How Dog Trainers Should Handle Dogs With Bite Histories

How Dog Trainers Should Handle Dogs With Bite Histories

Ultimately, especially when you’re first starting out as a dog trainer, you don’t know what you don’t know – in so many ways. In this post, I’m taking a look at how amateur and professional dog trainers should handle dogs that have a known bite history. I’ll share some insights about how a known bite history affects their training tactics, intake questions, management, and more.

Top 5 States With The Most Dog Bite Claims

First, as a professional dog trainer, you should be aware that dog bite claims are on the rise – up by 15% since the previous year according to State Farm. Based on these stats, we are seeing that people are starting to take legal action if a dog misbehaves and hurts another human or animal.

Whether you’re working with a family that was court ordered to complete dog training or a family that’s on its last leg with a dog that’s bitten multiple relatives, there are some precautions you need to take and be aware of the liabilities you’re taking on.

dog bite claims in 2016

Stats from:

In my experience, many dog trainers don’t possess an insurance policy that covers them in some common scenarios that leave them vulnerable. Are you covered in case a dog you’ve worked with in the past reacts badly to someone? Or if that dog injures someone else while you’re out and about training? I share a list of questions in my 12-Week Start Your Own Dog Training Business course you can ask your insurance provider to determine if you’re appropriately covered for common situations that might arise as a dog trainer. You need to make sure you’ve got the right insurance to protect yourself and your business.

Additionally, it’s interesting to note that this increase in dog bite claims could eventually impact you as a dog trainer as insurance costs could increase due to the greater risk of taking on cases with a known bite history. It is definitely something to keep an eye on as our industry matures.

Cities With The Most Postal Workers Bitten By Dogs

Another interesting stat to look at is attacks on postal workers. Los Angeles, Houston, Cleveland, San Diego, and Louisville are the top cities with the most postal workers bitten by dogs. In LA alone, there were 200 more attacks than the previous year. As more and more people adopt dogs, these numbers are likely to rise if education about dog care and training isn’t provided to the community. As dog trainers, we can help educate the public, government, and even postal workers about dogs and dog behavior. Starting up an educational program for your local community could be a great way to become a go-to dog expert in your area.

Stats from:

Now, if you know you’re ready to begin working with aggression cases, take into consideration the following recommendations for a successful behavior modification case.

Express The Severity And Seriousness Of The Dog’s Behavior

Many dog owners, especially small dog owners, do not quite understand the severity of dog aggression. They do not understand that their dog could potentially cause injuries to small children, injury or death to other pets, and even legal action against them for negligence. When working with someone that has an aggressive dog with a known bite history, it is your duty as the professional in the situation to share the risks of continuing on with and without training now that the dog has already hurt someone.

Dr Risë VanFleet shares some thoughts on what to do when someone contacts you regarding a dog with a history of aggression:

My first step would be to write back indicating this sounds like a VERY serious and urgent situation, and that you would urge [the client] to set up an appointment immediately so she doesn’t end up with serious injury and legal issues with the visiting family or her own children. I would put a timeline for a response. “I urge you to call me by phone today from _____ to _____.”

–  Risë VanFleet, Ph. D., RPT-S, CDBC

Expressing the severity of the case to your client should also help with compliance and commitment if they decide to move forward with training their dog.

Be Familiar With Your State And Local Dangerous Dog Law

Understanding your state and local dangerous dog laws are important when working with aggressive dogs. To find yours, go to and search “State And Local Dangerous Dog Law [state or city].” You could even reach out to your local animal control officers to see if they have any specific resources they could point you to. As a professional, it is your responsibility to be up to date on the latest laws and regulations in your community to help your clients and understand the risks involved.

Professionalism And Client Confidentiality

Though you should be respectful and keep client information confidential on a day-to-day basis as a professional dog trainer, we are not legally obligated to keep client discussions or cases confidential from police when one’s life is in danger. A common scenario like this is when potential clients or current clients whose dogs are posing a threat to children in the home. After discussing the severity of the situation with the client, if they fail to take action to protect the person in harm’s way, you may want to report it to local authorities.

You may not need to tell the client in some cases since a report only brings attention to the situation and begins the investigation process. However, you should not take reporting lightly.

It can disrupt lives, so [you] have a responsibility to check out everything as much as [you] can and avoid jumping to conclusions.

–  Risë VanFleet, Ph. D., RPT-S, CDBC

Reporting A Dog Owner’s Negligence To Authorities

It is unfortunate, but many of us will come across dog owners that don’t take their dog’s behavior as seriously as we do. There are some situations in which you should call the appropriate authorities and report your cause for concern of the dog’s threat to the community.

In many states, there are penalties for NOT reporting child abuse or endangerment, so this would need to be considered as well for others reading along.

