Many people associate dog bites with large dogs, aggressive dogs, or certain breeds, but the truth is that any dog can bite, regardless of size or breed. Some small breeds, like Chihuahuas, are referred to as “land sharks” because of their tendency to bite any unfamiliar person, but Chihuahua bites rarely make the news. So, ignore the reports about only certain dog breeds being vicious, and focus on why any dog can bite and what you can do to prevent it.

Keep in mind that any dog can bite for variety of reasons, including:

  • Lack of socialization
  • Reaction to a stimulus
  • Provocation
  • Fear
  • Resource guarding
  • Illness or injury
  • Ignored communication signals
  • Defensive, offensive, or protective behavior

In honor of National Dog Bite Prevention Week April 11 to 17, our Pet Emergency Clinic and Referral Center team is sharing our top tips to help prevent dog bites. Follow these guidelines for positive interactions with your canine companions. 

#1: Always ask the owner permission before approaching their dog

Although you may see the most gorgeous Bernese mountain dog on your hike and want to snuggle with the beautiful pup, ask their owner for permission first. Not all dogs appreciate strangers, or they may be in training, so approaching without asking is unwise. And, while the owner may give permission, also ask the dog for permission by following our next tip.

#2: Never approach a strange dog by leaning over

Imagine you are a foot-tall dachshund, and a tall stranger is leaning over to pat you on the head. That’s a frightening picture. Leaning over a dog, touching them on the head, and staring directly into their eyes are all extremely intimidating to a dog, but many people behave this way, and are surprised when they are rewarded with a growl or a snap. When approaching a dog, especially a small one, crouch or kneel down by the dog so you do not appear to threaten them. Refrain from facing them head-on, and instead turn at an angle to their body, keep your eyes down, and let the dog come to sniff you. Then, reach out to rub their shoulder rather than their head. Stop after a few seconds to let the dog decide whether they want to continue interacting. If not, don’t push it. Greeting strange dogs appropriately can prevent a great number of bites.  

#3: Learn to read canine body language

Dogs do not snap without warning. Instead, people fail to pick up on the dog’s subtle body language cues and get bitten because they don’t heed the warning signals. Common warning signals of an unsure or anxious dog include:

  • Whale eye 
  • Tense posture
  • Yawning
  • Lip licking
  • Tucked tail
  • Flattened ears
  • Furrowed brow
  • Tight mouth
  • Cowering

When interacting with a dog, ensure they display content, relaxed body language with a loose body posture, happily helicoptering tail, smiling mouth, and soft, almond-shaped eyes. Ignoring a dog’s warning signals can quickly lead to a bite, so learn how to decipher canine body language to remain safe.

#4: Avoid antagonizing dogs or playing too rough

Would you want to be disturbed when you’re eating, sleeping, or chewing on your favorite toy? Dogs often bite when they’re startled, or if they are guarding their resources, such as food, toys, treats, and people. When a dog is eating, sleeping, or chewing on a toy or treat, leave them alone until they’re finished. 

Rough-and-tumble games can over-stimulate your pet and lead to an inadvertent nip or full-on bite. If your dog becomes too excited when playing tug-of-war or wrestling, choose a more hands-off game instead.

#5: Handle your pet as little as possible when they’re injured

Pets can lash out at any point, but especially when they don’t feel well. If your pet has been injured, or developed an illness, they may snap or bite when moved, such as when you’re putting them in your car to transport them to our hospital. Exercise caution when you handle your pet by wrapping them in a thick blanket or using a muzzle if they’re seriously injured. Move slowly and calmly to help your pet feel at ease until our team can provide treatment.

Injured or ill pets can bite because they’re scared, in pain, or simply do not feel well. If your furry pal is acting out of sorts, an underlying medical condition may be to blame. Schedule an appointment with your primary care veterinarian for diagnosis and treatment, or turn to your Pet Emergency Clinic and Referral Center team for after-hours care.