Did you know that approximately 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs in the United States every year? Furthermore, 1/5 of those people need medical attention. Children are the most common victims and half of them are under 13. Keep in mind that even the cutest, most cuddly dog has the potential to bite in the right situation.
A dog will generally warn you before he bites although the signs can sometimes be very subtle. So, you really need to be in tune with his movements and attitude. Here are some warning signs:
- He yawns and licks his lips or avoids eye contact. These behaviors don’t necessarily mean he will bite but they point to a dog who is uncomfortable and anxious.
- A low growl and a show of teeth is a more obvious sign of an ensuing bite. Again, in this case, the dog is uncomfortable and anxious.
- Wagging of the tail can be a very confusing sign because it sometimes means the dog is happy. On the other hand, it could mean that he’s feeling on edge. When a dog does a happy wag, he will often get his whole body into it. However, if he’s uncomfortable, he’ll raise his tail is high while slowly waging it. The rest of his body will remain still.
- A rigid body is a sign. Just think of how your body reacts when you’re in a tense situation. A dog is the same way. Watch for a square stance and raised ears.
- He’ll raise his fur on his back and back of his neck. You may be able to see this better in some dogs than others. Again, this indicates the dog is not happy and is uncomfortable.
- He shows the whites of his eyes. This is a clear indication that he’s uncomfortable and on the verge of biting. When a dog feels threatened, he won’t take his eyes of the threat. So, no matter how he moves his head, the eyes stay locked on the threat and this results in the showing of the whites.
- Cowering and tail tucking means the dog is full of fear. While this may not necessarily mean he will bite, he still can.
As mentioned above, children are the frequent victims of dog bites because they may want to play exuberantly with a dog who is not interested. Furthermore, they likely haven’t learned the warning signs. A dog may tolerate an annoying child over a period and not bite. However, everyone, including dogs, reaches a threshold and the dog may finally indicate that he’s had enough and bite.
Reasons Dogs Bite
Possessiveness: Protection of property is a common potential biting situation. This property could be an actual house or yard. I’m sure you’ve walked by a home and encountered a dog barking aggressively behind the fence. I’ll bet you’ve seen dogs parked in cars and when you tried to approach them they became very aggressive. By the way, it’s never a good idea to stick your hand through the open window of a parked car containing a dog. That dog might look nice and innocent but the minute he feels his property is being threatened, he’ll bark and show those pearly whites! Property could also take the form of a toy, food or even another human.
Fear: This is usually directed toward strangers or people he’s not used to. I’ve known dogs who seem to be comfortable around females but not around males. Some dogs are even afraid of something you’re wearing that they’re not used to like a hat or a big, bulky coat. Of course, many dogs who have been abused, are afraid of anybody in just about any situation. Dog abuse is a whole subject in and of itself and I will likely write about it in another post.
Pain: Even the friendliest dog can bite if he’s in pain. If your dog becomes agitated for no reason, consider pain as a possible cause. Also, instruct children to steer clear of him until you can get to the bottom of the problem.
Maternal Instinct: When a dog has puppies she has the potential to become a biter. Make sure the mother and her puppies have a place where they can feel safe.
Prey instinct: Someone passing too close while running or on a bicycle can trigger this. In my own experience, our dog Cissy was startled by a passing skateboarder and instinctively nipped at him. This led to what could have been a potentially devastating outcome for her. Fortunately, we averted the worst but it taught us to always be very careful when taking her for a walk in populated areas.
Playing: While playing, your dog can become overly excited and nip or bite. This especially happens if you “rough house” with him even though he might not mean to bite.
How to Prevent Dog Biting
As a dog owner, it’s your responsibility to have a trained dog who you can control.
At the very least, put your dog through some basic training. You can train at home or seek the guidance of a professional. You should continue to train your dog throughout his life.
Avoid games like wrestling and tug-of-war as this can lead to dominance issues.
You should also socialize your dog to meet and interact with different types of people, dogs and other animals. Start at as young an age as is possible and keep the interactions positive.
Keep the warning signs listed above in mind and get to know his body language. Remove your dog from any situation where you see his tension building.
Always reward your dog with treats and praise for a job well done.
Having your dog spayed or neutered will decrease the risk of biting.
Never discipline your dog with aggressive physical punishments but be sure to let him know when you don’t approve of his behavior.
Exercise and play with your dog regularly to grow the human/dog bond.
Except in off-leash dog parks, always keep your dog on a leash. When in an off-leash area, be sure to pay attention to your dog’s interaction with other dogs so you can avert any altercations.
Teach children not to bother a dog when he’s eating, enjoying his bone or sleeping.
If you’d like to pet an unknown dog, ask his owner. Let him sniff your overturned hand first.
If you believe your dog has aggressive tendencies, make sure to let people know ahead of time.
What to do if your dog bites someone
If your dog bites someone, it’s easy to be upset and worried. After all, there’s always that possibility he could be taken away from you and euthanized, It’s important to take fast action after a dog bite. Here’s what to do:
- First, remain calm.
- Get your dog away from the scene.
- Make sure you help the bite victim by washing the bite wound if possible and assisting in any way you can.
- Act courteously toward the bite victim and don’t get defensive.
- Seek medical help.
- Offer to contact a friend or family member for the person.
- Exchange contact information.
- Contact your veterinarian for medical records.
- Inform local authorities. Remember, you need to tell your and your dog’s side of the story.
It’s possible that the bite victim will press charges or file a civil suit. In any case, contact an attorney. Your dog’s life could be at stake and you want to have every legal recourse possible on your side. Offer to cover any medical expenses as this will show that you take responsibility for your dog and it will also help mitigate any anger. It will likely be difficult to prove that your dog was provoked so it’s best not to travel down that road.
Hopefully, the situation will be resolved and you and your dog will stay together, So, you need to determine what it was that triggered his bite and take measures to prevent future episodes. You must work on training and socialization with your dog and it’s even a good idea to work with a professional trainer. It would indeed be a very sad situation if it happened again and there was a record of past aggression.
Dog Biting Laws
Laws concerning dog bites vary greatly between jurisdiction so it’s important to research the laws in your area. If your dog has bitten someone, a quarantine period may be required. You will need to show proof of a rabies vaccination. Depending on your dog’s history, he may be shown as a “dangerous dog” and this does not fare well for either of you.
Go here to see details of laws in your state.
We hope that your dog never bites anyone, Good socialization and training are key to prevention. Make sure you know the warning signs of biting so you can prevent it.
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