Why Do Dogs Bite?
However hard it may be to imagine your sweet, snuggly best friend turning suddenly aggressive and biting you or someone else, the truth is all dogs are capable of biting.
According to the Centers for Disease Control there are more than 4.5 million dog bite incidents each year in the United States. About 800,000 people require medical attention for dog bites annually, with about half of those being children. Dog bites most often occur in the home with a person familiar to the dog on the receiving end of the unwanted chomp.
Whether your dog demonstrates occasional aggressive behaviors or is unfailingly gentle, it’s important to understand why dogs bite, what to do if a dog bite happens and how to prevent dog bites in the first place.
Understanding Aggression in Dogs
Dog bites usually occur in response to stressful situations that lead your dog to lash out. Unlike humans, dogs can’t resort to words to hash out their differences, defend themselves, tell someone to back off their territory, or express anger, pain, fear and frustration. The language a dog uses when feeling under attack, afraid, or in pain is growling, snarling, snapping and, unfortunately, biting. The likelihood a dog will resort to biting varies greatly depending on the individual dog and the unique situation. However, certain factors are more likely to trigger an aggressive response in dogs:
Are Some Dog Breeds More Aggressive than Others?A 2014 American Veterinary Medical Association review of the scientific literature on aggression by breed concluded that breed alone is not a strong predictor of aggression in dogs. Though strongly stigmatized for perceived ingrained aggressiveness, research has not proven that pit bull-type dogs are more aggressive than other breeds. Indeed, when it comes to aggression towards humans as reported by owners, research indicates some medium and toy-sized breeds have a bit of a Napoleon complex and a higher prevalence of aggressive behaviors.
Ultimately, variables such as individual temperament, training and socialization have far greater influence on an individual dog’s aggression than breed.
Caveat: Large dogs are capable of inflicting greater physical harm than mid- and small-sized dogs and owners should factor this in with other considerations, such as multiple dogs and children at home.
Dog Bite Prevention: Tips & Training
Punishment Worsens Aggression
Avoid severely punishing your dog for aggression or biting. Whether the aggression resulted from fear, possessiveness, frustration, or was an attempt to establish dominance, punishment will only aggravate aggression in your dog. Seek help from an animal behavior specialist to train your dog away from aggressive responses.
Signs of an Aggressive or Fearful Dog
Dogs always give a warning, however brief, prior to a bite. Animal behavior specialists say owners who claim their always peaceful, affectionate dog transformed from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde without provocation most likely missed early warning signs. Watch for these signals of aggression and/or anxiety in your own dog or an unfamiliar dog:
Any of these behaviors indicate a dog who may be aggressive or frightened. Do not run or yell, lest you trigger the dog’s natural instinct to give chase. Remain calm, don’t make any sudden movements and avoid eye contact, which dogs consider threatening. Place your arms firmly across your chest for protection. If the dog is big enough to jump high, ball your fists and place them before your chin and neck, with your forearms protecting your chest. Stand slightly sideways, without turning your back on the dog, and move slowly away until you reach safety.
What to Do if the Dog Attacks
The directive not to scream or yell ends if the dog attacks, bites and doesn’t back off. Now is the time to call for help as loudly as you can. Keep your chest and throat covered with your arms and fists, protecting yourself with firm kicks until help arrives. If the dog sinks his teeth into you, don’t pull away, which can lead to tearing. Instead, push firmly into the dog’s jaw until he releases his grip.
How to Treat a Dog Bite
While dog bites are not completely preventable, the risk can be greatly reduced by supervising your dog, being attentive to his triggers, and staying vigilant, especially around unfamiliar people and animals. These measures go a long way towards keeping the peace with your dog through the years.
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