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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I’m hoping for some help with my 2 year old neutered boy. We’ve had some issues in the last year or so with reactivity, mostly with leash walking, puppies, or when startled while sleeping, but overall he’s been a good boy and his issues seem to improve as he gets older. He’s never bitten a dog or human to break skin (only lunge or nip at certain dogs if they get too close). He’s a very friendly boy and we keep him very well exercised (3 hours off leash a day). He goes on hikes almost daily with human and dog packs without any incidents. Tonight, I did something very silly - I was playing with him and pretended to play bite his abdomen as he was lying down. It sounds very silly but it is something that my husband does with him all the time and it’s a fun game they play. I don’t usually do this and I guess I startled him. He growled, lunged and “bit” at my face. I use quotation marks because he didn’t bite down hard… it was more like he pulled on my cheeks with his teeth, but it was definitely aggressive and it happened in a split second. He did break skin and left a couple very shallow lacerations and a bruise to my cheek. I do not need stitches or anything but it is swollen and painful. I picked him up and put him in another room for time out for 20 min. When he came out, he was wagging his tail and licking me, and did not show any signs of aggression. I am just heartbroken that he would show aggression against me. I know this is my fault. I obviously scared or startled him, but I am shocked at his reaction, since this is something that my husband does with him regularly and he loves it. We did tons of bite inhibition training since puppyhood as per Ian Dunbar and he had been really good until now. I’m not sure where to go from here - I’ve been scouring the forum for what to do after bites. Some say to be dominant and let the dog know you’re boss. Others say to be gentle and use positive reinforcements since the dog is likely fearful. I do think his aggression was fear based but the fact that he lets my husband do the exact same thing makes me feel that maybe he doesn’t respect my authority. I’m just not sure if this is normal behavior or if there is something wrong with our boy. I’m also not sure if this is just a reflex like sleep aggression or something more. I’m scared the aggression will escalate. He usually sleeps in our bedroom but we didn’t let him in tonight as I’m still a little rattled and don’t feel comfortable having him this close. He’s just been whining outside our bedroom and it’s breaking my heart. Hoping for some advise!
 

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When dogs are laying on their back, it puts them in a very vulnerable position. Being this is a game he has never played with you, it probably startled him. At that moment he only had 3 choices, submit, fight, or flight. Only the most submissive dogs, would have chose to submit.
Dogs live in the moment, so he has no idea why he was kicked out of the bed, even though it is understandable why you would be uncomfortable.
Out of all my vizslas, there has only been two that I would blow on their belly, like you would blow on a child’s belly. Both of them, I could roll around in their sleep, if they were hogging my side of the bed. I would never want someone else to do that to them, as they did not have the same bond. The other vizslas, I never attempted to do that with, as I felt they would be uncomfortable.
I don’t sleep with dogs, that get startled (growl) in their sleep. It has a higher chance of getting bitten. I also don’t think that the dominance theory, works for fear aggression.
Does the dog think he is boss, and that’s why he feels it okay to growl, and/or bite. Or is the dog telling you or another animal that it’s scared/uncomfortable with what is happening?
For the latter, working with a certified behaviorist normally has the best outcome.

I would chalk it up to, you both made mistakes that day. Forgive (not forget) each other and move on.
 

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I believe to understand the situation that you should reflect on whether the bite was aggression or fear sourced. From the back history and situation that you described it certainly sounds like it was out of fear. Different dogs handle fear in different ways, as @texasred mentioned the fight or flight response. Flight reaction is less stressful for us to handle as the dog just diffuses the uncomfortable situation by leaving it. Unfortunately seems your boy chooses the fight response. Remember this is a reflex and its not like he processed "I'm going to bite mom and teach her a lesson" or that its a dominance move.

When I raised my pups (prior GSD and current V), multiple times per day we would touch their whole body. Open their mouth, fingers in ears, tug on tail, rub belly, roll around, touch nose, pull on legs, etc .. The idea is to desensitize the dog to this stimuli in hopes that later in life these personal space "intrusions" do not elicit a fear based flight/fight reflex. This way if the dog didn't like something, he would choose a different form of communication not related to fear responses. I would check in with a professional to see about how to use desensitization exercises with your boy in a similar way.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Thank you both for your advise. It makes sense what you’re saying. We did try to desensitize him to being handled and touched all over but he seems to get less tolerate during adolescence. We will consult a trainer for sure. Thanks again.
 

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Dog bites can be difficult to understand sometimes. They can also be emotionally crippling for the handler/owner.
I always pay a lot of attention to desensitizing the dogs, especially around food and treats. I also, play, harass and to be honest, antagonize to the point just before they may react. I want to know where they're at, and what may trigger them.
Sometimes,despite my best efforts, I don't find a trigger until later.
What I do them is incorporate the trigger into a "soft game". lots of playing and touching and wrestling about. Push them toward the trigger and back off. A little more push and back off. Sometimes even that may not work, and you just have to accept that there are scenarios, and triggers, that should be avoided. The desensitization may end up being more of a negative, than just controlling the environment.
There are 'bites" and then there are "dog bites". It is never acceptable for any animal to put their teeth on you. Let's just start with that. But, and it is a big "but". They are nowhere near as advanced mentally as a human is. They have very little forward thinking capability and their ability to understand cause and effect is limited.
That being said though, any two year old Vizlsa is capable of inflicting a bite to the face that would require reconstructive , and cosmetic surgery. You have some light scratches, which is still bad, and not in any way, shape, or form, acceptable, but it could have been so much more severe.
Your boy reacted as if you were a litter mate, or play mate, and he took you to school,and gave you a warning just like he would have done to another dog. Another dog would have been fast enough to move out of the way, and their skin and fur is better suited to deal with that type of response than human skin, we're not fast enough. None of us are. Maybe an NHL Goalie is, but not us normal people.
I do not believe that your boy reacted out of anything other than surprise and annoyance. He's not vicious, something just triggered him. Eventually, and only when you are absolutely ready, and not one moment before, you will need to slowly recreate the scenario in a very controlled manner, so that both of you are comfortable.
Please do not be afraid of your dog. He hasn't changed, but he will definitely tune into your change. You need to be "you".
It's going to take awhile to rebuild your trust. Find a starting point and go from there.
 
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