“Approximately 48 States, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the Virgin Islands impose penalties on mandatory reporters who knowingly or willfully fail to make a report when they suspect that a child is being abused or neglected.” –

Information You Should Gather On A Dog With A Bite History

  • Vet and medical history, shot records, etc.
  • Bites, severity, frequency, targets, scenarios, ER visits, etc.
  • Whether or not the dog has been reported as a dangerous dog before.

Your new client intake form should ask questions about the dog’s diet, the dog’s past behavior history, the owner’s lifestyle, the dog’s medical history, and much more. Asking questions not only gives you a better understanding of the context of the dog’s behavior, but you just might spur some old memories from the client that may be unexpectedly relevant to the dog’s behavior changes or issues.

I recently put together a bundle of templates for new (and experienced) dog trainers. This bundle includes a New Client Intake Form, Reactivity Intake Form, Bite History Intake Form, Resource Guarding Intake Form, and six more templates that every dog trainer can use on a daily basis to work with their clients. I recommend you check out my New Dog Training Business Template Bundle.

Taking on aggression cases is not to be taken lightly. Check out our article from dog aggression expert, Rachel Golub, CDBC, CPDT-KA, on how to know if you’re ready to take them on. Read: Don’t Get In Over Your Head When You’re Starting Out


Things You Should Know Before Taking On Aggression Cases

Things You Should Know Before Taking On Aggression Cases

things you should know before taking on aggression cases

There is no doubt that dog training is dangerous, but you’d be surprised by how many dog trainers are not taking the right precautions when they work with aggression cases. Michael Shikashio, President of the IAABC and outstanding certified dog trainer, hit the nail on the head with his speech at the APDT Conference in Hartford last week. His talk, Staying Safe in Aggression Cases, discussed the following points:

Be Aware Of The Responsibilities Of Aggression Cases

When you take on an aggression case, you’re taking on a lot of responsibilities whether or not you’re aware of them. Consider the liability of handling an aggressive dog. What will your procedure be if the dog bites a family member, another dog, a stranger, or yourself? What are the legal ramifications of such an incident? If you are bitten, you could suffer from physical and psychological injuries as well as a damaged reputation. What will happen to the dog if he bites someone? Are you mentally prepared to handle such a case? Ignoring the possibilities does not make them less likely to occur. You must be prepared for the worst even if you’re expecting the best.

Gather As Much Information As You Can

Michael discussed the usefulness of paper or online questionnaires, but stated that ultimately those cannot compete with an in-person discussion session with the owner. There are non-verbal cues that you can pick up on in person. Speaking with a client in their home makes them more comfortable and you can examine the environment for lesson set ups in the future. Gathering a detailed bite history in person can help you get more information about each incident.

 Setting Yourself Up For Success

Michael discussed that there are some simple steps you can take to protect yourself during the first meeting with the dog. Clear written and verbal instructions are a must. Even then, he encourages you to call the owner when you arrive and before you get out of the car to make sure all instructions have been followed. You must assume that the dog will bite if given the opportunity so wear appropriate clothing to the meeting.

Discuss management techniques the owner can put into place such as using two leash attachment points (collar and harness), a waist leash, muzzles, gates, and barriers. He encourages you to demonstrate the proper fitting of all harnesses or collars with the owner on a stuffed animal before the first meeting with the dog.

Back Up Protection

Unfortunately, we know we cannot trust owners to follow instructions 100% of the time or 100% correctly. Accidents happen so have your own personal shield against attacking dogs. Wear secure shoes, avoid loose clothing, and make sure your treat pouch is secure. Bring items like a spray shield for a last resort reaction if you’re attacked. Make sure to remove hats, sunglasses, and scarves before the meeting.

Defensive Handling

One of the most common mistakes trainers make is assuming the dog is alright with them and letting their guard down. Dogs can easily push past their thresholds in order to gain access to treats or food. Luring dogs into your space that aren’t ready to be that close can set yourself up for a bite. Using the treat and retreat game is important, but make sure you toss treats at a good distance behind the dog to keep a safe distance. Also, avoid sudden movements during this game.

Defensive handling is best learned by shadowing an experience trainer, states Michael. Things like leaning away from the dog while training, knowing strong leash grip techniques, and knowing how to use your center of gravity should be practiced well before your first aggression case.

Know Your Options

Ultimately, if you are bitten, you had better know where the nearest emergency room is. Knowing this information before the lesson will make an accident less stressful. You won’t be left wondering where to go or asking your client to look it up for you. It is also not a bad idea to keep a first aid kit in your car for emergencies.

We’d like to give a big THANK YOU to Michael Shikashio for presenting this very important information to trainers at the APDT Conference this year. You can contact Michael for more information at Complete Canines.

Have you started taking on aggression cases? What precautions do you have in place to protect yourself?

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