When we hear about dog bites, we often think of strays roaming a neighborhood or untrained animals provoked into bad behavior. But dogs of all ages and persuasions can bite, including well-trained, well-loved family pets, when put into certain circumstances.
While puppies nip and bite as a way to explore their environment-behavior that should be carefully curbed through training-older dogs will sometimes bite in response to a variety of health or other concerns. If your senior dog was well behaved in the past, be alert to signs that indicate he could nip or bite as he ages.
For example, most older dogs have at least one medical problem that requires sensitivity on the part of owners. Arthritis, loss of hearing or sight and other conditions can make your senior dog’s life uncomfortable, and an uncomfortable dog may bite when startled or pained. Senior dog care is essential to making sure your pet is properly medicated for pain or whatever condition may be a problem.
Older dogs can become increasingly confused and may bite when approached aggressively, especially by small children who don’t understand that senior dogs need gentler care than puppies. If this describes your senior dog, be sure to warn all visitors that he should be approached carefully and respectfully for interaction, and warn children that your senior dog’s days of roughhousing are long over. Encourage children to have a kinder touch with your older dog and to always ask first if it’s okay to touch a slow-moving or sick dog.
At meal time, keep away from your dog’s food dish. Older dogs can become more territorial when it comes to their food-and this should be discouraged whenever possible-but even a well-adjusted dog whose bowl is carelessly taken away during a meal can snap and growl reflexively. Respect a senior dog’s meal time and allow him to eat in peace.
Above all, keep in mind that your senior dog cannot tell you if he’s in more pain today than yesterday, or if he’s having trouble that’s causing other physical discomfort. Observing his behavior, warning strangers to approach him carefully, and not interrupting sleep or meal times should help curb any senior-dog tendency to nip or bite. However, if your senior dog develops a biting problem you do not understand or cannot control, consult your vet immediately.
For tips on how to prevent bites from dogs of all ages, consult the Dog Bite Prevention tip sheet from the American Veterinary Medical Association.
“Dog Tip: Avoiding and Preventing Dog Bites,” Partnership for Animal Welfare, http://www.paw-rescue.org/PAW/PETTIPS/DogTip_AvoidBites.php
“Dog Bite Prevention,” American Veterinary Medical Association, http://www.avma.org/public_health/dogbite/default.asp
“Training a Dog Not to Bite,” Collar Girl, http://www.collargirl.com/not-to-bite.html
“Why Dogs Bite,” The Safe Kids/Safe Dogs Project, http://www.safekidssafedogs.com/html/why_dogs_bite.html