My dog will bite you. My dog will bite me. She’ll bite my husband and my children.
I don’t live in a delusional fantasy land where dogs don’t bite when they’re scared, stressed or hurt. For everyone’s safety, I treat my dog as though she will bite even though she’s generally a pile of cuddly mush.
It’s my job to intervene when I feel that Bailey is stressed, over-aroused or scared because these are the instinctual emotions that she will feel before she harms someone.
Dogs rarely bite “out of nowhere.” Dogs usually exhibit signs that they are uncomfortable, but those signs are often ignored by their owners. In some cases, these signs are trained out by their owners, like when a dog is punished every time she growls. Soon, the dog learns that growling leads to punishment and you’ve lost one of your signals that your dog is uncomfortable. So your dog didn’t bite out of nowhere. You trained her not to tell you she’s about to bite.
I never punish Bailey for growling and I work fast to mediate whatever situation is causing her stress. I want Bailey to growl because that’s how I know I need to intervene before things become dangerous.
Kids and Dogs
More often than not, that adorable photo of the baby and the dog currently circulating the interwebs is a nightmare waiting to happen. Some dogs are perfectly comfortable with their tiny human companions while others are forced to interact because their owner thinks it’s cute. If you really scrutinize a photo involving a child and a dog, you’ll find that oftentimes the dog is exhibiting some signs of stress: Their ears could be pulled back, their eyes are white and shifty, they have a furrowed brow, and their body is stiff. This dog is not happy. This is a dog that could bite.
Preventing a child from being bitten is why I’ve been learning about dog body language since Bailey entered our life. I watch videos, study pictures and read articles from animal behavioral experts all in hopes that I can prevent a bite.
Ultimately, though, if my child does get bitten, it’s my fault. I did not do my job as a human and pet parent to ensure that Bailey and our child were interacting in a safe manner. Maybe I was exhausted. Maybe it was hard to tell how she was feeling. Maybe I made a mistake. No matter what, it’s my fault and I will never blame Bailey.
Bailey is a fun, sweet, well-behaved pup. She lives for belly rubs and slobbery kisses. She’s been a wonderful playmate for children before and I believe she will make an awesome companion for our child.
But she’s a dog. She’s an animal. Animals are instinctual and somewhat unpredictable. I love my dog with all of my heart and soul, but she will bite me if she felt she had to.
And I’m OK with that.
Dog Bite Facts from AVMA
- Each year, more than 4.5 million people in the U.S. are bitten by dogs.
- Almost 1 in 5 people bitten by dogs require medical attention.
- Every year, more than 800,000 Americans receive medical attention for dog bites; at least half of them are children.
- Children are, by far, the most common victims of dog bites and are far more likely to be severely injured.
- Most dog bites affecting young children occur during everyday activities and while interacting with familiar dogs.
- Senior citizens are the second most common dog bite victims.
Knowledge is the best way to prevent dog bites. Here are some of my favorite resources.
American Veterinary Medical Association: The sponsors behind Dog Bite Prevention Week
Reisner Veterinary Behavior & Consulting Services: The Facebook page for this consulting business is AMAZING and has wonderful, wonderful examples of why that adorable viral dog video is not adorable and is actually very dangerous.
Family Paws Parent Education: Great for families with dogs
Lili Chin: Her illustrations are a MUST VIEW for anyone attempting to learn how to decode dog body language. They continue to be a constant help for me.
Dr. Sophia Yin: While Dr. Yin, sadly, committed suicide late last year, her work remains instrumental to fostering a positive bond between pets and their owners. Her entire site is a wealth of information.
Victoria Stillwell Positively: Generally speaking, I try to stay away from any “expert” that has a TV show, but if you’re going to go the way of the TV trainer, Victoria Stillwell is the one to give your support. Unlike He Who Shall Not Be Named, Stillwell uses proven science-based training techniques and actually has an understanding of dog behavior.