Why do dogs bite and how to prevent it

Aggression in dogs can be result of a number of reasons, including owner’s temperament.

Written by Vidhi Malla | New Delhi | Updated: April 15, 2015 3:34 pm
dog-bite-main While the stray issue needs dedicated focus, there are numerous reports online about pet aggression too. (Source: Thinkstock Images)

Recently, there have been numerous reports in papers about dogs biting people across regions. Before we jump to conclusions about dog bites and how to tackle it; it is important to understand that any animal will bite as an extreme measure. Aggression in dogs can be result of a number of reasons, including owner’s temperament. Dogs are territorial by nature and have a strong pack mentality, so any threat to the order can instigate them. In order to ensure that we for a mutually beneficial relationship create a society where dogs and humans co-exist, we need to know the reason why dogs bite.

Dog’s possessiveness and protecting valuable things: For some dogs, the way to ‘protect’ their ‘valuables’ is through aggression. Anything can comprise of a dog’s property; food, toy, territory (house or car) or even a human family member. While, some breeds like guard dogs or herding dogs are claimed to be more prone to this kind of aggression, any breed can adopt this mannerism. The best way of trying to control this behaviour is to train your dog from the beginning; especially, if you have a large breed. Simple commands like ‘leave it’, ‘let go’ or ‘drop it’ can work well if your pet has toy aggression. Also, some dogs do not like to be disturbed when they are eating. Such pets get aggressive when someone touches their food bowl. Again, the trick is to associate approaching the food bowl with something positive and non-threatening. So when you approach the bowl, add a few treats to it so that the dog associated your action to something positive. Make sure you teach children not to bother dogs when they are eating or enjoying a treat.

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Aggression due to fear: Like people, dogs are naturally fearful of unfamiliar and new circumstances. Fear from strangers is extremely common, especially veterinarians or groomers. Fear aggression can happen when you suddenly wake up a sleeping dog or startle a dog with loud noise. Also, as a thumb rule, never approach an unfamiliar dog without the owner’s consent. On the street, if you are ever faced with a situation where you have an aggressive stray, do not run. Stay calm and act according to the situation. You can either stand still and let the dog sniff you or try and scare it away by shooing it.

Maternal instincts: A nursing female dog is your worst enemy; unless you feed her. Dogs become bitter once they have had puppies. One needs to respect the maternal instinct of a mother and try and make them feel safe. Children also need to be told to handle the pups with extreme care and be cautious when around a new mother

Pain aggression: Like humans, animals get extremely irritated when in pain. This pain may also lead to aggression. If your pet dog suffers from any medical condition like severe otitis, hip dysplasia, rectum issue, then you need to stay away from the sore areas when handling your dogs. In case of strays, be careful when you are dealing with the hurt dog. The sweetest dog can bite if they are in pain.

Prey-driven aggression: You may have witnessed a lot of stray dogs running behind cyclists, motor vehicles or joggers. Anything that moves at a certain pace will excite a dog. If you are ever faced with this situation, the best thing is to stop, stand tall facing the dog (never make eye contact in this situation) and fold your arms on your chest or simply on the side. Usually, the dog will come up to you, sniff and move on to find something else.

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Redirected aggression: Breaking a dog fight is perhaps the toughest trick in the book. Imagine, two dogs are fighting and are in a position to attack, when suddenly a hand reaches out and grabs them. The obvious reaction of any dog will be to turn around and grasp at the interrupters. The best way to break a fight is loud noises and strong blasts of water. If you are in a situation where you must lay hands on fighting dogs, stay as far away from the mouth as possible and move swiftly.

Aggression at being pestered: Dogs have limits and sometime we fail to respect these. Often people and children who do not understand how to control their own behaviour get bitten by dogs. Things like hugging a sleeping dog, blowing air in their face, touching or pulling their tail, pulling their cheeks, poking them etc. can lead to a bite.

The best way to prevent a bite is to be a responsible person. While, knowing the common triggers of dog bite can empower you; observing dog’s behaviour and acknowledging the warning signs is the trick to not get bitten. Some nervousness and fear signs include – licking the nose continuously, ears pinned back, fur along the back standing up, dog trying to dart your hand by moving away, tail curled between the leg, growling and showing teeth.

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