Preventing Dog Bites
National Dog Bite Prevention Week aims to educate people about how to avoid being bitten by a dog. This educational week takes place during the second full week of April each year. As man’s best friend is often spotted at every turn, we have created the guide below to help you stay safe and prevent dog bites when interacting with dogs.
You Can Tell a Lot About a Dog Through Its Body Language
The main form of communication for our canine companions is through body language. Here are some signs to look for when assessing a dog that may be signaling an impending bite.
What A Dog’s Ears are Communicating
Ears Pinned Back
If a dog’s ears are pinned back to their head, it does not necessarily mean that a bite is imminent, however it does signal that they are uncomfortable. This stress signal is meant to communicate that if they continue to be pushed, they may bite.
What A Dog’s Posture is Communicating
In dog language, leaning towards another animal or human is a threat. It shows that if whatever is making them feel the need to be threatening does not go away, the dog will react accordingly.
Stiff Posture in a Dog
When a canine has a very stiff position, they are uncomfortable. In contrast, a comfortable dog would have loose body language. Stiff posture warns that if the situation escalates, they may feel the need to bite.
Freezes are just as they sound. If you are watching a dog’s body language and they remain still or in a “frozen” position they are communicating that if you continue the action that is making them uncomfortable, they will bite. Freezes can be for a short second or for a longer period of time so make sure that you are paying close attention to their actions.
What a Dog’s Eyes are Communicating
Side eye, also called hard eye or whale eye, is when you can see the whites of a dog’s eye and they are not making direct eye contact. This is an appeasement gesture meaning that they do not want to hurt you, however they are very uncomfortable with what you are doing. It is recommended that you do not continue to push a dog who is exhibiting this behavior.
Direct Eye Contact
If the situation worsens, a dog who is about to bite will make direct eye contact with you. This is a threat that tells you to back off before they are pushed far enough to bite.
What a Dog’s Tail is Communicating
Flagging of a dog’s tail is when just the tip of the tail seems to be moving in short motions back and forth while the tail is held high. This is another sign of a possible impending bite. If the situation escalates, the dog is likely to react negatively.
A tail that is held high and not moving is part of the freezing of a dog’s posture. If you notice a dog doing this and the rest of their body is frozen as well, back off and give them space. They are asking for distance and to be left alone.
What A Dog’s Mouth is Communicating
Air snaps are when a dog seems to bite the air near you, but does not make contact. Many people believe that when a dog does this, they were trying to bite, but missed. This is incorrect. The human reaction time is two seconds. In that window, a dog can bite five times. Air snaps are a deliberate warning to leave the dog alone.
Seeing all of the teeth in a dog’s mouth is known as a submissive grin, where as seeing just the incisors which is what you can see when a dog bares their teeth, is a threat. The dog is communicating that they will bite if they feel it is necessary.
Growling is one of the more obvious signs that a dog may bite. It signals that they are uncomfortable with the situation and will cause harm if the pressure on them is not released.
Chattering and Puffing
Chattering teeth or puffing out their cheeks with air is another signal that the dog is very uncomfortable. It means that they are over their threshold level of what they can handle and they are about to react badly to the situation. They have entered survival mode and need to be calmed or they could become dangerous.
Use Caution When You See These Dog Behaviors
When interacting with a dog who is exhibiting any of these behaviors, use caution, assess the whole situation, and make your best judgement call on how to deal with the issue. It is important to remember that for many dogs, biting you is a last resort. They will give you the warnings above beforehand in an attempt to communicate that they do not want to hurt you. Understanding their language is the number one way to prevent injury as it assures you and the dog are on the same page.