I am stretching on my yoga mat, and when I do, I really have to work hard at not interacting with my dogs.
Perhaps it’s that they can access me in a different manner as I am now more at their eye level or it might be that I am doing downward dog and they feel a sense of affinity (LOL). Either way, I have tried to signal to them that when I am stretching, I will not be tossing balls or playing tug.
This evening I broke my rule. Deuce is lying in front of me with one of his favorite balls in between his front legs. Call it a moment of weakness or off the charts motherly love- one that makes us believe that our “kid” is the most gorgeous and smart and lovely and… in the whole world.
Either way, I grab his ball and I toss it to him so that he can catch it in his mouth to the sound of me saying “touch down”. This in a nutshell is the whole game. Throw ball as I say “touch-down” and Deuce catching the ball in his mouth. There are times that the ball remains in his mouth motionless and sometimes he repositions the ball in his mouth by gently moving his head this way and that way making sure that it sits in just the right place inside his mouth.
We do a few of these successful throws and catches of the ball. On my next throw for some reason we both want the ball kind of at the same time. The ball had landed not into his mouth but close to him and to his side.
The ball is still mid-air when I decide that I need to grab it to throw it more precisely for him, and at the same time, Deuce throws himself towards the ball with the speed of light and he catches it. “Wow”! I think to myself, “he is so freakin’ fast!”
That is right! Dogs are so very fast and have really excellent control of their jaws. It amuses me and concerns me in equal measure when people tell me that the dog “almost bit” them BUT they were faster in removing their hand or else and the dog did not bite them. Well you see, fat chance of this being the reason as to why the person did not get bitten this time. It had nothing to do with the person’s reaction time being faster than the dogs- not even with young puppies!
Why is this distinction important? you may ask. The thing is this: In my professional opinion and that of others in the field, a “missed” bite is a warning from the dog instead of someone being faster than the dog and thus the reason for the dog not making any contact. Think about it: When it is in your DNA to kill and feed yourself with your mouth you better have a very precise and speedy use of your weapon of choice. There is, of course, more to killing prey than biting, but it is biting (the dissection of the prey) that delivers the final blow and that permits the animal to feed itself. Wolves – not dogs, are amongst the most successful predators in the world! And even with the ability of killing prey “diluted” in our dogs – as they truly do not hunt for a living but are scavengers and opportunistic feeders, they still remain predators and they will use their “equipment” as such.
Based on this information, we can then interpret the interaction prior to the dog “air snapping”- as it is referred to in the field, as a warning, as a response of feeling threatened in some way, versus the dexterity of the person resulting in a “missed” bite.
Now, to clarify, I do not think that Deuce was warning me when he went after the ball with tremendous speed and accuracy. First, he went after the ball, never my hand. So, I am assuming and I think correctly that what Deuce wanted was the ball – a coveted resource.
However, in the situation when a dog is feeling threatened he has several options to diffuse the situation and even to remain safe- without having to go full-force with biting. The dog will use whichever options worked in the past. A warning such as a miss-bite or a sneer, growl etc. might suffice in getting the message across and thus the interaction stops. No one got bitten which it is always a good thing.
When dogs learn that biting “works” unfortunately biting goes up. The person gets hurt and the dog either loses its home or its life. My invitation is then to take “missed” bites or air-snaps as serious warning from a dog and as such, to do whatever we can to diffuse the situation so that the dog learns that there is no need to escalate. An air snap is all that is needed- not a real bite!