Every year, millions of people across the world are victims of dog bites- with 4.5 million bites happening each year in the United States alone. As descendants of wild animals, all dogs have the potential to bite, even those who have never displayed any aggressive behaviour previously and appear to be completely friendly.
Understanding why dogs bite can go a long way to preventing them from happening. In this article, we take a look at what causes dogs to bite and the steps that you can take to avoid them.
What Causes Dogs To Bite?
There are a number of reasons behind biting, some obvious and some less so. Below is a summary of the most common causes of dog bites.
– Fear. When a dog is faced with a situation that it finds stressful or intimidating, it may lash out and defend itself by biting. Fear can often be induced by strangers or unfamiliar situations, such as when visiting the veterinarian or dog groomer. In addition, a dog that is used to a quiet house with calm adults can become startled by excitable and noisy children, and may lash out.
The best way to prevent fear biting is to ensure that your dog is properly socialised, introducing him to as many different people, animals and environments as possible from a young age to reduce the chances of fear developing. If your dog is fearful when you take him out of the house, err on the side of caution and ensure that he is muzzled at all times to prevent him from biting strangers out of fear.
– Possessiveness. Possessive behaviour is a significant cause of dog bites, and happens when a dog becomes protective of his ‘property’- which can include his toys, food, territory, even people! To avoid this kind of aggression it is important to begin training early and continuing it throughout their life, making use of the ‘leave it’ and ‘drop it’ commands to minimize possessiveness.
– Pain or Illness. Sometimes, even the friendliest of dogs may lash out and bite because they are in pain or aren’t feeling well. If you are aware of any kind of injury, make sure that you (as well as anyone else who handles your pet) stay away from any affected areas and handle your dog with care.
If your dog starts to become aggressive or starts to snap without any obvious cause, it is important that you take him to the vet for a check-up as pain is most likely the reason.
– Uncorrected Nipping. Young puppies can get carried during playtime and start to mouth or bite. Whilst nipping during play might seem relatively harmless as a puppy, if left unchecked this can develop into a serious problem once they reach adulthood.
To stop your puppy from nipping, you need to let your him know that the behaviour is unacceptable. In order to do this, make a short yelping sound and stop playing the second you feel your puppy’s teeth on your skin. Stand up and, with your arms folded, ignore him for the next minute or so, until he calms down. Once he has calmed, start playing with him again. This will soon teach him that nipping and biting ruins playtime and is no fun at all- and he’ll soon learn to be careful.
– Maternal Instinct. No matter how well trained and otherwise friendly a dog is, if she has puppies the chances of her biting increase significantly. There is no training that can prevent the maternal instinct from taking over- instead, you must be aware and respectful of the new mother’s space and not allow people to intrude into her ‘safe zone’ or handle her puppies until they have opened their eyes and started moving about on their own.
Signs That A Dog May Be About To Bite
Whilst dog bites can appear to come from nowhere, there are usually several indicators that a dog may be feeling uncomfortable and about to bite. It is important that if you see a dog displaying any of these signs that you back off and give them some space.
- Holding their tail rigid
- A visibly tensed stance
- Ears pulled back on the head
- Whites of the eyes visible
- Intense stare
Preventing Dog Bites
Prevention of dog bites requires you to be proactive and responsible in training your dog- don’t wait for a bite to happen before you start attempting to correct the behaviour. One of the most significant things you can do to curb biting is to have your dog neutered or spayed if you’re not intending to breed them. Doing this can dramatically reduce the chances that they will bite or engage in other aggressive behaviours.
Whilst exercise and play is vital to ensure that your dog stays healthy and that the two of you build a solid relationship, steer clear of games that are overly aggressive such as wrestling or vigorous games of tug-of-war, which can cause challenges to dominance and make biting more likely.
Perhaps most importantly, if your dog is demonstrating signs of aggression, seek professional help from your veterinarian or dog trainer. Whilst it can be tempting to try a completely ‘do it yourself’ approach, aggression and biting is something that you should not take any chances with.
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