedy requires a comprehensive approach. It is necessary to identify root cause. Remove items that trigger, cause or otherwise contribute to issues. Holistic approach includes design, implementation to treat, remedy and maintain long-term health.

4.0 Leave a Comment

I review all comments and publish those deemed appropriate for this site.

I answer questions deemed appropriate when I have time to do so.

Wishing your dog and cat the best of health!

Karen Rosenfeld
Ottawa Valley Dog Whisperer
Holistic Behaviorist - Dogs
Holistic Diet Nutrition Wellness Adviser – Dogs and Cats