Cleveland Park Animal Hospital’s Blog
All dogs can bite
Dogs use their mouths to communicate!
Not only by whining or barking, but also to react to different situations. Dogs may bite or nip while playing. They also may bite to protect their puppies, a toy, or their food. They also may react to fear or stress by biting. Ill dogs may be painful or sore from an injury and bite if touched or moved. Dogs will choose the intensity of their bite. For example, a dog may gently mouth or nip to warn you to stop, or they may fully bite if they are very painful or fearful.
There is no single way or exact set of guidelines to follow to know if a dog will bite or not. Watching their body language and knowing the personality of the dog will help, but it still does not guarantee how a dog will react. It is important to be aware of the dog, how he/she is acting, and observe the situation and environment carefully when around any pet.
Dogs naturally love to run, herd, chase, and pounce on toys or prey. As a result, quick movements, especially running, riding bicycles, or other quick moving sports can stimulate and excite a dog. Sometimes dogs which are stimulated by these activities can escalate into biting, especially if combined with a stranger entering their ‘territory’. One example is a runner or bicyclist who runs/bikes by the home of an unleashed dog who considers the street in front of his home his ‘territory’.
How can I prevent a dog bite?
So how does the runner avoid getting bitten by this dog? He/She can cross over to the other side of the street to avoid this dog’s territory. He can also slow down, avoid eye contact, and walk by this home. This seems counter-intuitive, but dogs love to chase! A slow-walking person, who ignores the dog, the dog will not perceive as threatening. Most dogs will stop chasing if the stimulus ( i.e. Runner) is removed, however this is not true for every dog! This is the Difficult situation, some dogs are very aggressive and would continue chase the runner. In this situation, most dogs do understand the word “NO”! You can calmly but firmly say “NO!!” to the dog and continue to slowly walk away without eye contact.
Most bites are reactions to a stimulus, so by avoiding the dog, you are avoiding causing a reaction in the pet. Avoid making any sudden movements, and excessively loud or high-pitched sounds. We humans, think we can talk our way out of situations, but dogs respond to body language best and their acute sense of hearing is very sensitive to sounds. They can hear a firm, calm ‘No’ without the need for ongoing speaking! Our body language of quietly and calmly walking away, confirms we are not threatening the dog or its territory.
How can I prevent my dog from biting?
Socialization and pet training are very important. The more comfortable a dog is with new situations and with different people, the better. A great way to do this is taking your dog to a puppy or introductory class on dog training. I think of it like ‘kindergarten’ for both the dog and the owner. It is not too late if you have an older dog to go to an introductory class. It will take more time to ‘teach an old dog new tricks’, but it can be done! It will help you both become comfortable away from home with all the excitement and distractions of other dogs and people. It will also give you a good idea of how you and your dog react to new situations. Some dogs are naturally outgoing and friendly. Other dogs are more timid and may become fearful with new situations or people. Pet training class will help you both become more comfortable ‘getting out’ and being in new situations. Some dogs need a lot of support and confidence building to be around other dogs and people. It is important to know and understand your pet for both protection of your pet, your family, and the community. One important responsibility of every pet owner is to know their pet’s personality and to take the right steps to ensure everyone is safe.
Who is most likely to get bitten?
Most common injuries from pets are due to lack of supervision between a pet and a child or a stranger to the pet. Pets and children should never be left alone together. The most common injuries occur in 5-9 year – old boys who are bitten by a dog. Little boys love to run, jump, yell, throw balls, and be active. Most dogs get really excited when they are around someone doing these types of activities. The dog gets excited and may want to run, chase, catch the ball, jump, etc… and the child gets pushed down or scratched or bitten.
Young children also may not understand the importance of not ‘invading’ a dog’s personal space. Playing in a dog’s food bowl when they are eating is another common cause of a dog bites. The child is playing, but the dog thinks they are taking their food and will protect his food. The dog does not think it is a game! My own daughter used to think it was fun to try to crawl into our dog’s crate and play ‘doggie’. This again is not safe, this is the dog’s territory!
Don’t assume all dogs are friendly!
If someone (stranger) approaches a dog they don’t know, they may assume the pet is friendly, when it may be fearful or protective and may snap. Dogs will display different body clues about their comfort, the difficulty lies in that not all dogs display discomfort in the same way, so you can not ‘generalize’ what a fearful or uncomfortable dog may do. Some clues to a dog being uncomfortable are turning their head away, licking their lips excessively, yawning, growling, or the hair on the back of their neck and back may stand up. Dogs do not like hugs or close contact around their face.
Dogs do not like to be looked at in the eye and may feel threatened. We humans consider it rude to not look at each other in the eye, so we naturally want to look a dog in the eye. Making eye-contact with a dog can be very ‘challenging’ to a dog. In the dog pack, the leader or alpha dog, will look other dogs in the eye to put them in their lower place in the pack.
Most dogs love their owners unconditionally and truly are ‘man’s best friend’. Being a good friend to dogs means learning their ‘language’ and respecting their boundaries. It may take a some practice, but it is well worth it to stay safe!
Dr. Cathe Roseveare