The Myth Behind Dogs Biting "Out Of Nowhere"
Anyone who owns a dog knows that they truly are man's best friend. However, that doesn't mean that your dog will adore every human that he comes in contact with. If you are an animal owner or an animal lover, it's important to know why dogs bite, how to prevent biting and how a bite effects both the human and your dog.
When recounting a dog bite, nearly every victim uses the phrase, "out of no where, the dog bit me". This is a very dangerous myth because most dog bites are preventable, if you know what to look for. Let's take a look at debunking this myth and some helpful tips that all humans should know to better communicate with the animals they love.
How Dogs Communicate
Although we may love them like our own children, unfortunately dogs do not communicate the same way humans do. Left without the ability to verbalize their feelings, dogs use the communication methods they have at their disposal to tell us how they feel. This can include a change in body language, a retreating posture and even a growl or lip curl, just to name a few.
The truth is dogs use many forms of communication prior to a bite, the bite is generally a last resort for a dog.
How To Read Dog Body Language
As humans, it's important we recognize the signs of a dog who is feeling uncomfortable and learning to read body language is the #1 way to avoid a bite.
There are many ways a dog expresses his feelings in his body language. Even if you aren't close enough or experienced enough to observe a dogs movement and what it means, there are a few places you can look at on a dog to determine how a dog may be feeling:
Eyes-If a dog is happy he will have normal eyes. It's important to realize that each breed has different characteristics but if a dogs eyes appear intense (very focused), narrowed (squinting), or too large this dog is not welcoming you to come visit. Dogs view eye-to-eye contact as a threat to each other, so if a dog is staring at your dog or vice-versa; you likely have a problem. Likewise, dogs who want to make contact with humans will appreciate eye contact. If you look at a dog and he looks away, he's shy and doesn't want to be approached.
Neck-The thicker the coat the more obvious a dogs hackles will be. The hackles are the ridge along the back of a dogs neck that may stand up like a Mohawk if they're uncomfortable.
Legs-Legs straight in the back and lowered on the elbows in the front indicate that a dog is in a playful mood. This is considered a "play bow", an invitation to play. A dog that is bending his back legs and lowering himself to the ground is indicating he is shy and doesn't want to be approached.
Tail-The tail can be tricky, not every wag is a good one. Look for the position of the tail and the rhythm of the wag. A tail that's too high or too low isn't normal. It should be in a normal, even position and wagging at a normal speed. A tail that's wagging rapidly indicates the dog is overly excited, which could turn aggressive.
Why Dogs Bite
Dogs can bite for many reasons, while most humans automatically assume the dog was being "aggressive" the truth is, we probably did something to provoke the dog, without even realizing it. There are many factors that could cause a dog to bite and correctly identifying the source and cause of the bite could prevent it from happening again.
Dogs can bite if they're in pain: without being able to say, "Mommy, I don't feel well" a dog may communicate that it's not feeling well with a change in behavior. If your usually happy dog starts acting differently, for example snarling and growling or even snapping at humans it could be a sign they are in pain. It's best to identify what was happening when the dog showed this behavior (Were you putting pressure anywhere on his body? Did you touch the dog in a specific spot?) and contact your vet to rule out any medical issues.
Dogs can bite in fear: Dogs can be fearful for many reasons, a few of these include lack of proper socialization, bad past experiences with dogs or humans or reaction to a stimulus. Dogs often bite in fear, even large breed dogs who's appearance may be intimidating often are very fearful. Usually you will see a change in body language prior to a bite. You want to give a dog plenty of time and space to manage his fear prior to experiencing their bite.
Dogs can bite in warning: Dogs who feel their prior attempts at communication are not being heeded will often resort to using their teeth. Whether at a child, another dog, or even you. There are many levels of dog bites as world renowned behaviorist Ian Dunbar explains in his Dog Bite Scale. The levels on the scale can also help determine the reason behind the bite.
Preventing A Dog Bite
For Humans-Learn to read dogs body language and listen to what their body is saying.
For Human Owners Of Dogs-Learn to read dogs body language (yours and others) to prevent dangerous interactions between animals. Watch your dog's body language when attempting to greet a human and if your dog is appearing fearful or showing any signs of uncomfortable/warning body language, advise the greeter to slow down, step back or simply move on.
Socialize your dog properly with dogs and humans-The best time to socialize your dog is in the puppy phase. If you didn't receive your dog as a puppy and are uncertain what their background may be, consider consulting a local positive trainer to assist you. You want to have a pattern of positive interactions between your dog and humans and your dog and other dogs. Laying this foundation is instrumental to understanding what makes your dog uncomfortable and what may cause them to bite. It's also the best way to socialize them with a wide variety of life situations to prevent fear in the future.
The Dangers Of Dog Bites
Dog bites are not only painful and frightening they can also be dangerous for both the human and the dog. Dogs who are not properly vaccinated can cause infection in humans that they bite. Likewise the mental and emotional effect of a dog bite is likely to stay with a human for quite a long time.
Dog bites are dangerous to dogs because it could cost them their life. If your dog bites and the victim files a report, many states have a mandatory quarantine law, and if charges are filed your dog could be euthanized.
It's important to pay attention to your dog, other dogs and humans who interact with dogs. Don't assume that every person who is interested in dogs is educated in dogs.
DON'T FORGET TO SIGN UP ON OR WEBSITE FOR A FREE, NO PURCHASE NECESSARY, ONE YEAR SUBSCRIPTION TO THE PRINT EDITION OF BARK, THE DOG CULTURE MAGAZINE.