Posts Tagged ‘dog bites’

April 7-13, 2019 is National Dog Bite Prevention Week

Have you ever uttered these words? “Don’t worry, he doesn’t bite.”

Those five little words can come back to haunt you!

The truth is that any dog, any breed, any age, any size can bite if provoked.

In fact, Dr. Donald Miele, a Norfolk veterinarian, likes to say, “If it has a mouth, it can bite!”


Here are five steps you can take to prevent dog bites:



Since many dogs bite out of fear, to protect themselves, it is important to consider your pet’s well-being in each situation.

Removing a perceived threat — or removing your pet from the perceived threat —  can reduce or eliminate dog bites.

Learn more ways to protect yourself and your family from dog bites.

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In Part I of “Why do dogs bite?” we learned that animal behaviorists treat aggression in dogs as a fear response. With that understanding, the owner and behaviorist can begin to approach the situation in such a way that allows the fearful pet to feel more confident and protected, and thus less apt to bite.

Why do dogs bite? Part II

Empathize with your dog. What are you afraid of? Is it snakes, spiders, bees? Imagine running into your greatest source of fear every time the front door opened, or you went to the doctor or a park.

What can you do, to help your pet?

*If someone comes to the door, bring your pet into another room before answering the knock. Do this early, if you are expecting a visitor.

*Bring your dog to the veterinarian’s office for “happy visits” in which your dog receives treats, is allowed to check things out a bit, and can decide whether to approach staff on her own.

*Do not force a fearful dog to socialize with other dogs. If your pet is clearly afraid and would rather not be there, do him a favor and take him home. Do not force him into an enclosed dog park. Imagine someone picking you up and dropping you into a pit of snakes. Would that force you to learn to socialize with snakes or make you more afraid than before?

Socializing and sensitizing a pet are two separate things; it is important to know the difference. Socializing a pet involves positive experiences only, when the pet is comfortable and ready to explore and meet others. Sensitizing a pet involves the negative experience of deliberately exposing a pet to the thing it is afraid of, which leads to more fear, anxiety, and lack of trust between the pet and its owner. Your dog is counting on you to protect her.

Now imagine if the source of fear lived in the house with you, and you were expected to just “get along with it.” Get along with a swarm of bees? That probably wouldn’t happen. And your fear response would be triggered every time the swarm approached. If the bees are hovering over your bed at naptime, will you ignore them and sleep? Probably not. If the bees are buzzing around your dishes, can you eat? No.

That is what fear looks like to a dog. If the fear object is around every corner, there is little opportunity for your pet to relax and let its guard down. This is never more true than when the fear object is another dog that lives in the house.

Because relationships between pets can be complex, behaviorists will make home visits to study the situation, noting the interactions among the pets and people in the house. Since every case is unique unto itself, it is necessary to work with a behaviorist or training professional to untangle relationships and restore order to the household. In some cases, no amount of remediation is possible, and some pets are then re-homed.

Est. 1973

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Part 3 will appear on Thursday, December 17, 2015.

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I recently attended a lecture by animal behaviorist and veterinarian, Dr. Marsha Reich. I took notes to share with you, because what Dr. Reich had to say is something that all dog owners need to hear.

(Note: This is Part 1 of a 3-part series on Dogs and Fear)

Why dog dogs bite?

Dogs commonly bite due to fear, rather than dominance. Behaviorists today are challenging popularly-held notions about dominance aggression and alpha-male status in dogs. The behaviorists see dogs as belonging to a family, rather than a pack. Using this approach, biting is addressed as a fear response. Rooting out the source of the pet’s fear or anxiety is crucial to eliminating the potential for biting incidents, including among pets in a household and in outdoor settings (such as dog parks.)

Fear response in dogs is a reflex-like involuntary response, which manifests in one of four ways: fight, flight, freeze, fidget. For this series, I will focus on the Fight response.

Fear, anxiety, and excitement are closely related, and dogs can switch from one to another in a second.
Think of the dog that excitedly greets another dog or a person, then switches suddenly to barking, snapping, and snarling, with fur raised.

