Regardless of what dog breeders, dog enthusiasts and dog owners may say, the fact is that any dog is capable of biting someone given the right circumstances. According to Dr. Kristy Conn, the right circumstances include experiencing possessiveness, fear, pain, maternal instincts and hunting behavior, and it means that even someone’s beloved family dog of many years may “suddenly” show aggression and bite his owner. Fortunately, if one better understands what can trigger dog bites, one can learn how to spot and either avoid or quickly resolve these situations when they arise.
Preventing Your Dog From Biting
The first step to preventing your dog from biting is to ensure that they have been properly trained in social and acceptable behavior. They need to learn how to act around people and other animals, and how to respond to your voice commands and body signals. It will take time and patience to thoroughly train your dog, but any time you spend with training your dog in social and acceptable behavior is time very well spent. That said, it is also very important to spend time playing with your dog, allowing for a deep bond of trust and respect to grow between you.
The next step to preventing your dog from biting is to be alert to the signs that they may be about to bite, and stepping in before they do. Some dogs simply do not display openly aggressive behavior before a bite, so it is very important to look closely for some of the physical signs that indicate they are upset, afraid or uncomfortable. These signs include ears that are pinned back, raised hackles (hair along their neck and back standing on end) and displaying more than the normal whites around the eyes. Obviously a dog whose teeth are bared or who is maintaining firm eye contact and growling is also acting in an aggressive manner. If you find your dog behaving in this manner, you should immediately get their attention and move them away onto something else, effectively distracting them. It is not advisable to grab at the dog, as they may be so focused on their aggression that they may turn and bite you without even intending to do so.
If your dog does seem willing to bite, even on rare occasions, it is important to uncover the reason for their behavior and address it thoroughly. For example, a dog that is biting due to possessive behavior feels that their property is being threatened at times and they must defend it. This can be handled through training, as in teaching a dog to leave their toy in order to get their food, or in simply leaving them alone while they eat or play. A dog that is biting due to fear needs gentle training that raises their familiarity with different people, objects and situations so that they are more comfortable with their environment and the various things that come and go from it. A dog that seems uncharacteristically or constantly irritable or uncomfortable and is biting or threatening to bite may actually be suffering from a medical condition that needs immediate address and treatment. A mother dog that has just given birth will naturally be protective of her puppies, and may bite anyone she feels is a threat, so it is best just to avoid her and allow her to engage in this natural and survival behavior.
Dr. Conn points out that one valuable rule to apply when being approached by an unfamiliar or aggressive dog is to stand still and avoid eye contact. Ideally the dog’s owner will arrive and remove the dog from your environment, but even if they don’t, most dogs will become bored and move away if not challenged.
Whether you are working with your own dog or you are confronted by a strange dog who is threatening to bite, the most important thing to remember is to remain calm and assertive in your actions. Dog bites don’t have to happen, especially if one knows how to spot and resolve the situations that cause them to occur.