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Service Dog Column: Sometimes a dog is correct when it bites someone

As a general rule, dogs are not supposed to bite people. They certainly shouldn’t walk up to someone and bite.

But there are times when the dog is absolutely correct. I have a few examples.

George, the number-one service dog in the country, is totally devoted to his partner, tiny Bella, and perfectly trained on every bit of his partner’s life — with one exception. We did not teach him about “giggling.”

The scene was one winter. Bella’s mother picked her up and was swinging her around at shoulder level. Bella started giggling.

George hadn’t been programmed to understand giggle, and he growled, asking Bella’s mother to stop.

Bella was having such a good time that her mother didn’t stop. George said, “Wait a minute. I don’t know whether she’s hurting my partner or not, but I’d like to have her stop doing that.” 

Because he needed all four feet on the ground, the only thing left to make her stop was his mouth. So he bit her. Then she stopped!

In some cases, he might have been considered a hero. He still is. 

Perfect dog Tiffany and her litter of eight full-grown Dane pups were often exhibited around commercial gatherings like Boston Harborfest’s Chowderfest, fairs, and homecomings. 

Hundreds of thousands of people enjoyed the group, which was off-leash on their queen-sized bed on a wagon.

The dogs were rotating on and then under the bed and seemed to enjoy it, too. But then, at Christmas at the Pru, a nice 12-year-old girl approached.

Tiffany ran to me and spun to face the girl, growling. She did not bite, but she asked for my permission first.  

I had to hold Tiffany back while the girl passed through the exhibit. Tif went back to working the crowd, 365 days — till next year at the Pru. Same girl, same reaction.  

When you deal with the public long enough, you see strange behavior. In Medford, in 2001, a teenage boy said to a friend, “Wanna see me bite the dog?” So he took the ear he had been patting, and bit — hard, drawing blood. 

Deagle yelped … but did not bite him. However, I broke a bone in my hand on that kid’s nose to make him let go.

Then there is the dog that just doesn’t really like people. He’ll tolerate them as long as the people behave.

But I often get into a situation in public: “May I pet your dog”?

People don’t like it when I say, “No. don’t touch.” But the poor dog who doesn’t like being hit on the head is left to growl, curling their lip or making an air snap.

This is not an aggressive dog. He would never go towards somebody and bite. He just doesn’t like people. He prefers dogs to people. 

There are a lot of people who prefer dogs to people, too!


Carlene White is founder and president of the non-profit Service Dog Project on Boxford Road in Ipswich. She trains and raises Great Danes to donate to the mobility impaired. Read more of her columns here.


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