Should we give dogs the "license to bite"?
Updated: Jul 9
Filipino culture is renowned for its warm and welcoming hospitality. When a familiar person --- perhaps, a close relative, friend, or neighbor --- barges in without an invitation, we usually do not mind. But what if he or she gets bitten by your dog? Will you take responsibility?
Dogs are given the job, the license if you will, to guard and defend a property against intruders at all costs. Here in the Philippines, many expect them to act as bantay or guard dogs. Often, you will find them roaming in the yard, tied to the gate, or placed in a cage so that they can monitor the premises, spot intruders, and protect the territory. But who exactly should they protect you from? Criminals, of course! But can your dogs distinguish a threat from a non-threat?
What is a threat? A threat refers to a statement, action, or circumstance that expresses an intention or potential to cause harm, damage, injury, or negative consequences to someone or something. It involves the indication or perception of danger due to the behavior or presence of an individual, object, or situation. In other words, a threat involves having one's safety and security compromised.
But what if the person on the other side of the fence is someone you know? Someone completely harmless and has no bad intentions? Maybe the person just forget to knock or ring the doorbell. Maybe in the past, he or she came in and out of our house freely and did not know that you recently acquired a dog. God forbid, it’s just a neighborhood kid who wants to get his ball back.
Place a "Beware of Dog" warning sign on your gate to alert people that there is a dog inside. This serves as a deterrent, both for intruders and intrusive people.
As dog owners, we need to understand that not all intrusions are equivalent to criminal behavior. And not all intrusive people have bad intentions. Unfortunately, many believe that the uninvited deserve to get bitten. This mindset overlooks the fact that some intrusions can be innocent or accidental. For instance, I get friendly visits from neighbors all the time. They enter unannounced to share their harvests with me. Of course, my dogs would rush to the gate and bark to alert me. But, we have never had any bite incidents. It is because they can sense that there was no imminent danger. This comes with a caveat though. If your intentions are not pure and if my dogs sense that I find your presence suspicious, then beware.
Intruders only include entities who pose a danger to our life and limb. Generally, neighbors are not a threat, neither are intrusive relatives and friends. We do not need our dogs to defend us against offenses that only violate etiquette. Such situations can be easily dealt with diplomacy. This does not, in any way, excuse people’s lack of manners or lapse in judgement. I merely wanted to emphasize that there is a difference between intruders and intrusive people. The question we should be asking ourselves is --- is there a presence of a clear threat?
When we leave it up to the dog’s discretion, he or she will consider everybody a threat. You will, then, have a guard dog that is anxious, nervous, and attacks unnecessarily. I cannot in good conscience allow my dogs to behave that way. It is my responsibility to train them to accept familiar persons when they visit. Unless there is an actual threat, a dog should never act on the defensive.