Whether you encounter a dignified Great Dane or a yappy Chihuahua, it is important to remember that all dogs have the capacity to bite. They have the capacity to physically harm, traumatize, and even impact your outlook on the most common pet in the Western world. At the end of the day, dogs are animals and not every action can be controlled, but with proper education, awareness, and training, you can mitigate the danger.
The first step toward preventing dog bites is not to train the dog, but to train the human. Never approach a dog if it is sleeping, eating, chewing on a toy, or distracted by something else. Let the dog come to you – if the dog is interested in interacting, he will see and sniff you first. Even if you are familiar with the dog, make sure to pay attention to signals of discomfort: tensed body, pulled back ears, raised hackles, stiff tail, and/or furrowed brow. If you observe these warning signs or sense unease, back away without turning your back on the dog. It is always best to err on the side of caution.
There is no way to guarantee that your dog will never bite, but you can significantly reduce the risk by doing a few things that responsible dog owners should be doing anyway. Spaying or neutering your dog not only prevents unwanted additions to the family, but also reduces the dog’s desire to fight and bite. Proper socialization allows your dog to be used to different types of people, animals, and environments thus reducing stress. A lower stress level equals a lower chance of biting. It is also a good idea to teach your dog how to act when people come to your home. Each time someone rings the doorbell, have your dog sit in his bed and give him a treat after he has stopped barking/calmed down. Again, if someone new is entering your house, it is never a bad idea to sequester him in an unoccupied room.
Even if there is not a dog in your household, it is important to teach children how to approach and interact with dogs. A child’s first instinct is often to greet with overflowing enthusiasm, but remember that dog bites happen not for lack of love, but for a lack of understanding. Always ask the owner for permission to interact with the dog. Let the dog come to you and give a sniff. If the dog appears receptive, gently engage. Remind your little ones to be gentle and understanding.
If you have a canine family member, teach your little humans that they shouldn’t interfere during meal time, never tease by taking toys away, and allow them to have a space of their own. Teach them that small dogs are not meant to be dragged around and big dogs don’t like to be ridden. Some of this behavior may be cute, but it is difficult for a dog to communicate discomfort. Dogs generally don’t bite out of the blue, but when they do, the warning signs only appear in hindsight.