Inspector Clouseau: Does your dog bite?
Hotel clerk: No
Inspector Clouseau: [bending down to pet dog] Nice doggie
[Dog bites Clouseau on the hand]
Inspector Clouseau: I thought you said your dog did not bite!
Hotel clerk: That is not my dog
The above quote and image are taken from “The Pink Panther Strikes Again” (1976) and it is one of the funniest skits that Peter Sellars played in his role of Inspector Clouseau. In real life, dog bites are no laughing matter. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there are approximately 4.5 million dog bites occurring in the United States every year. Regrettably, in 2016 there were 41 dog bite-related fatalities in the US. Even dog lovers who have grown up with dogs and are used to being around dogs are not immune to being bitten. So what can you do to protect yourself?
Signs that a dog is about to bite
Just as with people, you can tell a lot about a dog’s mood by the body language he is using. Dogs can bite in 1/40th of a second, so knowing what to be aware of in the lead up to that can be helpful. There are 9 key signs to look for that can indicate when a dog may be about to bite. Some of them are subtle and may easily be confused with other moods.
A dog may growl for a whole range of reasons, and not all of these are a sign of bad things to come. If you start to hear a quiet, low growling sound, this can indicate that it is time to be concerned that the dog is going to be aggressive. If he is also snapping at the same time you need to take action.
Showing front teeth
When a dog bares his teeth, this may be for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it is because he is being submissive, but other times it is because he is being aggressive. An aggressive “smile” is often accompanied by other behaviors as given below, so look out for a combination of all of these things.
If the dog’s body suddenly stiffens and the tail raises slightly, you are being given a warning sign.
Direct eye contact and whales eyes
The above image shows a dog whaling his eyes. If a dog is showing more of the whites of his eyes than usual by turning his head away but is still staring at the thing that he feels is threatening him, it is a clear signal that the dog is uncomfortable.
Shaking and drooling
A dog may start shaking from the adrenaline rush from the stressful situation. The stress can also cause a dog to drool more than usual.
Commonly thought of as a sign of happiness, this is not always the case. If the dog’s tail is raised higher than the normal wagging position and his body is perfectly still, you know there is a potential for a problem.
Licks lips, turns away, and averts gaze
Dogs will tend to lick their lips when they are nervous. A combination of all three of the above movements can indicate trouble ahead.
The hairs on the back of the dog suddenly become raised erect and the dog may even smell differently as odors from glands are released.
Due to tension in the body and the face, a dog’s whiskers will begin to twitch.
If you observe any of the above 9 behaviors in a dog, remain motionless, do not run or scream, and avoid direct eye contact with the dog. Especially if you are encountering a large dog, it is easy to get knocked over by the dog. If you are knocked over, it is best to roll yourself into a ball covering your ears and neck with your hands and arms. Continue to avoid making eye contact with the dog.
How to prevent yourself from being bitten by a dog
Once you recognize the signs that a dog is about to bite, what can you do to prevent provoking this behavior in the first place? One initial suggestion is not to approach a dog that is unfamiliar to you. Secondly, you should not run away from a dog, or appear to be panicked. If you are approached by an unfamiliar dog, do not move, run, or scream, and make sure you don’t make direct eye contact. Thirdly, you should never disturb a dog if she is eating, sleeping, or when caring for puppies. Fourthly, don’t pet a dog before she has had a chance to sniff and smell you. Following this, you should never pat her on the head, instead just scratch her under the chin. Finally, it is never advisable to engage in rough, aggressive play with a dog.
Steps to take to prevent your dog biting others
We’ve considered what to do about being bitten by someone else’s dog, but how can you stop your own dog from being a threat to you and your family or to others. Before choosing a dog for your family pet, try to do as much research as possible and ask a professional such as a vet or a dog trainer, so that you can find the breed that best meets your family’s needs. In addition to looking at dog temperament and exercise requirements, you should also consider that certain breeds have much stronger bites than others. Bite strength is measured in pound-force per square inch (PSI). Examples of breeds with the strongest bite are the Kangal and the Doberman.
If you are considering adopting a rescue dog, you may not know much about the dog’s history or whether it has aggressive tendencies. In this case, it is better to spend plenty of time with the dog before adopting him, to make sure the dog is a good fit for your home. This is especially important if you have young children at home or if you have relatives or friends with young children regularly coming to your home.
When you decide on a dog, make sure you exercise your dog regularly to build bonds, reduce excess energy, and to keep your dog mentally stimulated. Ensure that your puppy has proper socialization with exposure to as many different people and different situations as possible. Train your dog so that he understands and responds to basic training commands.
It’s important to educate children on how to behave with dogs appropriately so that they are not bringing out aggression in the dog. Don’t play wrestling games or tug of war games with your dog and don’t allow children to play roughly with him either.
Finally, spaying or neutering dogs helps to reduce aggression and is highly recommended if you are not a dog breeder.
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