May 18 through 24 is National Dog Bite Prevention Week.
What can you do to prevent dog bites in your home?
First, be aware that any dog, any breed, any age and any size can bite if provoked.
A dog will bite to protect itself or its “property” (such as food or toys, pups, even people.) The first bite may serve as a warning; if the warning is ignored, the dog may bite a second time or it may attack.
Consider the circumstances in which a dog may feel threatened and go into protective mode. Knowing this in advance, you will be better able to predict and prevent bites.
Dogs are more likely to bite when:
- afraid or insecure
- in pain
- playing with or guarding a toy
- guarding a family member (human or puppy)
- irritated or over-stimulated due to rough contact
Proper training (professional help may be called for) and socialization can help a dog feel secure about his role in the family and community, and can teach him how to behave around family and strangers. A dog in its owner’s arms or in a car may bite when approached, due to insecurity or guarding behavior.
Veterinary medical intervention is necessary when pain or illness is suspected to be the root cause of aggression. Sudden-onset aggression in dogs may be a result of pain stemming from an undiagnosed condition. Proper disease treatment and/ or pain-management can improve a pet’s demeanor and return him to being a happy family member.
Respect the dog. Family members — especially children — should be taught not to interrupt a pet that is eating, sleeping, or guarding something. Children should also be taught the proper way to hold a pet and not to yank, squeeze, pull, or hit a pet. A pet that feels threatened may turn to bite without taking time to consider its target.
Learn to read your pet’s body language.
A pet that approaches you with confidence (walks tall, tail up and wagging or down and relaxed, ears forward, jaw relaxed, tongue out, a happy trotting gait) is showing signs that it desires contact.
A pet that is anxious can move into fear mode if its source of anxiety remains present.
Watch for these early warning signs of canine anxiety:
- attempt to remove itself from source of stimulus
- avoiding eye contact
- frequently licking its lips
- laying the ears back on its head
- lowering its head
- repeated yawning
- tucking its tail
Unless the pet or its source of anxiety is removed, the situation can quickly escalate.
Watch for these signs of fear, pain, or aggression:
- ears pinned back
- fur bristled
- growling, snarling, barking
- jaw tensed
- low “stalking”posture
- stiff halting gait
- tail rapidly swatting side to side
- teeth bared
- tongue pulled in
These dogs are warning you: STAY AWAY!
Not mentioned above is the case of dogs biting during rough play. Dogs are pack animals and they will treat their family members as part of their pack. A trainer can help you establish yourself as leader of the pack.
A dog that does not have a clear understanding of who is in charge in the household may step up to fill the void, or it may react in fear. A dominant dog may try to run herd on its family members the way it would in a dog pack: by using its teeth to get a point across. This is unacceptable in a household.
Establish leadership in the family and discourage rough play. If a dog “wins” at playtime, she may mistakenly believe that she is in charge. Even when that is not the case, remember that a dog does not necessarily understand when “play biting” is acceptable and when it is not. If play biting becomes a favorite pastime, everyone will become her favorite chew toy!
We have listed many of the typical instances in which a dog may bite in the home, but this is not an exhaustive list. Can you think of other reasons a dog may bite a family member or even another pet? Share your experiences with us in the comments section.
On Thursday, we will discuss dog bites and Stranger Danger.
For additional information, visit our clinic to receive a free brochure titled “Don’t worry, they won’t bite.” Or Contact us and we will mail a brochure to you.