Discussing dog breeds, dog-adoption, and the human-canine connection.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Not Getting Bitten

I recently read an inquiry from someone wondering what a person could do to avoid getting bitten by a dog.

Aside from the most obvious answer - avoid dogs - there are some straightforward ways a person can not do all the typical things that tend to lead to a dog bite.

Most people are bitten not by stray/strange dogs, or even mean/aggressive dogs. Most people are bitten by anxious or fearful dogs who feel threatened or cornered by something a person has done. For people who do not have a well developed sense of reading dog body-language, there are some basic tips for not placing one's self in a biting situation.

1) Don't charge up to, or rapidly approach, or pick up, or even directly approach a dog that isn't yours. In fact, the safest way to encounter a new dog is to let the dog approach you and take it's time sniffing around and sizing you up without you appearing to pay attention at all. Be mindful of the dog but be neutral and keep your hands to yourself and don't stare at the dog.

In fact, even when re-entering your own home it is a good idea to not make a big fuss over your own dog - not because you might get bitten but because this sends the wrong message to your dog; you are emphasizing that you've been apart - in other words you're emphasizing that separation is a bad or anxiety producing thing.  This can start to develop or reinforce a dog's anxiety over separation by making it a big deal that you were gone and are back. Low key entry and exits go a long way towards keeping emotions from running amok.

2) Similar to 1 - don't make a lot of noise like "Hey DOGGIE DOGGIE, come here doggie, come-here-come-here-come-here!" The last thing a dog that isn't certain of itself or you needs is for you to ramp up their sense of 'something weird is about to happen' by you creating a lot of noise and/or motion. Play it cool. Let the dog approach and don't whistle, call etc. Some dogs just aren't that in to you. Learn to live with that reality.

3) Remember, under the wrong circumstances any dog can bite. Even if they wag a tail and have an owner who assures you, "Oh, he's fine, he growls at everyone."

[This might be true - my own dear Gracie has a tendency to have a special growly-bark she uses when she's happy - but a stranger should never count on being able to tell the difference between her happy growl and her worried growl and if you were in my house I'd encourage you to use your own best judgement even if I were saying, "She loves hugs." People using common sense around strange dogs are less likely to get bitten.]

You don't need to be afraid of dogs - you do need to realize that if you do not have personal experience with a dog you also do not know what might trigger a specific dog into biting. Following the above few simple guidelines can keep you out of harm's way. It should also be mentioned - do not take a dog's food or items, or stand over a dog while it is eating or playing with a prized item if you do not know the dog, or if you know that the dog typically 'guards' valued items. If you own a dog with this behavior and you want to alter the behavior, you may also want to work with a trainer (because unless you've adopted the dog with this behavior you have also helped create the behavior in the first place.)

When one has time to learn about dog body language then one will realize that there are very few dogs who bite without ample warning and provocation. If people remembered to not treat every dog as a friendly dog who wants to be fussed over and grabbed by strangers, then there would be a lot fewer dog bites in the world.


  1. This is great advice. Indeed any dog can bite. My husband was bitten by our Bob. This happened when Bob was an adolescent and a piece of tripe fell on the floor both Bob and Ping when for it, too protect Ping my husband stuck his hand in the middle and was bitten. Obviously you don't stick your hand in a dog fight but he panicked. We have had no big scuffles since but I immediately purchases citronella spray in order to be able to safely break up fights
    retro rover
    PS Im not sure what kind of china it is that you commented on on my blog I get it very cheap at a thrift shop

  2. Lovely china plate with pink flowers :-)

    I was once bitten by my Boxer when I reached to grab her collar when she was fence-fighting with a neighbor's dog; her mouth and my hand moved at accidentally and exactly the same time. I knew better but like your husband I was so busy worrying about my dog I didn't think twice about putting my hand in danger. The dog didn't even know she'd gotten me she was so focused on the other animal. Fortunately for my hand, she'd already worn her teeth down fence fighting at the kennel I adopted her from. Memories....

  3. Great post! Love this: "Some dogs just aren't that in to you." So true! People seem to think that just because they 'love dogs' that the feeling must be reciprocal. Also, some dog owners just aren't that into you, either, so never pet a dog without asking, and if the owner says no, respect that!
    If more people had some basic canine body language knowledge, dog bites would be much less common.

    1. I was very guilty of this sin as a young person - I thought because I loved dogs all dogs should know that and be nice to me in turn. Having good adult role models who remind us we aren't equally loveable to all dogs is helpful (in my particular case I had a dog snap in my face - rude awakening!)

  • It's amazing the number of strangers we walk past who would make noises to try to make the dog look at them when we are out for a walk. And then there are those that scream hysterically 10 metres away. Humans seem to like to gather around the extreme ends of the reaction spectrum. Talk about reactive dogs... hahaha... just struck me we should also talk about reactive humans!! :P

    1. Doesn't it seem like 9 times out of 10 people are more reactive than dogs?
      We need to put electronic collars on people and give them little shocks when they behave inappropriately around dogs. :-)

    2. Oh man, that make the humans unhappy :P Hahaha

  • Excellent information. Freighter has a low growl at times which I think is just him being vocal. His tail wags but he growls very quietly. He also roo's. The roo is easy to figure out but that low growl always gives me pause. I have decided that I really don't care for it so I am training him not to do it. I think it would be too easy for someone to misinterpret, maybe even me. If I get too used to that low growl, how will I know if he really means it? Better just to teach him quiet. :)

    1. Dogs can learn the difference between vocalizations which people accept and which we do not. We all have different tolerance ranges for what is allowed. After decades of living with terriers my rule is - vocalize okay, snapping or biting never - and I've had good luck with the dogs learning this. I on the other hand am very quiet person and much more likely to bite than the dogs are ;-)

  • Terrific advice! I've been bitten twice. Both times as a child with our family Beagle. I knew better than to creep up on him while he was sleeping. I got very little sympathy from my parents ;-) in spite of needing stitches. Consequences... I learned what they are the hard way.

    1. Sue - nothing like learning the hard way to make the lesson stick, eh :-)))
      Seems like I learn a lot that way!

  • This is good advice. We're often approached by people who don't ask. It's a good thing I like the attention or my bipeds would be nervous wrecks!
    I know a few people who have been bitten in the face by their own small dog. They've picked it up for cuddles and ignored the signs that the dog doesn't always like it.

    1. Yes, there's a certain Chihuahua in this house who is more than ready to snarl at a face if it is stuck in his without warning. Have you noticed Clowie that 9 times out of 9.5 big dogs are friendlier than little ones? :-)

    2. Yes, I do think big dogs are generally friendlier. But I don't think I'd like being picked up without warning as people often do to tiny dogs.

  • Great post. So many dog bites could be avoided if people knew how to properly interact with dogs and how to read canine body language. Dogs rarely bite "out of the blue", the signs are almost always there. Thank you for helping to educate!

  • Excellent advice!

  • One thing I find amusing is, while on my walks, I encounter barking dogs, you know, just warning me to stay away.. When I do, I can't even take them seriously, so I'm just like, 'Oh lookit chu!' They just wag their tail a little bit and leave me alone after that. XD

  • This was a great post. AN dog can bite, your absolutely right!
    ღ husky hugz ღ frum our pack at