Knowing the Reasons a Dog Might Bite

This week as part of National Dog Bite Prevention Week, we’re featuring special tips about recognizing dog behavior from New York Walk & Train‘s Colleen Safford, named “Best of NY” by New York Magazine.

 The pug in this photo is showing whale eye/or half moon eye and offering a lip lick.  He is trying to let the vet know he's feeling a bit stressed with this examination.

The the pug in this photo is showing whale eye/or half moon eye and offering a lip lick. He is trying to let the vet know he's feeling a bit stressed with this examination.

Today Colleen discusses the reasons a dog might bite:

There’s a whole host of reasons dogs may bite. I see a lot of behavior fallout resulting from a lack of early positive exposure, experience and comfort of being handled. Dogs who lack impulse control (or the ability to think before think act) are also at risk of behavior issues. Impulsive antics such as jumping, barking, bolting through doors and racing at fences can lead to volatile situations Quickly these situation go from displays of excitement – which is often discouraged by the owner and possibly punished – to frustration. Over time, frustration for our dogs can translate to aggression.

In talking about bite prevention, it’s never too late to start addressing and understanding  a behavior problem, but you can PREVENT a lot of behavior problems by investing in solid training early on.

Training dogs and people to understand and interact harmoniously is the key!  It is so important for the mental health of your dog (and you!) to select a trainer that will work together with both of you humanely.  The techniques demonstrated should be something that YOU can use consistently each and every day throughout the day.

If your dog exhibits the behaviors below, it is very important to consider training him or her to become more comfortable. There are numerous books and positive trainers out there that can help you tackle these issues. A good place to start searching for a trainer is

Resource Guarding: This is when a dog takes possession of an item and is unwilling to share it or even have anyone in close proximity of him while he has it. This could be food in a food dish, a toy, a chewy or a bed; and when laying on it the dog will not allow someone to approach. The dog may also resource guard a human. If the dog is sitting in an owner’s lap, it will not allow others to approach the human. This dog is not  thinking that he is keeping the person safe, but rather keeping his main possession that  gives him everything in life to himself.

Handling Sensitivity: A dog who has trouble being touched a particular parts of body. Could be paws, ears, eyes, mouth. This dog becomes upset during grooming, medical or general body exams, medicine administering, and petting to areas where he is not comfortable.

Pain: If a dog is sick or in pain, he may be sensitive overall or to a particular part of his body.

Fearful/Startled: If a dog is sleeping and woken suddenly by someone who is right there in his face (even if just for a kiss!), a dog who is uncomfortable being handled by humans or strange humans. A dog who is fearful or particular things, could be children, people wearing hats, people carrying bags. Some dogs are fearful of a particular type of person.

Inappropriate handling: Children are our number one culprits in this category. They may poke at, grab at, pinch or step on our furry friends. It’s not intentional in most cases, it’s the result of undeveloped motor skills. Again, there is more to bit prevention than supervision, but always supervising a child’s interactions with children is important.

Redirection: This dog may have an issue with something else, like other dogs. While on the leash the dog becomes agitated and bites the first thing he can get his mouth on, usually the leg or hand of his handler.  This might happen inside the home when a dog sees someone approaching the home and the owners goes to touch dog to hold him back from the door.

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About Paris Permenter & John Bigley

Paris Permenter and John Bigley are the award-winning authors of over 30 pet and travel books as well as the founders and publishers of CatTipper and DogTipper.