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Big dogs are in the news again. This week a blue Great Dane bit somebody at a Home Depot, causing severe damage.

The shopper had been told that the Dane was “in training”, and was instructed to offer a treat when the dog sat.

People who saw the incident cited that the dog appeared to be in control and took the treat gently, but then suddenly lunged at the victims face.

The victim was subjected to a severe bite that required immediate medical care and surgery.

While the injured shopper was receiving attention for the bite, the owners, dog trainer, and Great Dane fled the scene.

It was this photo, published on multiple media channels, which helped tip authorities off to the identity of dog owners. You can clearly see the blue Great Dane, led by one of the two owners involved in the incident, and the dog trainer in this image. The other owner is not shown.

A Great Dane Bit Somebody, and we have a lot to talk about…

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How Severe is the Great Dane Home Depot Bite?

According to the Dunbar dog bite scale, based on information that we currently have, this would be considered a level 4 or level 5 bite.

For perspective, a level 2 is when the teeth make contact but do not break skin (a nip, for example), while a level 5 indicates multiple bites with deep wounds.

It is reported that the victim did require surgery. We can reasonably conclude here that not only did the teeth make contact, they were used to cause a significant amount of damage.

Make no mistake. A bite this serious doesn’t happen in stable dogs with no history of aggression or fear.

It is very likely that the owners and the trainer were aware of the fact that this dog wasn’t entirely stable.

This may have prompted the training session in the first place, however, was this situation correctly handled? Let’s dig in.

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Great Dane Owner Charged with Misdemeanor for Dog Bite

The other owner of this dog is not seen in the images, however, because he is the one who held the leash, he is the one being charged with a misdemeanor.

While logically this makes sense, there is a larger ethical issue here in that other involved parties may have played a role in the bite having happened in the first place.

For a dog with instability, aggression, or fear, visiting Home Depot was a grave and preventable mistake.

He/she was not wearing a muzzle or appropriate and safe training gear for a giant breed dog (more on this below), even while being supervised by a supposed dog trainer.

Asking strangers to give a dog treats as a training or counter-conditioning method can actually be dangerous, and often backfires, too.

While witnesses saw the dog sit and gently take a treat before lunging, educated dog owners and behaviorists know all to well that doesn’t necessarily mean the dog was friendly, approachable, or safe.

As a matter of fact, the stress of having to choose between ignoring a treat (fear of the stranger) and taking a treat from a stranger (wanting the treat despite the fear) may have been the trigger.

This doesn’t even begin to address the fact that dogs who damage skin do so with intent; it’s not an accident and as I’ve mentioned previously, it’s VERY likely that this dog had documented issues with training, aggression, and fear.

The fact remains, however, that the owners fled the scene and did not provide contact information or support for the injured shopper. The owners and the trainer did not handle this correctly.

AUTHOR NOTE: We do not know the full story, have never met this dog, and do not know who the trainer is. This blog post is based on available information, and I will not be placing blame on any one person.

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Breeding Aggressive Great Danes that Bite

Instability of temperament and poor bite control are signs of issues that likely began with the breeder.

Too many Great Dane breeders are pairing dogs together with very little regard for health and temperament; these things are largely genetic.

In other words, it’s not “all in how you raise them”.

Some dogs are just flat out unstable. No well-bred, well-tempered Great Dane is going to cause this kind of damage unless provoked beyond reason. This dog clearly was not provoked, and that’s the problem.

The breed standard states that Great Danes should be “friendly and courageous”.

Great Danes are facing an epidemic of aggression and fear, perpetuated largely by unethical profit-driven breeders.

Note that dangerous behavior in Great Danes is not normal and not acceptable. This Great Dane was failed by humans in some way, and will pay the price for it.

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Great Dane Aggression Chart

Assuming that the owners and the dog trainer in question were aware of the fact that this dog was willing to bite or nip, mistakes were unfortunately made. My heart hurts for the owners in this situation, because, those mistakes are often the result of bad advice.

