Even if you don’t have a dog you probably know someone who does. With so many dogs, it is inevitable to also have dog bites.
A lot of people do not realize that most dog bites occur in the home or a familiar place. Most dog bite victims are family or friends and about half of the victims are under the age of 13. Stray dog bites equate to a small percentage of dog bites in spite of it being a popular belief. These facts tell us something; that with education and awareness, many dog bites are preventable.
More often than not, when a dog bite occurs, the owner exclaims, “my dog has never bitten before” or “there was no warning.” There are many reasons that can cause a dog to bite. Since dogs communicate differently then humans, they cannot directly tell us when they are in pain, scared, or even just stressed out. But they do have body language. And being aware of a situation and observant of a dog’s body language can potentially save someone from being bit. Many people miss these cues a dog displays before a bite.
Actually, the most non-medical dog problem owners seek help for is aggression. Aggression occurs in wild animals to protect and guard. Animals that live in social groups control interactions and peacekeeping with aggression and dogs fall into this group. “And in truth, biting is a natural and normal means of canine communication and defense.” from Pat Miller’s article “How to Correct a Dog Who Bites” in the Whole Dog Journal. There are certain behaviors that dogs express to show this aggression and they can increase in intensity. According to PetsWebMD, “It can be just milliseconds between a warning and a bite, but dogs rarely bite without giving some type of warning beforehand.”
Reasons Dogs Bite
Any dog in pain can bite. You may know your dog has chronic pain or an injury. In this case, be very careful handling the dog. Even changing a bandage can bring about a bite. Instruct children to stay away from injured areas. If your dog is acting differently or nippy, you should have a Veterinarian check your dog first to rule out any medical conditions. This is even more important when dogs get older since their pain threshold can decrease, they can become less tolerant, and they can also become confused. Don’t assume you would know if your dog is in pain. Illness and injuries can progress quickly and can be much worse by the time there are obvious signs.
Dogs can be afraid of people, other dogs or animals, or certain situations. Typically they will exhibit a submissive stance and will avert eye contact and tuck their tails. If a dog has fear aggression (or defensive aggression) they will want to avoid the stressor before becoming defensive. They might show rapid nips as a warning. The fears can range from fear of having feet touched to fear of an abuser. It might take some time but most fearful dogs can be worked with lessen their stress. Another option is to stop putting your dog in the situations that cause the fear. Some dogs are naturally shy but you can help them build confidence.
A mother who has just given birth needs to have place where she feels safe. This safe place should have minimal distractions so she can focus on her puppies. Limiting visitors and handling of the puppies is necessary during this time.
Dogs naturally protect members of their pack. When in a family, a dog can become protective of its family members and close friends. Having a protective dog can be desirable but you don’t want it to escalate to the level that you cannot have visitors. This can happen too when there is a new baby in the house. You don’t want your dog to be so protective that relatives can’t come over.
Just like their relatives, dogs often protect their territory. It may be the boundary of your yard but sometimes it can extend further in the dog’s mind. Certain breeds such as German Shepards, Rottweilers, and Akitas are bred for strong territorial traits but sometimes dogs cannot differentiate between a stranger and someone who is welcome. Chaining dogs outside keeps them separate from their family. Since they are highly social, this causes the dog to be highly stressed all the time. Chained dogs that are not properly exercised (pacing in a circle is not exercise) become extremely frustrated and bored. Keeping a dog chained outside is a recipe for disaster. According to the American Humane Association chained dogs are 2.8 times more likely to bite and approximately 25% of fatal dog attacks were from chained dogs.
When dogs get frustrated, they can lash out. If they are too excited but held back, they can become aggressive. They can also start to associate being restrained to frustration. Leash aggression is a common term that explains this perfectly. Some dogs are just fine with other dogs except when they are on a leash.
Similar to guarding territory, dogs sometime protect other things they used to have to compete for such as food. It is not uncommon for a dog to growl when a person or another dog comes around when he is eating. But they can also guard toys, bones, pet siblings, and even people. Dominance aggression is when a dog listens to one or more adults but guards items from the rest of the family. This can be worked on but always teach children to leave dogs alone while they are eating or chewing on a bone.
