The above question is a controversial one. Some people believe the moment a dog bites a human, trust is broken and keeping them around isn’t worth the risk, or that the offending dog immediately deserves to be put down. Others believe that there may be triggers and instinctive tendencies which cause a dog to bite, and these factors may not even be their fault. Here are some of the considerations to bear in mind when trying to decide if a biter deserves a second chance.

Factors to Consider

  • Why did the dog bite? Dogs bite for different reasons, and sometimes the reasons are closely linked to a breed’s specific instincts. Bulldogs are more likely to bite if they have been interrupted form a meal, herding breeds are more likely to chomp at someone’s heels, while guard dogs might lunge toward the arm, neck and face area if they feel threatened or cornered. Ask yourself, what were the external circumstances, or contributing triggers that caused the dog to respond defensively? (Have a look at why dogs bite to see if any of these reasons resonate and may apply to your pooch.)
  • Was this instinctive? Could it possibly be repeated? If the dog bite was not instinctive, (i.e., you were walking upstairs and your pup jumps out of nowhere right for your face) you could have a problem on your hands. If your dog has crippling arthritis and you happen to pet a little forcefully near his sore joints, causing him to snap at your hand, this kind of bite be both understandable and avoidable.
  • What level of injury did the bite incur? To this question, one might respond “What do you mean what kind of injury? What does that matter! The fact is, it happened, and that is enough.” However, I think most people would agree that there intuitively seems to be a difference between a quick nip from a frightened dog, and an aggressive attack that severely mars the victim. A slight bite (even one that subtly breaks the skin) might be a behavior that can be trained against, while ripping flesh, or dangerously injuring someone is not to be tolerated.

Alternative Options

Have the dog assessed by a behaviorist. If you are unsure about what kind of bite attack it was, how trainable your dog might be, or what your options are, hire a professional to assess the behavior. They will work with the dog to try to “set off” his triggers to see what caused the incident, and may be able to help you get a realistic idea about how salvageable the situation is. If training is a possible option, the dog trainer will work with the pup to desensitize him from the triggers, and learn that biting is unacceptable. If further attacks occur (no matter how insignificant) after the dog has worked with a trainer, then further measures need to be taken.

Knowing When Enough’s Enough

Dr. Michelle Gaspar is both a veterinarian and a licensed human therapist who claims that some dogs are mentally unwell because of traumatic experiences in their lives that impair the way they communicate with humans. A perfectly normal, affectionate dog might lash out and attack someone out of the blue if his former owner abused him years before. The Veterinary Information Network is full of stories of “good dogs gone bad” simply because of past experiences. If a dog who has worked with a behaviorist continues to bite, or has attacked a family member, than for the sake of everyone’s safety, many owners and vets choose to put the pet down. This is the last thing any pet owner would want to do, as both the attack and the decision to euthanize can be traumatic for the individual. However, when the attacks are life threatening, unpredictable and violent, few individuals regret making the decision to protect themselves and their families.