Why Dogs Bite and What You Can Do About It

Why Dogs biteDog bites can be a very serious matter. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates nearly five million people per year are bitten by dogs in the United States. Children are the most common victims. They are physically much smaller and weaker than many breeds of dogs and tend to be bitten around the head, face and neck, these bites can be very severe and possibly fatal.

There are a number of reasons why dogs bite. It may be partly due to genetics or the dog may be ill or in pain. The pet owner may contribute to the problem by his or her behavior. But under normal circumstances, a dog that bites is displaying some common form of aggression. You should become familiar with types of dog aggression even if you don’t own a dog. The Humane Society of the United States identifies five types of dog aggression:

  • Fear-motivated aggression
  • Protective aggression
  • Territorial aggression
  • Possessive aggression
  • Redirected aggression

Types of Dog Aggression

Fear-motivated aggression is a defensive reaction a dog has when he feels threatened, usually by strangers. It is part of the animal’s ancient survival instincts to run or attack if he is in danger of being harmed. This can happen when he is approached by other dogs or unfamiliar people or when he misinterprets a person’s intentions. (A person raises his arm to throw a stick and the dog believes he is going to be hit.) If the dog is startled, this can also cause fear. Fear and surprise are said to be the reason most dogs will bite and are the most unpredictable of bite occurrences.
Protective aggression occurs when a dog bites to protect its puppies (sometimes called maternal aggression), its owners or anyone perceived as a threat to the family which the dog may view as its “pack.”

Territorial aggression manifests when a dog is defending its yard or neighborhood. This is natural behavior for guard dog breeds such as German Shepherds, Rottweilers and Akitas.
Possessive aggression is generally seen when a dog is defending his food, his toys or other property. Guarding breeds such as German Shepherds or Rottweilers often exhibit this trait, but Cocker Spaniels and Labrador Retrievers can also be very possessive.

Redirected aggression occurs when a dog is somehow provoked by a person or animal and is unable to attack the source of his aggression. The dog may redirect his aggression to another dog or person. This may happen when a person attempts to break up a dog fight.

Other animal experts have identified two other types of aggression: Dominance aggression and Predatory aggression.

Dominance aggression is displayed in dogs that do not understand that the owner is the alpha leader, not them. It is not always big dogs that show this type of aggression. Beagles have this tendency and so do other unneutered dogs and confident breeds. The website, Petfinder (petfinder.com/dogs/do-problems/why-dogs-bite) names such breeds as Rottweilers, Chow Chows, Lhasa Apsos, English Springer Spaniels, Rhodesian Ridgebacks and Old English Sheepdogs as possible dominant aggressive dogs.
Predatory aggression is when dogs have an instinctive drive to chase and nip and a very strong natural urge to boss and herd. Typical examples are Australian Shepherds, Border Collies and other herding dogs. If a dog has high prey drive, it is more likely to bite.

How to Deal with Aggressive Dogs

If you are approached by a menacing dog:

  • Do not run. Tell your children to pretend they are a tree.
  • Be still with arms at your side or folded over your chest with your hands in fists. Stand sideways to the animal if you can.
  • Avoid eye contact with the dog.
  • If you have something to distract the dog, like a backpack, try to get the dog to grab it so you have time to move away slowly.
  • Otherwise, be quiet and wait.
  • If the dog attacks and you fall down, try to roll into a ball with your head and face protected as much as possible.

If you own a dog that seems to show signs of aggression:

  • Take the dog to the vet immediately to be sure he is not ill or in pain.
  • Ask the vet to recommend a solution to the behavior.
  • Seriously consider professional obedience training.
  • Take time to socialize, train and exercise your dog.
  • Teach your children to respect the dog and not to tease or torment it or bother it when it is eating or sleeping.
  • Educate your children about dog behavior and when it is not a good idea to approach a dog (unfamiliar dog, mother with puppies, dog playing with coveted toy, etc.). Tell them never to pet a strange dog without asking the owner if it is OK.
  • Lead by example. Do not play with your dog in an over-aggressive manner.

If you are bitten by a dog and the bite appears serious or you are not sure about it, seek medical attention immediately and keep a record of it. If you need to seek compensation for your injury, you should consider consulting with a dog bite attorney who will be familiar with Ohio law on this subject.

We handle dog bite cases all over Ohio. Please contact us for a free consultation by calling 1-888-998-9101 or send us a website message.

Learn more about preventing dog bites by downloading our FREE Dog Bite Prevention & Action Kit.

(Sources: cesarsway.com/dog-behavior; 2ndchanceinfo/aggressivedog.htm; dogobedienceadvice.com; doggonesafe.com)

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