Why Do Dogs Bite?

Bites are an unfortunate possibility with all animals (and many children too!), yet dog bites are those which receive the most attention. The consequences of being bitten by a dog range from a lifelong aversion to dogs as a result of a playful nip, to life-threatening injuries and the legal requirement that the offending dog be euthanased.

Australia is home to an estimated dog population of four million, and there are one hundred thousand dog bites inflicted on humans every year in this country, ranging from minor scratches to serious injuries. Young children are those humans most likely to be bitten, and this frequently occurs in the home and the perpetrator is most often the family pet.

Why Do Dogs Bite?

What people need to remember is that dogs are animals and biting is a natural instinct when a dog is feeling threatened – it is a defense mechanism. Dog bites result from fear, possessiveness, pain, maternal instinct, and prey drive. Dogs bite for the following reasons:

• The dog is protecting its food, water, or pups
• It is protecting its resting place
• It is protecting its owner or the property of the owner
• The child has frightened, hurt, startled or provoked the dog
• The dog is old and grumpy and has no patience with the child
• The dog is sick or injured
• The dog bites during play by accident
• The dog gets overly excited during rough play
• The dog is of a herding breed and naturally nips while trying to herd children
• The dog perceives the child as prey
• Sometimes, dogs are simply pestered beyond their limits.

Dogs Almost Always Provide Warnings Before They Bite

There are almost always warning signs prior to a dog biting, unless it is completely accidental during play or when food is being taken from one’s fingers. The signs are generally subtle, and most dogs are very tolerant for a long time before a bite will occur.

The following are sure signs that a dog is losing patience (particularly with a child) and should never be ignored:

• The dog gets up and relocates away from the child
• The dog looks at the adults pleadingly while the child is interacting with the dog
• The dog turns his head away from the child
• The dog yawn when the child approaches or interacts
• The dog shows the whites of his eyes
• The dog licks his chops when the child approaches or interacts
• The dog “wet shakes” when the child stops touching him
• The dog suddenly begins licking, biting, or scratching himself

It is important to be aware and to teach children to be aware of when it’s OK to approach a dog, and when it’s time to give it space.
Next time, we will address methods of preventing dog bites in depth.

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