No. End of blog. You can all go home now; question answered.
Okay, I guess I was just being flippant about what is actually a very serious subject. You may have heard people who have been bitten by dogs say “I don’t know what happened – it just came out of nowhere, for no reason at all.”
The fact is, though, there is always a reason when a dog bites. You might not know exactly what that reason is, but believe me, the dog knows. Dogs never just bite for no reason – they bite because they are uncomfortable, and sometimes, in order to avoid being bitten. You need to know the reason for the discomfort. Most of the time, a bite is due to some type of provocation. Some so-called experts will tell you that a dog that is ill will bite for no reason, but this is wrong – there is a reason. The reason is that the dog is ill and stressed.
So, now that we have established that dogs do not bite without reason, how do we know what their reasons are? How do we avoid being bitten?
Well, so we don’t get hurt, duh!
Again, though, I am being flippant. If a dog is likely to bite, without apparent provocation (and note that I said apparent provocation, not no provocation), then first off, yes, a person is going to end up being hurt. Also, the dog is likely going to end up being at best, re-homed, and at worst, euthanized.
Dogs do not bite when they are not provoked. The problem is that often, people do not know what a dog sees as provocation. So, let’s talk about that.
It can be disconcerting, to say the least, to have to live with a biting dog, particularly if the dog seems to be biting for no apparent reason. Most people don’t understand what provokes dogs, though.
What a dog wants to do, when it is gearing up to bite, is put distance between itself and what it sees as a threat. You will see that the dog wants to maintain distance when it begins to growl, hold its tail out, and show other signs of aggression. This is dog language. You do not speak it. And when you tell an aggressive dog, “It’s okay, boy, I’m not going to hurt you,” he does not understand your language either. Because he does not understand your language, if he is in “fear mode,” he could interpret the most innocent actions as aggression. Perhaps you bend down to pick something up – he thinks you’re going to hurt his toes, and he reacts.
Another thing that makes most dogs uncomfortable is direct eye contact. If a dog seems to be aggressive, you do not want to face him head-on. Try to look away. You are giving him an escape route. If you are not sure of how the dog is reacting, keep your distance.
The other thing you should never do is try to pacify an aggressive dog with a pat on the head. Think about this – if you were worried that someone was going to try to hurt you, and they brought their hand down on top of your head, what would you think they were doing? Hitting you, right? Never, ever approach an aggressive dog, or any dog at all, for that matter, with your hand over their head. Extend your hand at chin level, let the dog get a good sniff, and move on from there.
A dog may think that interacting with you is okay, and then change his mind. If you’re not sure about how the dog is likely to react – for instance, if a sitting dog looks as though he might suddenly jump in your direction – keep your distance.
Also, watch the body language for changes. A nervous dog might turn his head away, lick his face, flick his tongue, yawn, or display other signs that he is uncomfortable. If he rolls over on his back, or even better, urinates while rolling over on his back, that’s good – he’s submitting to you. You should still approach slowly, though – he could change his mind.
The problem with relating to potentially biting dogs is that there is no Dog/Human, Human/Dog dictionary. Unless you are a genuine “dog whisperer,” you may not be able to decipher the dog’s body language. The situation could very quickly escalate from apprehension to growling to bared teeth to a full-on bite. For no reason? No. There is always a reason. You just don’t know what it is.
If you think your dog is likely to bite in certain situations, then it is your job to keep him safe, and keep the people around him safe. A calm dog is a dog that is not likely to bite, so make sure that you train your dog properly so that he feels confident when meeting other people. If he is prone to agitation, you might consider a calming treatment like MaxxiCalm Calming Aid for Dogs. It works on external stresses, and may relax your dog to the point where his bite drive is suppressed. The retail price on MaxxiCalm is $39.95, but Amazon has it for $28.85.
Finally, if your dog does not want to interact with people, don’t push it. If you find yourself confronting a dog that feels uncomfortable, don’t push it. You can always work on the relationship later if you want to, but a bite, once delivered, can never be taken back. It can be horribly difficult rebuilding the trust level, so don’t let it happen in the first place.
Dogs are very expressive, very sociable animals. But when they don’t want to be sociable, we need to listen to that and respect it.