Lanebern Saint Bernards
Hugging Dogs and The Air-puff Bite Reflex
The scientist who made this discovery was Ivan Pavlov, who was more famous for his research into classical conditioning (i.e. teaching a dog to salivate in anticipation when hearing a bell ring).
This case is short, but very important. Recently discussions have spread about a dangerous behavior control method: Using a compressed air (aerosol) device to correct unwanted behavior, such as jumping, chewing, etc. Rather than relate an entire case about this unfortunate "quick-fix," (and we've have many more calls about it than usual in the past few months) we'd like simply to explain the danger.
All parents need to know about a brain-stem (spinal) bite reflex which all dogs have in common. this reflex is just as automatic as the human "knee-jerk" reflex when the tendon below the knee cap is tapped. The dog's bite reflex occurs when air is blown into its ear. When children and, often, adults hug a dog by the neck and
inadvertently exhale at, or near, the dog's ear, the bite just happens, i.e., the dog has no say in any decision to bite. This unconditioned reflex can also become a "conditioned reflex". That is, after only one hug-with-breath-in-the-ear, many dogs bite can when simply hugged. The moral is... teach kids not to hug their own or other people's dogs, no matter what you may have seen in the movies!
As for compressed air, it can be a reflex trigger at much greater distances than a child or adult's exhaled breath... several feet, in fact. Hence... the same moral holds true, especially when these devices also stimulate another defensive reflex mechanism. It is to the actual hissing sound they make when actuated... it is much
like a snake's warning hiss, which is a warning alarm that puts most dogs on-guard.