Ian Dunbar's Bite Assessment Scale

Level 1- Dog growls, lunges, snarls-no teeth touch skin. Mostly intimidation behaviour.

Level 2- Teeth touch skin but no puncture. May have red mark/minor bruise from dog’s head or snout, may have minor scratches from paws/nails. Minor surface abrasions acceptable.

Level 3- Punctures ½ the length of a canine tooth, one to four holes, single bite. No tearing or slashes. Victim not shaken side to side. Bruising.

Level 4- One to four holes from a single bite, one hole deeper than ½ the length of a canine tooth, typically contact/punctures from more than canines only. Black bruising, tears and/or slashing wounds. Dog clamped down and shook or slashed victim.

Level 5- Multiple bites at Level 4 or above. A concerted, repeated attack.

Level 6- Any bite resulting in death of a human

Dealing with Aggression

 Dominant-aggressive dogs are characterized as confident, macho, and "on the muscle." They stand tall, up on their toes, with their ears up and forward. They carry their tails high and wag it slowly and stiffly from side to side. They often have their hackles up, stare menacingly, and emit a low growl with lips pursed and teeth exposed. They will place a paw on the shoulder of another dog, mount people's legs, and push children aside when going through a door. Dominant-aggressive dogs are demanding of attention. They demand to go outside, demand excessive affection, are possessive of their sleeping areas, and stop eating when approached. Many of these dogs will not obey commands, especially submissive commands (such as "down" or "wait"). Males lift their legs on everything, even in the house, even if their bladder is empty. Most dominant-aggressive dogs are purebred males.

The primary goal is simple -- never allow any dog to achieve dominant status over any adult or child. If dogs always know their social ranking and are never allowed to challenge people, they will usually be good family members.

Food rewards help train young puppies, but as dogs get older, they must receive praise for good behavior and mild discipline for bad behavior. Dogs should earn everything they receive from their owners. They should sit to receive petting or treats, sit before going out the door, sit before getting out of the car, sit to have the leash attached to the collar. These exercises constantly reinforce the notion that the owner is boss.

Dogs should not be left unsupervised with children, especially children who do not live in the household. Children should be taught to use the basic obedience commands so they can exert some control over the pet as well.

Dogs should not receive excessive praise (or constant petting), especially for doing nothing. Excessive praise and petting elevates the dog's social status and sends him mixed signals.

Neutering male dogs will not solve all problems, but will help prevent dominance aggression and inter-male fighting, particularly when done before the pup reaches sexual maturity.

Finally, prevention of aggression requires that the owner win each and every confrontation with the dog. If the dog wins a showdown by growling when you try to get him off the sofa or take his toy or approach his food bowl, he receives a 'go' signal for the next step in an attempted takeover.

Treatment consists of listing all the things that trigger aggressive behavior and preventing these situations from developing. For example, if the dog growls when you try to remove it from the couch, don't allow it to get on the couch. The first impulse is to minimize contact between an aggressive dog and the person or people he is most aggressive to. However, this scheme only encourages the dog to become dominant to more and more people and tightens his control of the household. Therefore, the individual who is having the most difficulty with the dog should become the main provider for everything the dog needs food, water, exercise, praise, affection, and all play activity. This person must be able to train the dog to obey basic obedience commands of sit, stay, come, and down. He will probably need a lot of help with the down command (which puts the animal in a submissive position) so he doesn't get bitten.  All other family members must totally ignore the dog no play, food, or affection. The dog must look on that one person as its sole provider of everything.

The dog must be rewarded for any signs of submissive behavior such as ears back, looking away (avoiding eye contact), rolling over, licking, crouching, or lowering the head when being reached for. Any dominant gestures that the dog will tolerate should be used frequently and the dog must be praised and given occasional food rewards for submitting. The dog must earn everything.

Once a dog starts to respond, then counter-conditioning can be started, but this should only be done with a qualified behaviorist-trainer. Counter-conditioning includes working with a dog that doesn't like its feet or hindquarters handled; it is also referred to as desensitizing the dog to certain stimuli or conditions.

To counter-condition a dog that does not like its hindquarters handled, first teach the dog to stand on command, then, with an experienced handler controlling the dog's head, then gently touch the rear end. If the dog submits, praise and give a food treat. Repeat praise and reward for each positive response. Gradually increase the duration and frequency of handling and praise the dog for each act of submission, no matter how small   Aggressive dogs can be retrained under the right circumstances.

Dominance Aggression

 Dominance aggression occurs overwhelmingly in males (90% of cases), first obvious at social maturity (18 to 24 months), worsens with punishment, and may run in family lines. This type of aggression is the type which is looked for at the 8 week puppy test. If identified at that age, early intervention is required to save the dog; but not all dogs with dominant aggression can be identified at 8 weeks.

Most of us have dogs who display signs of territorial aggression: our dogs bark at someone at the door, protect the car, bark as people pass on the sidewalk. All social animals exhibit some protective aggression -- your neighbors ever throw trash on your lawn? This behavior is increased by fences; the dog is able to continuously "patrol" and protect, and the behavior is made extremely bad if the dog is in an electric fence or chained. It can also be made worse if "door greeting" abnormalities are tolerated: the owner greets someone at the door with the dog by the collar.

For dominance aggression, in contrast to protective aggression, there is more growling, snarling, biting, and staring. Barking is considered a sign of protective aggression -- think about barking dogs as you pass a yard. Dominance aggression is considered a concept of control, unlike possession of an object (food aggression) or challenge (will the dog get off the sofa or growl?). Dominance aggression is more common with men owners who like the concept of "big, tough dogs" and so some breeds might be more likely to be diagnosed. But the worse dominant aggressive dogs I have ever seen have been toy poodles and shih tzu - their behavior is more likely to be seen as innocent and owner tolerant.

There are some 15 things people do to exacerbate dominance aggression -- as simple as staring at the dog or pushing on their rump, leaning over them, making a leash correction  There are some 20 or so signs that the dog intends to become dominant aggressive -- as innocent as standing on your feet, leaning against you, "talking back," standing in front of you in the doorway, jumping in your lap. You can see how these signs are tolerated in smaller dogs.

Dogs with dominance aggression are categorized in behavior as those who think they are Master of the Universe -- able to control people and get things their own way -- a bad, bad prognosis usually. And then there are those dogs where all the signs were there. First, although other aggressive behavior is not a predictor for dominance aggression, dominance aggression is about control and the dog generally has another form of aggression also. Second, the dog has escalated through several signs of dominance aggression, standing on people, sitting in laps, and it's okay. Well, then the dog thinks it's in charge -- like when the teen-ager starts to talk back to test boundaries. This class of dogs will alter its behavior to the individual. The dog may not behave aggressively with an experienced trainer (the trainer is in charge), or when it's eating it may not bark at people passing by. The dog can interrupt and inhibit the aggressive behavior, but choose its time when not to react. This actually is the easiest dog to work with since the dog is capable of taking cues from context and behaving appropriately.