When a dog is over stimulated and displays aggression towards another animal or a human and another person interferes and the interfering person gets bit, this is redirected aggression. The dog becomes fixated and cannot realize you are just trying to help. Your dog is scared at the Vet’s office; you reach down to comfort your dog but get bit instead. This is redirected aggression and not personal at all. The bite was the result of a chain of events the dog couldn’t control. You can eliminate the stressor by checking in and waiting with your dog in the car next time.
Incessant teasing a dog beyond its limits is another way to get someone bit. Children and even some adults are guilty of pokes and prods, putting things in a dogs face or on them. These things can push even the friendliest dog to say “NO” the only way they know how. Also, excessive punishment should never be used and can easily make get you bit.
Other Factors and Warning Signs
There are some other factors such as breed, genetics, temperament, and the amount and kind of socialization the dog had.
Dog Bite Warning Signs:
Dog becomes very stiff and still
Ears laid back
Direct intense eye contact
Hackles raised (the fur along their back but this doesn’t always mean aggression)
Yawing can also indicate stress
Snarling (growling while showing teeth)
Dog Bite Prevention
Dog bite prevention begins at home. People who are responsible dog owners will learn what they can and make adjustments to decrease the risk of a dog bite. It’s not that there are only good dogs or bad dogs, it is much more complex than that. Dogs can have good days and bad days just like us. How long does it take you to calm down after a stressful altercation? Why do we expect our dogs to brush it off instantly? Why do we correct them for growling? This is how they tell us they are stressed and something needs to change. Start paying close attention to your dog’s body language and how it changes under different situations. Exercise and play are important components for a happy healthy dog. This also is a way to get out excess energy that won’t then turn into frustrated nervous energy, plus it strengthens your bond. Training and socialization are also important. However, choose your trainer well as some recommend fear and submission with harsh corrections. This method can work but it could also make a dog more aggressive. It does nothing to minimize stressors or modify behavior. It only makes the dog associate pain from the owner when it has a stressor, reinforcing negativity. It can also make the dog skip warnings to avoid corrections and go straight to a bite. Positive reinforcement training and positive behavior modification may take a little longer but make the process more enjoyable and also helps to increase your bond.
If your dog shows signs of aggression:
You do have options! Depending on the stressor, you might just be able to eliminate it or avoid it. Or you can manage the behavior until you have a behavior modification plan. A professional can help you with this and not all trainers are certified to deal with aggression like a behaviorist. You can re-home the dog to someone who can do the above. Worst-case scenario, you can have the dog euthanized if all else fails and the risk stays high for biting. The good news is that most dogs can be helped.
Dogs and children:
Children are much more likely to be severely injured by dog bites. Madeline Gabriel has a website named Dogs and Babies that has so much great information. From her blog “Do Dogs Bite Out of the Blue” she states, “Snaps and bites seem to surprise parents because parents consider that vast in-between area of increasing discomfort as “Fine” because the dog is not overtly growling or running away, leading to conclusions such as, “The dog was fine and then he bit the baby.” Really, unless the dog clearly looks relaxed and happy, he is not “fine.” This doesn’t mean your dog is going to bite your child right then or ever, but it does mean that your dog needs some help to better manage in that situation… Because parents didn’t notice the early warning signs that would have prompted them to move the child or change the situation. Once you know how to look, you’ll spot them every time and you will have the power to intervene long before anything happens.” She also brings to light that when we see happy kids playing, we tend to miss dogs body language even more.
The Centers for Disease Control has suggestions for reducing dog bites and creating safer communities; educating children on dog bite prevention, advocating for effective dangerous dog ordinances that are breed neutral but give animal control officers the tools they need to do their jobs, and to provide spay/neuter assistance and education to the public. There is no way to completely stop all bites from ever happening but learning canine body language and being aware when dogs are around can prevent many potential bites from happening.
Kids Dog Bite Prevention Program
We’ve developed a dog bite prevention program aimed at keeping kids safe. The program includes a short animated video and a children’s storybook. To view both the video and the storybook, please visit this link: Kids Dog Bite Prevention Program.
If you or a loved one has become the victim of a dog bite, please contact us for a free consultation to learn about what you should do after a dog attack. We are available at all times by calling 1-888-998-9101, chatting with one of our 24-hour live chat representatives or sending us a website message.