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Why Do Dogs Bite?

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Dog Looking WearyDog bites seem to be filling the news these days, and the stories never have happy endings. Family members, visitors, and children are being bitten by familiar dogs. Fortunately, Virginia recognizes the focus should be on the deed, not the breed, with clear statutory language that no dog will be deemed dangerous or vicious based on the dog’s breed.

Dogs bite more than 4.5 million people every year, and more than 885,000 of those victims require emergency care, according to the CDC.

To get to the root of this problem, it’s important to ask why dogs bite before we can work on prevention. 

According to DogGone Safe, a nonprofit dedicated to bite prevention through education, here are some of the top reasons why dogs bite:

  1. Protection: Many dogs bite when their territory feels threatened. Dogs may protect their toys, food, crate or resting area, owner, or property.
  2. Fear and/or lack of socialization: If dogs are not socialized properly, or put in an unfamiliar situation, dogs may bite. Dogs may become startled when a person approaches them quickly, crouches down, or makes a loud, sudden movement.  If a dog is not properly socialized, the dog may also lack proper bite inhibition.
  3. Pain: Dogs are not able to easily communicate with their owners, making it hard for owners to know if their dog is sick or in pain. Many dogs will growl or move away if you touch them and it is painful, so be mindful of a dog’s injuries, ear infections, or hip dysplasia. You should also be aware of how visitors are handing your dog. They may be playing, scratching, or pulling on your dog (especially children) in a way that may make the dog afraid or hurt.
  4. Stress: Humans aren’t the only animals that have bad days. If you have recently moved, travelled a lot, or have had company over, dogs may feel overwhelmed and stressed. Dogs like their routine too, and may become impatient over small things.
  5. Prey Drive: It is a dog’s instinct to chase, which is why mailmen, landscapers, runners and bicyclers excite dogs.

While we cannot diminish all dog bites, many problems can be eliminated by understand your dogs warning signs and proper training. Growing isn’t the only warning sign dogs give when they are feeling threatened. Other common warning signs are:

  1. The dog moves away from the person, or turns his or her head away
  2. The dog looks at you (or its owner) with a pleading expression
  3. Being able to see the white crescent of a dogs eye
  4. The dog abruptly starts licking or biting himself

If you see any of these warning signs, respect your dog’s space and do not punish your dog.  You don’t want to discourage your dog from giving these warning signals.  DogGone Safe has excellent resources to learn more about dog body language and bite prevention, so check out their site for more information!

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About Heidi Meinzer

Heidi is an attorney and animal lover, not necessarily in that order. She handles small business, animal law, and nonprofit legal issues. She is licensed to practice in Virginia, Maryland, the District of Columbia, and Washington State. Heidi is also a certified dog trainer. Heidi Meinzer's Google+ Profile