Dog bite prevention is an important part of being a dog owner and an important part of being a person in the presence of a dog. So often, we talk about dog bite prevention and how it relates to the human who was bitten, but we rarely stop to think about why the bite happened or what it means for the dog who bit.
Dog Bite Prevention – Knowledge is Power
There’s no dispute that dog bites are a bad thing. They can cause serious injury, and even when injury isn’t serious, they can cause emotional scars. But, WHAT CAUSES A DOG TO BITE? Dogs aren’t inherently biting machines. Something always happens to make them bite, unless they have been trained as “guard dogs” – emphasis on the quotes.
Why Dogs Bite
Dogs bite for any number of reasons. Even the sweetest, most even tempered dog in the world can bite under the right circumstances, so let’s take a look at what those circumstances could be.
- Aggression – Aggression can be fear based or a learned behavior. Learned aggression usually stems from an owner training their dog to be a “guard dog”. Fear based aggression can be a result of abuse or an extremely nervous dog.
- Resource Guarding – This usually stems from being a puppy mill dog, an abused dog with inadequate food, or a dog who has been a stray for a long period of time. Resource guarding is all about a fear that what the dog is eating could be his last meal.
- Stress – This is somewhat related to aggression biting. When a dog is stressed or feeling trapped, it has only two options. Fight or flight. In the absence of the ability to run away, a stressed dog who may feel endangered could bite to protect itself, even if the threat isn’t really there.
- Pain – Pain is always an excellent bite stimulant. Dogs who are injured or in some sort of pain are extremely prone to biting. A dog in sever pain will lash out at anything that increases that pain.
- Redirected Bite – This is the bite people get when they say they try to break up a fight between two dogs. A person puts their hand into the fight reaching for a collar and the bite that was meant for the other dog gets the person’s hand instead.
Risk to the Dog Who Bites
This is where WE’RE GOING TO PART FROM THE NORMAL PATH of most writing you see about dog bite prevention. We all know the danger to a human who’s been bitten, but WHAT ABOUT THE DANGER TO THE DOG that has bitten the human. There are definite dangers to a dog who bites a human, whether the dog was at fault or not.
- Quarantine for rabies observation
- Owners may be forced to give up their dogs.
- Dogs that are removed from their owners are always removed for one reason – euthanasia.
The dog loses his family and sometimes it is the only home he has ever known. Because no one heeded his warning signs, he also runs the risk of losing his life. From the dogs point of view, they are confused. They attempted to growl. They attempted to let it be known they were uncomfortable. In the end, the nip or bite was the only thing they knew to do. Perhaps they felt threatened. Perhaps they had enough aggravation from unruly kids or maybe they were sick and in pain. They could also have deep seated issues and simply feel the need to safe guard their bone. In their mind, they tried their best to say – back off! They issued warning growls and barks, only to be told to shut up or stop! The dog gave other signs they were uncomfortable, but no one listened or tried to understand.
So here they sit – in jail and in serious life threatening trouble. From a dog’s perspective, they do not understand. They did all the right steps – first they growled, they stiffened, they snapped at the air – only to be shut down. They respected their humans wishes and became silent when told to be quite and stop. Then, when they finally had enough, they lashed out and bit. Maybe it was only a nip or maybe a full out bite. But, in their mind, they had tried to give a warning and there was nothing else left to try except go for the bite.
Dogs cannot speak our language, but in their own way they do try to communicate. When we ignore their voice, or better yet, stop them from voicing their concerns, dogs move on to the next thing they know to do and that is to bite. I am firm believer in letting my dogs voice their opinions. I believe we need to give them this respect. When we stifle the growls and ignore their body language, it can lead to serious situations. The friendly, happy family dog is suddenly classed as vicious and taken away to be put down. I believe we, as humans, have to own our share of the blame.
Dog Bite Prevention is a Human Responsibility
Dog bite prevention is something that rests squarely on us humans. And it’s not just the responsibility of dog owners. People who are around dogs need to know how to interact with them as well. Here are some everyday ways to practice dog bite prevention in your life.
- Supervision – Owners should always supervise their dogs, and parents should always supervise their children. Even the sweetest dog may accidentally nip too hard during play or two dogs may get into a scrap and accidentally injure a child.
- Proper Respect for Dogs – Dogs are adorable and cuddly, but there is a very definite way to interact with them. Part of dog bite prevention is knowing how to approach a dog. Never come at a dog from above the head. Always move your hand towards a dog from eye level or below. Never put your face close to a strange dog’s face. A hand over the head and face to face contact are aggressive stances to a dog if you are a stranger.
- Respect for a Dog’s Space – If there are areas of your home where your dog goes to retreat, leave those spaces as refuges and make sure guests respect them. This can reduce the stress level and thus reduce the risk of biting.
- Recognize Signs – Dogs rarely bite out of nowhere. Part of dog bite prevention is knowing the warning signs. A low tail, ears that are down, and keeping distance from others are all signs that a dog is not feeling the interaction. More overt signs are growling and air snapping. RESPECT THESE SIGNS for your own good and the good of the dog.
For even more tips on preventing dog bites check out our 10 Tips for Preventing Dog Bites that encompasses a few more situations.
Dog Bite Prevention – Important for Everyone
Whether you own a dog or you interact with people who do, dog bite prevention is the sole responsibility of humans. It’s our responsibility as owners and people who may be around dogs to treat dogs with respect and recognize the signs that dogs give us to let us know they need their space. The rule of thumb for dog bite prevention is this. When in doubt, practice caution. That DOESN’T mean fear. Dogs pick up on fear, and you’ve got an entirely new set of problems. Just stay calm and confident and only approach dogs under supervision. It’s the best way to protect yourself and your dogs or the dogs of others.
Miss Molly Says has teamed up with the following blogs for a week-long series on dog (and cat) bites. Be sure to visit these blogs to read the complete series packed full of valuable tips and information:
Monday, 5/16 Fidose of Reality
Tuesday, 5/17 Random Felines
Wednesday, 5/18 Tenacious Little Terrier
Friday, 5/20 Savannah’s Paw Tracks