Fight the Bite

Category: Winter 2019 379 0

Decoding your dog’s behavior
will help nip nips in the bud

Much of the focus of these behavior articles has been on pets—we are San Diego Pets Magazine, after all. But an essential component of the training picture is people, and how we interact with animals. Every year, roughly 4.5 million dog bites are reported. When people are bitten or otherwise injured by an animal, we tend to blame the animal. But these issues can often be prevented if we take some basic precautions and learn to recognize the signs that an animal doesn’t want to play.

Since the majority of dog bite victims are children, it falls on parents to teach kids what they can do to stay safe. Most bites come from a pet, not a stray or unknown dog, and even well-trained dogs can lash out when agitated. Doggone Safe, a nonprofit dog bite prevention organization that’s allied with the San Diego chapter of the Emergency Nurses Association, recommends teaching children that no matter how much they love a dog, never hug him or try to kiss him on the face. Dogs don’t like it, and face-to-face contact can sometimes trigger a bite. Also, if a dog is eating, sleeping or protecting something, leave him alone. Kiddos can get carried away and play too rough for a dog’s liking. Let them know that pulling on a dog’s ears, tail or fur isn’t okay. Neither is hitting, poking or otherwise antagonizing him. And if an unknown dog approaches, or the family dog shows aggression, hold still and don’t engage. He’ll eventually get bored and find something else to do.

“More than 50 percent of American homes have dogs, and many of these are family dogs that live around children,” says Niki Tudge, president of Doggone Safe. “Our goals are to keep children safe and to keep dogs in homes. We bring these animals into our homes and we have an obligation to them.”

Training and socialization can go a long way, but it’s up to us to learn how they communicate and decode their behavior. Many bites can be prevented if we learn what to look out for. The signs may be subtle, and can go on for months or even years before the dog actually bites someone. Take note if your dog gets up and moves away or turns his head away, is yawning or licking his chops while a child is interacting with him, or shaking off after being touched. Signs that a dog is quickly approaching his limit with you and a bite is imminent include suddenly stiffening up, curling his lips up to show teeth, and standing with his front legs splayed, his lead lowered and his eyes trained directly on you. Stop all interaction with the dog, look away and slowly move your hands out of snapping range.   

6 Signs Your Dog Needs Space

  1. High, slowly wagging tail, stiff body and a tightly closed mouth
  2. Rapid tongue licks
  3. “Half-moon eye” or showing the whites of his eyes
  4. Yawning when not sleepy
  5. Tail and ears tucked close to body
  6. Freezing and staring, which indicates an
    impending bite

Roughhousing or Warning Sign?

Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether a dog is playing a game (whether or not you know the rules) or is feeling anxious or aggressive. Growling is usually a red-flag behavior, but what about while playing an enthusiastic game of tug-of-war?

Here are five ways to tell if your dog is playing:

  1. A low, wiggly tail wag
  2. Taking turns if playing chase or wrestling
  3. Bouncy behavior
  4. Play bowing with his front end down and backside up
  5. A relaxed face


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