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Prevent Dog Bites: Let Sleeping Dogs Lie

By: Dennis Fetko, Ph.D., “Dr. Dog”

What is the truth in the saying, “Let sleeping dogs lie”? If a dog is asleep or in the twilight stage between wake and sleep and something stimulates him—a touch or someone petting his body—he can react for several seconds before he is technically awake. He can reflexively bite a family member—without even knowing he’s doing it!

As part of their survival tools, dogs have very active defense reflexes. In the wild they don’t have the luxury of slow waking. When they are asleep they are the most vulnerable to attack.

So when a sleeping dog is awakened by a child petting him or someone walking by noisily, he can react so suddenly that the person who provided the stimulation may be vigorously bitten more than once--even before the dog is clinically awake.

All animals have defense reflexes. If someone starts to poke you in the eye, you will not think, “I should blink”—you will just automatically blink. This is the case when the sleeping dog is awakened—his defense reflex is automatically triggered.

If a dog bites out of reflex and then you or some other responsible party punishes him, this is usually not effective. The dog literally may not know why you are so upset because he may have no memory of the attack since it was a reflex before he was fully awake.

Many dog bites to family members—especially children—occur when a sleeping dog is disturbed. And, sadly, dogs are even euthanized for biting when they have been awakened.

So be sure that very young children do not have access to sleeping dogs and that older children know they should “let sleeping dogs lie”.

The author, Dr. Dennis Fetko, “Dr. Dog” is a world-renowned animal behaviorist who has appeared on the 20/20 television show, managed the reintroduction of captive-bred Arabian Oryx into the Saudi Arabian National Wildlife Research Center, and made a presentation at the South American Veterinary Congress. His ebook, Dr. Dog’s FAST, EASY FUN Behavior Solutions, reveals his proven methods for eliminating barking, jumping, chewing, digging, pulling and his puppy housetraining methods. Click Here for more information.