If this dog had always loved greeting people and never once bared teeth, growled or nipped and never showed fear towards humans, perhaps there was a medical issue or serious problem with this dogs temperament.

But given the severity of the bite, it would be highly unusual that no signs of severe or impending aggression had previously been given.

Dogs give us early warnings. They are often subtle and easily missed, or worse, punished away.

Many times owners are coached to harshly correct the dog in some way for low growls and bared teeth. If a dog owner took this advice and nailed a dog to the wall for growling, that can actually result in the dog later skipping the warning growl and going straight to causing damage.

Incorrect handling of fear and aggression causes more fear and aggression, unfortunately.

This particular dog was asked to sit, too. In being obedient and sitting, the ability to show some calming signals such as walking away, turning to the side, or exposing the tummy were removed.

(image courtesy of the BSAVA Manual of Canine and Feline Behavioral Medicine)

image courtesy of the BSAVA Manual of Canine and Feline Behavioral Medicine

How to Handle an Aggressive Great Dane

As above, we are assuming that this dog was known to be unstable in some way.

As an active member of the online Great Dane community, it consistently shocks me how many people believe that it’s appropriate to socialize unstable giant breed dogs by asking strangers to give them obedience commands and treats.

This should, IMO, never be taken lightly as a common behavior modification exercise, especially if the person handling the dog doesn’t have complete and full control. It’s not always the best choice, in other words.

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Handling an aggressive Great Dane requires three things:

a. Management (avoiding scenarios that trigger certain body language or outbursts)

b. A good understanding of behavior, counter-conditioning, and effective training techniques. Owners with aggressive or unstable dogs should be working with a dog trainer (see below).

c. Appropriate tools (which for giant breed dogs include a properly fit muzzle and some kind of collar that is escape-proof and allows for control of the dog no matter if they lunge or try to run. I prefer thick fabric martingale collars (slip on only, not a quick release type which can break) or for some dogs, a properly fit Herm Sprenger Prong collar with a safety clip).

A nylon head collar cannot safely be worn with a muzzle, which is a good reason to avoid that tool and choose a properly used prong collar or martingale instead. This is especially true for dogs that are known to be a bite risk or that lunge and try to escape.

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How to Choose a Dog Trainer for a Great Dane

We don’t know anything about the trainer who was working with the owners of the Great Dane that bit somebody.

However, I would like to point out the fact that while Home Depot is a popular place for people to work with their dogs in a training capacity, many stores don’t actually condone this. Situations like this one put stores at risk, and are likely to result in managers no longer allowing dogs in the store.

There is also a business ethics dilemma associated with a dog trainer utilizing private property (which Home Depot is) for their for-profit business; especially when their choice to do so has resulted in a shopper being damaged for life.

I can’t really talk, as I’ve attended Home Depot with a dog trainer on more than one occasion, but this incident does bring up some valid discussion points.

To that end, we recommend finding dog trainers who:

  • Carry full liability insurance
  • Have an outstanding reputation in the community
  • Can administer Canine Good Citizen and Trick Dog testing
  • Use positive reinforcement
  • Know how to properly condition a dog to a prong collar or E-Collar in a positive way if needed or desired as an alternative to head collars and harnesses
  • Believe in muzzles
  • Has at least some comprehensive education in behavior management, counter-conditioning and desensitization

I recommend search the IACP database for qualified trainers. You can search your area HERE.

If your dog bites somebody or injures another dog, do NOT leave the scene. It is important that you provide contact information and be prepared to pay for damages. You will also be required to prove that your dog is vaccinated against rabies.

It’s best to avoid this tragic scenario in the first place, of course! Keep your dogs safe; giant breed dogs are a bigger liability no matter how you spin it. They should be loving, friendly, gentle giants but that isn’t always the case. Seek professional help and manage the environment to protect your dog and others.

Disclaimer: The information provided here is for educational purposes only and should not be construed as a substitute for professional veterinary advice, diagnosis, or treatment. 

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