Any dog can bite. Let me repeat that: any dog can bite. I don’t say this to alarm anyone, I say it so that everyone can look at their dog with the respect and understanding that biting is a part of their communication toolbox and if we treat any dog as if it would never bite, tragic outcomes can occur.
If you’ve watched dogs play, you’ve seen them play bite. Their mouths are a huge part of how they communicate and play. We often believe that our dogs would never bite us, that they love us too much to ever do that. But what is biting to a dog? It’s a communication tool. An escalation to communicate a desperate plea on their behalf. No matter how much our dogs may love us, if we put them in the wrong situation and ignore their pleas for help, they may bite us too.
Why do dogs bite? In almost all cases, dog’s bite because their pleas for a change in environment, or for more distance, is ignored. All dogs are different of course and some will have less tolerance for something that they are afraid or uncomfortable with and some will have a lot more tolerance and it will consequently take a lot more for them to bite.
Regardless of their tolerance, almost every single dog will give a warning before they bite. Dogs who “bite out of nowhere” are extremely rare and often, if they have not given warnings, it’s because their warnings have been punished in the past.
What are some common warning signs dogs will give before biting?
- Growling: This is a common one that dogs are punished for. People think that the dog should not be allowed to growl or that growling is bad. But growling is incredibly important information that our dogs are communicating. If we punish them for growling, they will not feel any better about what is making them growl, but they will stop warning us.
- Snarling or lip curl: Curling the lips, scrunching the nose and showing some teeth often accompanies the growl as a warning before a bite.
- Signs of stress: tongue flicks, whale eye (seeing the whites of their eyes), ears pinned back, stiff body and an upright tail can also be signs that come before a bite.
This list is far from exhaustive but it can provide you with some common signals to watch out for. The most important thing is to not ignore these signals when we see them. I’ve already spoken in a previous blog post about the importance of learning about k9 body language. Learning about this body language can help you avoid a potential dog bite in the future.
Most importantly, don’t punish your dog for giving you warning signals. Instead, give them distance, take away what is triggering them and seek out the help of a professional certified dog trainer so that you can better understand your dog and potentially help them understand that their trigger doesn’t have to be something they fear.
If your dog does bite you, or someone else, it’s critical to seek out help. Any dog can bite and dogs that have bitten someone are not inherently bad dogs. But instead, they are dogs that have been put in situations that they cannot cope with and have been left with no other option but to use that particular tool in their communication toolbox. However, preventing a dog that has bitten, from doing so again, is critical in the aftermath of a bite. Working with a professional can help you prevent that.