Why Do Dogs Bite

Learning why dogs bite gives you understanding of the types of behaviors to avoid, and ways that you can train your dog to prevent potential dog bite issues. Dog biting is a serious problem, leading to potential injuries and maiming. A dog that bites might also be put to sleep. Nobody wants to see a beloved dog put down for biting, or a child or adult injured due to a serious dog bite. 

Fear and Surprise
Contrary to popular belief, most dog bites don't occur because of aggression; they occur because of fear and surprise. A dog that is prone to fear is much more dangerous than an aggressive dog because a dog that bites out of fear may react unexpectedly to any stimuli, whereas an aggressive dog reacts predictably to specific stimuli. The key to preventing a dog from becoming a fear-biter is to socialize the dog properly as a puppy. Dogs that aren't exposed to a variety of adults and kids, other dogs and varying environments may be easily intimidated or startled, which might lead to biting.

If you adopt an adult dog from a shelter or animal rescue group that hasn't been properly socialized, it's never too late to start. Go slowly with adult dogs that have been poorly socialized. Don't push them beyond their comfort zone, as this often results in fear biting, and once the dog sees that biting is an effective way to avoid stimulus, bite behavior is reinforced. Never leave a poorly socialized adult dog alone with children, and warn strangers to move slowly, avoid looking the dog in the eye and avoid reaching out for the dog.

Dog Training
Dogs that are poorly trained or trained using dominance-related methods are more likely to bite. This is due, in large part, to the dog's status as a pack animal and his level of confidence. If you do extensive, positive reward-based training with your dog, it builds his confidence and eliminates some fearfulness that may lead to dog bite situations. Extensive training also helps to establish you as the pack leader and lets your dog know that you're in charge.

If a dog feels that he's in charge, he may take it upon himself to protect "his" property. This may include toys, food resources or even members of his family. When you establish with a dog that you're in charge, you remove that need to protect his property. You become the protector, and your dog looks to you to administer discipline and defend resources.

Biting Breeds
While legislation banning "bully" breeds is highly controversial, it's a fact that some breeds are more likely than others to be involved in dog biting incidents. Dogs specifically bred for protection are more likely to bite than dogs with milder temperaments. You might be surprised to hear that some small-breed dogs, such as Jack Russell Terriors, are also prone to biting or that herding dogs also tend to have dog bite-related issues. Dogs with a high prey drive are also more likely to bite than are sedate, laid-back dogs.

This doesn't mean that every dog from a certain breed will have a biting problem. The tendency for a specific dog to become a biter depends more on training and environmental considerations than on breed. However, owners who choose to get protection dogs, herding dogs or dogs with high prey drives must train their dogs carefully to avoid biting.

Pain and Sickness
When dogs are in pain or sick, they have less impulse control, which could lead to surprise bites. Many veterinarians use muzzles when treating injured dogs to avoid biting. Dog first-aid classes teach owners to wrap a strip of cloth around a dog's muzzle when an injury occurs in order to avoid dog bites, and it's a good idea for every dog owner to attend a dog first-aid course to learn this and other important techniques.

If you ever see a sick or injured dog, be extremely careful about approaching it. Even the best-trained dogs may bite under pain and stress, so it's a good idea to call your local animal control office if you encounter an injured dog in a public place. These professionals are trained to immobilize a dog in pain without exposing themselves to dog bites, and with a minimum of discomfort for the dog. The dog can then be safely transported to a veterinarian.

Dogs and Kids
Kids end up on the receiving end of dog bites for a number of reasons. In some cases, dogs bite kids because children are small and fast-moving and remind dogs of prey in the wild. In other cases, children are noisy and startle or scare the dog. Never let a child approach a dog that's playing with a toy or eating. The dog may bite the child because he's guarding his resources. Teach children not to invade a dog's bed or crate. Dogs protect these spaces as their territory and might bite children for approaching.

To help protect your child from dog bites, teach him first and foremost to ask the owner's permission before petting a dog. If the owner says it's ok, the child should hold his hand out for the dog to sniff it, not making direct eye contact with the dog. If the dog doesn't back away from the child's hand, the child may pet it on the chin and neck. Teach your child never to move quickly or make loud noises when petting an unfamiliar dog.

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