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DOGS BITE BACK: WARNING SIGNALS
Dog attacks on humans are so rare as to be newsworthy but so is the fact that 99% of all dog bites are preventable if you recognize the signals.
September 2019 Update | TheDogPress
E. Katie Gammill, Exhibition Editor/AKC Multi-Group Judge
So how do dog bites happen? First, many dogs do not fit their environment. The cuddliest puppy can grow into a biting adult. The Border collie without a job becomes unmanageable and a Rottweiler on a flex lead can be disastrous. The unfenced Siberian roams but any loose dog can cause problems. Your Terrier (name derived from “terra-firma” meaning “go to earth”) digs holes in your yard. Guard dogs guard. Chained dogs become bored and frustrated. Wolf hybrid dogs are illegal in many states and if it bites anyone, owners can face serious criminal charges.
With the exception of a dog that is rabid or seriously injured, dog bites are avoidable by understanding dog behavior, warning signals, canine characteristics such as territorial dominance. Pay attention to the dog's expression and respect the warning signals given by a strange dog.
Far too often humans unknowingly set their dogs up for failure. A dog with a bone or toy may snap when approached. Children should be taught to respect the dog’s boundaries and to learn “dog language.” Dogs of the same sex often fight to establish “alpha” dominance so stay out of it and don’t risk getting bitten. Nature triggers a “fight or flight” response in unexpected situations and each breed, being hard wired for its own protection and purpose, may react differently. Simply put, dogs are dogs and people speak a different language or just don’t “get it”.
Dogs used in law enforcement, for protection, for herding and retrieving, for the blind and deaf, and numerous other jobs, should NOT be approached without the owner’s permission. These dogs have a job to do and entering the dog’s personal space when it is on duty is bad behavior on the human’s part.
Children under six months are at special risk of “dog bite” due to frequent or sustained crying. It is natural behavior for a dog to pick up a distressed, wailing puppy and move it to a safe place. Attempting this with a child may end badly. It takes a dog six weeks to accept a new born infant as “one of the pack”. Under NO circumstances, should a new infant and a dog be left alone in the same room. If the baby’s door must be left open, use a gate to block the entrance to the room.
A hysterical child may trigger prey behavior. When several dogs gather, the same dog that otherwise protects your child may respond to pack behavior and injure the child. Children between age one and age twelve make up over 70% of attacks. Spayed and neutered dogs may show less aggression when provoked. The three breeds most likely to bite (see below) will amaze you.
Pick up all food bowls to protect crawling children. Not only is in unsanitary but interest in the dog’s food can cause “possessive aggression.” A child may think the dog's fair warning is an invitation to play so it is up to the parent or dog owner to educate.
Dogs are territorial, some breeds more than others, and this must be taken into consideration when buying a specific breed. Check Best Breeds For Kids (see below) if you haven’t purchased a dog yet.
If a dog is unused to walking devices, older people may appear as a threat. Seniors are too weak to fend off an aggressive or overly rambunctious dog and a stroke or heart attack may result.
Try not to surprise or startle your dog. For example, to understand the canine’s prey instinct, observe your house dog as it intently watches a squirrel, bunny, or cat through the screen door. Consider the dog’s reaction if a child tries to hug or kiss the dog during this period of intense concentration.
Dogs give warning signs. Posturing, growling, stiff legs, raised tails or hackles, bared teeth or pinned ears are signs of aggression. Dogs do not hide their emotions. Most dog attacks occur on the owners premises. Sadly, some dogs are taught by less than capable owners to attack “on command.” If bitten by an unknown dog, call the authorities immediately. The dog must be quarantined and observed. If this isn’t possible or the irresponsible owner disposes of the dog before proper action can be taken you will be required to take painful rabies shots.
Most importantly, one size does NOT fit all when it comes to dogs. A shelter dog may come with issues despite the best efforts of your shelter. If this dog doesn’t fit, return it to the shelter. You are NOT obligated to keep it. Also realize each breed that makes up a mixed breed comes with specific breed behavior and individual traits. The dog may look like a spaniel but act like a terrier. Although not always the case, mixed breeds may be a surprise package. Buying a pure bred dog increases your chances of having a puppy that matures into the size, look, and temperament of the breed that initially attracted you. Most pure bred dogs have health certifications. Reputable breeders welcome questions and assist any time they are called.
Mixed breeds DO NOT live longer. There is NO documentation regarding mixed breeds because data is unavailable... The American Kennel Club and purebred dog breeders continually research health and genetics and this insures the owner of a healthier, happier pet. Despite criticism of those who do not understand the goals of the ongoing research, the life span of your pet is increased. Do your homework, visit the breeder’s premises, meet the parents, and ask questions. Mixed breeds have little lineage and NO guarantee regarding size, appearance, health and temperament.
A responsible owner teaches their pet acceptable behavior through praise and reward. A good tool for unacceptable behavior is a spray water bottle set on stream. One squirt gets the dog’s attention. The owner’s responsibility is to understand their chosen breed and recognize what actions trigger adverse behavior.
Inundated with horror stories of dog attacks, one should read Karen Delise’s book called “Fatal Dog Attacks”. Dog bite statistics open your eyes to human mistakes. Dogs are very forgiving; humans on the other hand are unforgiving when serious dog bite or attacks occur. Sadly, human ignorance often results in the dog’s demise. Unable to speak for themselves, the dogs become innocent victims.
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