Fatal dog bites are very rare, but obviously worth attempting to prevent if possible.
Factors thought to contribute to human fatalities from dog bites include:
Intact reproductive status
Late and inadequate training and socialization
Lack of supervision
Defense of territory or puppies
Behavior of victims
Absence of other people in the vicinity
These are hypothetical factors. There is not enough data to rely on them currently.
(Mills, 2017, p. 161).
Patronek study data from 2000-2009 dog bite fatality cases.
Absence of an able-bodied person to intervene
Incidental or no familiar relationship of victims with dogs
Owner failure to neuter dogs
Compromised ability of victims to interact appropriately with dogs
Dogs kept isolated from regular positive human interactions versus family dogs
Owners’ prior mismanagement of dogs
Owners’ history of abuse or neglect of dogs
This is from case-series descriptions, so is not complete evidence of risk.
Victims are often the young and elderly.
(Mills, 2017, p. 174).
It’s worth noting that there is zero evidence that dog breed plays a role in fatal dog bites, despite media and others promoting this as if it’s true. Individual dogs of any breed can bite with serious or lethal force. Breed specific legislation designed to ban certain dog breeds has not worked as a preventative to serious dog bites. Instead communities should focus on controlling the factors above (in the Patronek study) to prevent fatal dog bites.
Mills, D., & Westgarth, C. (Eds.). (2017). Dog Bites: A Multidisciplinary Perspective. Sheffield, UK. 5M Publishing Ltd.
Note: There are graphic photographs in this book that may be distressing to readers (for example, crime scene photographs designed for professionals who deal with dog bites).
This List will be updated occasionally to cover the most current dog training methods.
There will also be further explanations for dog training concepts in the future.
Overall Methods to Use
Positive reinforcement training – rewarding dogs for desirable behavior in order to increase the probability they will perform that behavior again.
Reward-based training – this refers to using primarily positive reinforcement, but also takes into account trainers may remove rewards or opportunities to perform a behavior for incorrect responses.
When training in this manner dogs learn very quickly via discrimination learning. They get rewards for correct responses, and no rewards for incorrect responses. It’s not aversive or harmful to dogs and it actually speeds up learning when they get some incorrect responses as it allows them to pinpoint what was correct.
Desensitization – exposing a dog to stimuli (things/events) at a level below his fear or upset-threshold, and increasing access or intensity towards the stimulus always under-threshold as the dog becomes comfortable at the current level.
Counter-conditioning – training a dog to accept something he has a negative view of by pairing the scary thing with rewards to create a positive association or emotional response towards it.
DRI (differential reinforcement of an incompatible behavior) – this is a concept for teaching a dog with rewards to perform a behavior that is incompatible with an unwanted behavior. Some examples include:
Sit-stay at the front door, instead of rushing through it.
Pick up and hold a toy, instead of barking.
Walk calmly on leash, instead of pulling.
Stand next to people, instead of jumping on them.
Specific Training Techniques to Use
Each of these are positive reinforcement methods:
Luring (or lure-reward training) – holding a treat (or a toy) to lure the dog into positions like sitting, lying down, standing, etc. Lures are usually faded or removed, so they are not required to do the behavior at the end of the process.
Capturing – marking a behavior correct as the dog does it (with a clicker or other marker) and giving a reward. For example, a dog lies down, you mark it correct with a click, and reward with a treat.
Shaping – rewarding behaviors in small steps, gradually working towards the final behavior. If the dog won’t lie down all at once, for example, you can reward him for sitting, then sliding feet out, then feet further out, until he finally lies down completely. This can be used with prompting (luring or targeting) or as a free-shaping technique (where you simply mark as correct and reward behaviors until you get the final one without any prompting or encouraging the dog to do the behavior).
Targeting – teaching a dog to touch an object or thing, such as a target stick or your hand, which then can be used to teach other behaviors. Dogs will follow the target like a food lure. Targets are faded/removed so they are not required to do the behavior at the end of the process.
Types of Rewards and Equipment to Use
Allowing dogs access to sniff something or
Greet another individual
Play with people or other dogs
Providing a chance to go outside
Marker or clicker training – to time correct behaviors with the mark/click and follow up with a reward to positively reinforce the behavior
Using harnesses attached to leashes for walks – since these won’t (or are less likely) to damage the dog’s neck/trachea compared to other types of collars.
Teaching dogs with rewards to accept veterinary or body handling procedures and grooming, baths, etc.
Socializing puppies and dogs – pairing neutral or scary stimuli/things with treats to make them positive.
This article consists of a list of dog training techniques to avoid using. It will be updated as needed to cover new training methods.
The word “aversive” is a scientific concept from the psychology field. Aversive stimuli (or things) are anything dogs want to avoid because they are startling, scary, or painful.
When a dog is exposed to something aversive until he does a desired behavior and the trainer ends the aversive thing, that behavior can increase by negative reinforcement. The dog will do it again to end the aversive (scary or painful thing).
Or if a dog does a behavior and an aversive is applied to him, he will do that behavior less. This strategy uses positive punishment to decrease unwanted behaviors. Positive in this case is not a good thing, it simply refers to adding or doing something to the dog that is scary or painful to him. Whereas in the situation mentioned above, negative refers to removing the aversive thing.
Force training refers to using aversive methods. The trainer forces a dog to comply or do a behavior.
Overall Concepts to Avoid Using
Negative reinforcement (because it uses aversives)
Positive punishment (because it uses aversives)
Force training (sometimes also called compulsion training)
Balanced training (which means using aversives sometimes and good techniques like positive reinforcement sometimes)
Specific Techniques to Avoid
Thssst, or other sounds (used to scare the dog or are paired with a harsh correction)
Pressuring with your body – for example leaning over until it backs the dog up into a sit or down
Pulling/jerking on leash with any type of collar
Slip leads used to correct dogs
Alpha rolls (forcing the dog to roll onto his side or back and holding there)
Forcing to hold position (for example, multiple people pinning a dog down at a veterinary exam)
Hitting with newspapers
Throwing objects at dog
Spraying with water bottles
Drowning dog – dunking head into pool of water
Spitting on or in dog’s mouth
Jabbing dog in neck with hands/fingers
CAT (constructional aggression treatment) – is a negative reinforcement method
Forcing dog over upset threshold
Flooding (forcing a dog into a scary situation until he submits)
Rubbing dog’s nose in house-training mistakes
Forcing dog to bite a spoon (to decrease taking treats hard)
Using airhorns to startle dogs
Using air cans to startle dogs
Using citronella spray as a correction
Using bark collars of any kind (citronella, etc.) as a correction
Using molding/modeling to force a dog into a position, like pushing on a dog until he sits or lies down
Electronic/invisible fences (that shock dogs when they get near the barrier)
You may have tried some of these in the past, possibly even at the recommendation of a professional dog trainer, which could be upsetting. This article isn’t intended to make anyone feel bad. It’s basically a do-better-when-we-know better type of situation. The good news is it is very easy to switch over to reward-based training methods, and help your dog learn in a happy, fear-free way.
Some of these techniques are used in emergencies by professional dog trainers to stop dog fights. These are not training situations, where you let two dogs play and punish them for bad behavior, but legitimate emergencies where you have to get the two dogs to stop fighting and injuring each other.
So for example, normal training would never involve setting dogs up to fail so you could blast their ears with an airhorn or spray water in their faces, but in an actual emergency may use an airhorn or dump a water bucket over the dogs heads to get them to release their bites. And then the situation would be assessed to prevent the situation arising again in the future.
Depending on how many dog articles you read, you might come across explanations for the use of positive reinforcement training for dogs quite often. There is a very good reason for this. The current dog training profession is not regulated, meaning there are no required certifications to practice as a professional in the field, and there is a wide variety of quality among the educational courses and certificates that exist. Note: there is one known Florida county that started requiring licensing after trainers failed to properly care for dogs in that location, so we are likely to see more of this in the future. However, that particular license is not likely to change the field’s standards much.
Compare dog trainers with no education to other professionals: doctors, veterinarians, hair stylists, whom all have to have formal licenses to practice. Dogs are our family, so we should have higher expectations for those training them.
Choice of training method would likely not matter too much if the profession was only using and allowing humane teaching techniques. Unfortunately, the profession is essentially allowing abuse and overall negative force/harsh punishments mixed in with acceptable methods. Even things that would normally be considered animal abuse somehow get a pass when it is called training.
Just as we no longer allow teachers to hit our children in schools, nor should we accept this shoddy treatment of our beloved dogs from dog trainers.
Before people knew better, they thought the only way to train animals was to force them to perform behaviors. This included jabbing elephants in the rear end with prods, whipping animals, jerking as harshly as possible to strangle dogs on collars. Using choke chains (it’s in the name!), prong collars (designed to jab the dog in the neck), and zapping dogs with shock collars (again, it’s literally in the name how these tools work, and don’t fall for current trainers’ attempts to rename them remote, electronic, or stim collars; their function is to shock).
Other trainers have used ‘helicoptering’ – hanging dogs by leashes/collars off the ground and swinging them around. Dunking dogs’ heads under water and holding them there for a normal dog behavior like digging. Other techniques include hitting, kicking, throwing objects at them, yelling at, and stomping near dogs to scare them. None of these methods should be tolerated.
The dog training field, while having at its disposal positive reinforcement training methods for as long as people have trained dogs, now has the existence of numerous professionals competently utilizing these methods to train dog behaviors of all kinds, in pet dog training, competitive sports, and working dog training. We have science experiments and practical training experience proving the same thing: that positive reinforcement training methods work! And they work without negative side effects or harming an animal’s well-being.
Stay tuned for more details about training methods and how animal training works.