Unpopular Opinion... But most dog bites don't "just happen"
Updated: Apr 16
This post will explore some of the signs our dogs may be giving us that they are uncomfortable that may help YOU prevent a bite from happening in the first place!
Have you ever heard someone say “they just bit me out of nowhere?” Or “there were no warning signs”?
Although for some dogs this may be true, most dogs are very expressive of how they are feeling (comfortable or uncomfortable).
With this week being Dog Bite Prevention Week, we thought we would explore why dogs may bite, a basic overview of how a dog may use their body language to show us they are uncomfortable as well as share some resources with you that you may be interested in checking out regarding dog body language!
Why do dogs bite?
As you can imagine, the reasons that a dog may bite are countless! Most dogs do not want to bite and often, it is a last resort and they feel as if they had no other choice.
Some reasons that I often hear about when people talk about why a dog may have bitten include things like they were afraid, in pain or frustrated, they were forced to do something they were uncomfortable doing (I will touch on this one more later in the post), they were startled, there was resource guarding involved (dog- dog or human - dog) or it was a redirected bite (also known as redirected aggression). This is when a dog is reacting towards something and they cannot get access to it so they redirect their frustration onto another person, object or animal (VCA, 2023 for more information).
We can talk about the reasons a dog may bite until we are blue in the face (they are truly endless), but the reality is that here are almost ALWAYS warning signs before a bite happens. Why they escalate to a bite isn't much different than the reasons we may escalate our behavior as humans.
Just like us, if you aren’t respecting their boundaries or listening to their body language, non verbal or verbal cues, you are putting them into a situation where they NEED to escalate to make the person or dog listen.
But what does this body language actually look like?
Keep reading to find out!
How to know a dog may be uncomfortable just by observing their body language...
The first step in being able to understand how your dog may be feeling in certain situations is exactly what you are doing now... learning about what their body language may be telling you about how they may be feeling in that exact moment!
It is impossible to know EXACTLY how a dog may be feeling in terms of emotions as, well, they can't tell us in words that we may understand. That being said, there are some tell tail (see what I did there?) signs that help us to understand a little bit more about if they feel comfortable or uncomfortable in a situation.
Here is a list of body language signs that may indicate your dog is feeling uncomfortable that you can use to help prevent a bite or escalation from happening!
These are all found in a document from The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals which we will be sharing a photo of below which includes drawings of what these body signs may look like (if you are a visual learner like me, this may be helpful!)
Every dog is unique and their body language is individual to them. Just because they are doing something it doesn't necessarily mean that it will mean the same thing when looking at another dog. This is just a general overview of some of the more common "I'm uncomfortable" body language signs to use as a guideline.
Why is it important to listen to what our dogs are trying to tell us?
Here's a question for you... How do you feel when you try to tell someone you don't like something that they are doing or that you it's painful or making you uncomfortable and they still keep doing it?
This may be because they didn't understand what you were trying to tell them or they just ignored your words or signs and continued to do it anyways because it was convenient for them.
This is what happens everyday with our dogs! Sometimes we don't understand what they are trying to tell us and sometimes we keep pushing them because we want them to do something even though they are clearly uncomfortable with it.
As we already established above, dogs most of the time do not want to bite. If you take the time to listen and understand the verbal and non verbal cues that the dogs are giving you they generally won't. THIS is why it is important to actively observe your dog as well as other dogs as they will tell you how they are feeling if you are willing to listen and respect their space and boundaries.
Observing your dog's normal body language on a day to day basis will also help you to know when something may be wrong, they are uncomfortable or they are in pain. If your dog has a sudden change in their behavior, the FIRST thing that you should do is contact a vet to have them do a complete work up to ensure there isn't anything of medical concern causing the shift in behavior. I would suggest finding a vet who is knowledgeable in Fear Free and Force Free handling techniques. You can find a list of vets who are force free via the Alberta Force Free Alliance Business Directory or through Fear Free Pets business directory as well!
NOTE: If your dog is uncomfortable with strangers touching them or in a vet situation, I would suggest muzzle training your pup to keep everyone safe! I am a huge advocate for positively conditioning muzzles for all dogs regardless of the situation. Check out our #muzzlemonday stories on Instagram as well as on the blog for inspirational stories of owners and their dogs who use muzzles for an array of different reasons as well as tips and tricks for positively conditioning your pup to their muzzle!
I hope that you enjoyed our very first blog post! Please enjoy the resources I have added below and let us know if you have any questions at all! Learn something new? Let us know too!
Find this blog post useful or informative? Share it with your friends or copy the link and share it on Instagram and Tag us @suns_out_paws_out_yyc so that your friends or clients can read as well!
Alberta Force Free Alliance Business Directory:
Body Language of dogs breakdown from ASPCA: https://www.aspcapro.org/sites/default/files/canine-body-language-aspca.pdf
Fear VS Aggression & Reason's Dogs may bite Article from VCA: https://vcacanada.com/know-your-pet/fear-vs-aggression
Fear Free Pets Business Directory: