How to Avoid Dog Bites

How to stay safe and keep your dog from bitting

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This is not a fun subject to talk about, dog bites can be at best scary and the worst…is really bad. However, the truth is, when you are dealing with living creatures with a pointy end, there is always a possibility that you can get hurt. 

Dog bites are traumatizing for both humans and dogs and can seriously damage the bond you have with your furry friend. The good news is there are definitely steps you can take to reduce the chances of dog bites. Rover-Time has some tips and tricks for Chicago dog owners to try to avoid dog bites. 

How to spot fear

The majority of dog bites happen because a dog is scared. Fear can often turn into what is called “fear aggression”. Fear signs can often be obvious; shaking, tail tucked between the legs, piloerection (hair raised along the back), or if they are really scared, peeing, or pooping. However, there are some signs that are less clear that you can be on the lookout for; the head lower than the shoulders, whale eyes or dilated pupils, the brow furrowed or wrinkled, the ears flat against the head. You might also see hypervigilance, lip-licking, yawing, panting, shaking off, or the dog might be spending lots of time sniffing the ground or scratching. 

How to spot aggression

If the dog is not able to remove themselves from the stressful situation, their fear signs may become aggression signs. These can include; barking, growling, biting (snapping at the air), hard stares, and exposing their teeth. They may try to appear larger, with their weight forward. A tense body could mean that they are deciding if they should fight or flee. 

Threshold

So how do we try and keep our dogs from getting this fearful or aggressive? For dogs, it’s all about keeping them below their threshold. Think of a bucket of water, with a dog’s triggers as drops of water. Each time they encounter a trigger – a loud noise, a child coming near them, a stranger, a drop of water goes in the bucket. Individually, each drop is fine. But when they occur in quick succession the dog’s threshold bucket can overflow.

Most of the time when we think that a pet has snapped “out of nowhere”, it really means that they exposed to lots of triggers in quick succession. Once your dog is over its threshold, its ability to focus or behave rationally may be limited or even gone. In order to try and avoid bites the best way is to keep your dog below its threshold. Try:

  • Reinforcing good calm behavior – Lots of treats and pets when they are calm! 
  • If your dog is playing with other dogs, break up the time. Some dogs may get over their threshold really quickly while playing with other dogs.
  • Space – Let your dog have distance from whatever is triggering them. 
  • Work on calming and focusing exercises – watch me, touch, etc. 

If your dog is above their threshold, try to get out of the situation that is causing them to be reactive. Take note of what is happening so as to avoid getting into this situation again. Never try and force a dog to confront something that is scary or triggering for them. 

Know Your Dog

The most important element is to know your dog! Understand their triggers, each dog will react differently to what they are encountering. Some of this is about personality, but some of it is about the breed. Certain dog breeds have lower thresholds and it’s important to keep that in mind to avoid pushing them past their thresholds. 

We hope that these tips will help avoid a scary or painful bitting incident with you and your dog! Want to know more? Check out this video with trainer Kiki Yablon who has even more tips for dog safety! 

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