Why Do Dogs Bite & How to Recognize If Your Dog is About to Bite

We love our dogs and are heart-pressed to ever think negatively of their behavior. But at the end of the day, our lovable pup is still an animal with instincts that are embedded in long-bred DNA lineage. As owners, we need to show our dog love but we must also recognize behaviors resembling agitation, tension, and aggression. When a dog feels threatened, stressed, or without options to react, it uses its primary defense mechanism: its teeth.

Owners can often predict that their dog is about to start biting, but in order to be able to do so, an understanding of canine behavior and knowing the signs of a potential biting reaction is imperative. The importance is compounded by the fact that a dog bite will not be blamed on the dog or the person who is bitten, but the owner. It is therefore vital that owners can detect aggressive behavior and take measures to prevent it.

So how do we recognize that our dog is at the point of biting? More importantly, what can we do to prevent this from occurring?

Why Dogs Bite?

Before learning the signs to look for, it is important to understand the reasons dogs bite. The most common reason that dogs bite is that they feel threatened. Whether the dog perceives the threat to itself, a pack member, their human, or its puppies. However, a dog can also instinctually react with a bite when it is startled. It is often a visceral reaction that the dog may not be consciously aware that it is about to do.

People are often told to not run from dogs. The reason for this is that not only does this allow the dog to assume that they are dominant, and they may think that this is all part of the acceptable play. In some breeds, this may trigger a hunting instinct which is hard to breed ou, turning the dog into a predator and the runner to the prey.

Then there are situations of trauma. When an animal is injured or sick, anyone who approaches may be in danger of being bit. Simply put, your dog may not be in the right state of mind to properly distinguish between those who mean to help or to do more harm to it. A loud noise may frighten a dog, and it reverts to its defenses by biting anyone near. There are also many unfortunate situations where dogs who were either abandoned or abused when they were younger, perceiving threats from people around them. The perpetual stress they are conditioned to exist in makes them volatile and ready to defend themselves from any future pain or injury with their main method of protection.

Warning Signs Of A Dog Bite

Dog training can go a long way in reducing the chances of your dog reacting to any situation with a bite, but that is not a surefire solution either. You may also note this behavior from other dogs who might be partially familiar with you or completely unfamiliar. Keep in mind that a dog never ‘wants’ to bite, hence it often gives warning signs. To know if there is a chance of a bite-driven reaction, it’s important to be able to detect the following behaviors:

  • Heed Verbal Warnings: A dog rarely attacks or bites without voicing his intentions first. Commonly, dog bits are preceded by deep, menacing growls or aggressive barking. This is almost always accompanied by bared teeth. However, something like that is sometimes hard to detect in certain breeds whose teeth are not entirely visible.
  • Posture Changes: There are two distinct posture variations to look for. When a dog is going to bite, it typically adopts a defensive posture. This may involve stiffening and rigidifying the hind legs, lifting the hair and tail, and tucking the ears back against the head. A dog who wags its tail slowly and stiffly, cowers, or tucks his tail under him can also be readying himself for an attack.
  • Facial Expressions: This one can be tricky. While dogs typically bare their teeth when warning of intent to attack, they may also lick their chops, and if approached, look away and possibly yawn. While this would seem to indicate a dog’s disinterest in any altercation, this is often a preparatory move signaling an impending attack.
  • Wagging Tail: This was mentioned earlier, but a wagging tail is not always a sign of friendliness and excitement. Many owners might be surprised by this, but in fact, a dog is only showing benevolence with tail wagging when its entire body is moving with it. If the tail is rigidly moving on its own, that is not a sign of excitement, but a warning of a potential attack.
  • Whale Eye: Seeing the whites of a dog’s eyes is another indicator. This is commonly associated with anxiety in dogs. This does not always indicate a bite is imminent, but it is a cause to be on guard.
  • Aggressive Tactics. A dog that is in distress tries to give you every warning of its intent. Sometimes the warnings involve nipping, mouthing, nose bumps, or even lunges.

How To Mitigate Dog Bites

Any dog, no matter how well trained, can potentially bite a human. Most methods of not agitating a dog to the point of biting involve not doing anything to unnecessarily agitate it. When a dog is sleeping, eating, or playing with his favorite toy, for instance, is a time that it is unwise to intervene with their activity. These are all-natural needs that a dog is trying to tend to, and any interruption can result in increased agitation.

If you are a dog lover and want to pet and interact with every dog out there, you would be wise to fight that urge. Encountering unfamiliar dogs may be a great experience for you, but it makes most dogs extremely nervous. They are comfortable with their people and may feel anxious or threatened at the approach of a stranger.

Handling Aggressive Behavior

If you are faced with an aggressive canine, you would be well served to remain calm. If you turn your back and run, dogs might immediately try to catch you. Furthermore, if you yell, the dog will get alarmed, making the situation worse. Maintain as much stillness as possible by keeping your hands in a downward, non-aggressive position and avoiding eye contact. If the dog seizes to observe you as a threat, it is likely to start calming down and backing off. Once that happens, you can slowly increase the distance between you and the dog.