Fear response in dogs is often triggered by “cornering.” A dog feels cornered when its movements are restricted in some way – such as being held in arms or tethered to a leash, or when another animal or a person approaches.

Dogs can feels cornered by obstacles in the household. If a person or animal approaches a dog while the dog’s flight path is blocked by a chair, ottoman, or other piece of furniture, the dog may feel cornered and bite to protect itself.

Interestingly, the fear response is engaged if the fear object approaches the dog, but not if the dog approaches the object. However, just because a dog sniffs your hand or gets close to you, that does not mean he wants to be petted.

Est. 1973

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Part 2 will appear on Tuesday, December 15, 2015.

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Every year, thousands of people seek emergency medical treatment for dog bites. How can you avoid being one of them? Follow these tips from State Farm Insurance and the American Veterinary Medical Association:

“Be cautious around strange dogs and treat your own pet with respect. Because children are the most frequent victims of dog bites, parents and caregivers should:

  • NEVER leave a baby or small child alone with a dog.
  • Be on the lookout for potentially dangerous situations.
  • Start teaching young children — including toddlers — to be careful around pets.
     “Children must be taught NOT to approach strange dogs. Children should be taught to ask permission from a dog’s owner before petting the dog.”
     “Other tips that may prevent or stop a dog attack:
  • Don’t run past a dog. Dogs naturally love to chase and catch things. Don’t give them a reason to become excited or aggressive.
  • Never disturb a dog that’s caring for puppies, sleeping or eating.
  • If a dog approaches to sniff you — stay still. In most cases, the dog will go away when it determines you are not a threat.
  • If you’re threatened by a dog, remain calm. Don’t scream. If you say anything, speak calmly and firmly. Avoid eye contact. Try to stay still until the dog leaves, or back away slowly until the dog is out of sight. Don’t turn and run.
  • If you fall or are knocked to the ground, curl into a ball with your hands over your head and neck. Protect your face.”
     These tips and more are available in a brochure at our office.

When he’s this close, can you tell if he’s smiling or snarling? Luckily, this guy was happy to meet me. Photo by Jennifer Miele

     I love big dogs.  We have some real doozies come through here:  French, Italian, and English mastiffs, gargantuan Great Danes, supersized German Shepherds, daunting Dobermans, Rottweilers built like a brick house, even a Saint Bernard or two. Large dogs are huggable, squeezable drool machines, and with the proper training they are great company. But any dog, any size, any breed can bite. While a small pooch can deliver a nasty injury, large dogs hold a greater potential for harm. For that reason, I believe owners of large dogs have a serious responsibility to train and control their pets at all times, but especially in public.
     Even though I’ve worked in a veterinary clinic for a couple of decades, I have no secret weapon for fending off aggressive dogs. I have had my share of scares while hiking through state parks and other public places where dog owners keep their pets on a long leash or no leash at all.  Admittedly, it is quite difficult to keep cool when approached by a hostile animal. The worst part is how the owners seem to move in slow-motion to stop the dog, as if they are absolutely certain their pet won’t bite. But who wants to be on the receiving end of their incorrect assumption?
     Luckily, I was never bitten in those encounters, although the dogs certainly got close enough. My usual response is to turn sideways to the approaching animal (rather than face it head-on), arms at my sides, and staring straight ahead as if ignoring it. I’ve managed to hold this stance even while the dog tries to intimidate me with its growling, snarling, and bared teeth.
     Eventually, the pet owner catches up and calls off Fluffy, the raging Golden Retriever (scarier even than my encounter with a couple of roving German Shepherds), and all is well. Except I can never seem to look those people in the eye, because if I do, it might end with me growling, snarling, and baring my teeth at them. That’s how I feel about folks who insist on walking large dogs off-leash in public parks.  ~~  Jen
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What’s your opinion on walking dogs off-leash in public areas? Do you love it? Hate it? Don’t care? Have you ever had a scary encounter with a dog? Tell me about it in the comments section.

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