Some dogs can appear to be so happy, so comfortable, so friendly and so loving that their owners become quite positive that they would never bite anyone, least of all them. However, the fact is that there are approximately four and a half million dog bite victims in the United States each year, half of them children under the age of thirteen. Most dog bites occur when an individual is interacting with a familiar dog, and many of the offending dogs may have been those that owners were certain would never bite. It is therefore vitally important to understand the main reasons why your dog may choose to bite, and how you can prevent it from occurring.
Reasons Dogs May Bite
While there are certainly some dog breeds that are friendlier than others and some dogs breeds that are more aggressive than others, the fact remains that any dog is capable of biting, given the right circumstances. The five main reasons your dog will choose to bite are as follows:
1. Possessiveness. Biting can be a way a dog protects his property, which can be a toy, food, territory or even a beloved human companion. Guard dogs and herding breeds are especially prone to possessive behavior, and should receive training from early in their life to help minimize it. Dogs that understand and follow the command to “leave it” can be prevented from acting aggressively in certain situations. Food aggressive dogs can be made to sit and wait until their food has been put down and they have been invited to eat. Once they have calmed regarding this process, you can approach their bowl to put treats in it, further instilling the idea that it’s not bad to have someone approach their bowl while they are eating. That said, children should be taught not to approach dogs that are eating, whether it is a meal or a treat or bone, just to ensure their safety.
2. Fear. Dogs that are in fear can bite in an effort to keep others away. This can occur toward unfamiliar individuals, or toward familiar individuals in unfamiliar situations and environments. An unfamiliar dog should never be approached, especially if they are exhibiting signs of fear or timidity, such as a lowered head or tucked tail. Even timidity can quickly turn to fear and a bite can result. Dogs who are startled may also bite out of fear, such as when the dog is sleeping and something or someone comes into sudden contact with them. Early socialization can help minimize fearful situations, which includes social visits to the vet that don’t include an examination or any treatments. Dogs that respond well to new environments should be rewarded with a treat, kind words and a pat on the head.
3. Pain. Even the gentlest and friendliest dog can be driven into biting through pain. Hip dysplasia, severe otitis or any other chronic injury or condition can be wearing on the dog’s nerves and patience. If your dog is in pain, you should ask others, especially children, not to come into contact with them unless absolutely necessary and be very gentle, avoiding sore areas. If you are unaware of your dog having any painful condition but they suddenly become snippy as though they may bite, it would be wise to have your veterinarian do a thorough examination.
4. Maternal instincts. Mother dogs are instinctively very protective of their puppies, especially newborn puppies, and this instinct can override even the most careful training and socialization. The owner of a dog that has recently whelped may be able to gain their dog’s permission to approach the puppies, but should advise others to remain at a distance so the mother feels safe and unthreatened in her duties.
5. Prey drive. Dogs are descended from wolves and are therefore instinctively driven to pursue prey. Running or cycling past a dog can trigger this instinct, and force them to give chase, perhaps even biting at the thing they are chasing. The best solution is to avoid running or cycling right by a dog, and if one does choose to chase, one should stand perfectly still and tall without making eye contact. The dog may sniff you and walk away, disinterested. In the case of a more aggressive dog that knocks you down, curl up into a ball and protect your face, hands and neck while remaining perfectly still.
Dogs normally warn before they bite, and owners can use these warnings as an opportunity to distract their dog. Some warning signs include ears pinned back, raised hackles, and visible white of the eyes. Dogs that are standing erect and still may also be warning of forthcoming aggression. Yawning can also be a warning sign, as the dog may be showing off their teeth. An owner who sees any of these warning signs can attempt to distract their dog by getting them interested in a game or toy. If owners notice a specific pattern of aggression, such as aggressive behavior toward other dogs, children, the postman or in certain environments, it would be very prudent to seek out additional training to help de-sensitize their dog to these triggers. Other individuals who encounter aggressive dogs in any situation would do well to simply avoid the aggressive dog and walk away.