Why Do Dogs Bite? Some Answers and Conclusions
The idea of being bitten by an aggressive dog is scary for anyone, even dog lovers and dog owners. If you Google ‘dog news’ you will see stories of maulings and bites and attacks. My impression has always been the most dog bites could be attributed to owner negligence or improper training (actually training a dog to be aggressive), victim instigation, or in the case or stray dogs, pack behavior. Dogs can and do bite. Smaller dogs actually dish out the most bites, statistically, but there is seldom much, if any damage, which is why when you hear ‘dog bite news,’ it will most often be larger breeds because the damage they can do is much more significant. Due to a recent study that I read, it looks like I really am not off the mark but there was at least one surprise. Read on for more…
Recently there was a study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania and published by the Journal of Injury Prevention, looking for the answer to the question, ‘Why do dogs bite?’ They study, encompassing four years of analysis, looked at 111 cases involving 103 dogs that bit children. The data came from a one specific veterinary behavior clinic and looked at bites involving children under the age of 18 and included such data as age, familiarity with the dog and the circumstances surrounding the incident.
Their findings show that what prompts dogs to bite children is generally underlying anxiety, pain and other behavioral or medical problems. This study was not confined to specific breeds, showing that all dog breeds have the potential to bite. The most common triggers, according to the study in the journal Injury Prevention were “guarding of resources and territory.”
Bites to young children tend to occur when the dog feels their possessions; food, toys, etc. are threatened. Even when a dog is familiar with the child, they may get bitten in the case of possession protection, especially when it comes to food. Or you may hear a story of a small child wanting to play with a newly birthed puppy. Mother dogs can be very protective of their offspring.
With older children, bites most often occur when a dog’s territory is threatened. Dogs are naturally territorial animals and if they feel threated, their first response it to protects their territory, whether it be a home, a yard or even their living space. Also, sadly, this is something that you see far too often when a dog has lived its life at the end of a chain.
These dogs have only a very small area, are often unsocialized, and they will protect their territory ferociously! Aside from the cruelty that chaining inflicts on the chained animals, this is yet another reason that dogs should not be chained for life or even long periods of time. It breeds aggression and territorialism. Thankfully, more and more states and passing anti-tethering laws which are aimed at helping the dog’s quality of life as well as helping to cut down on the number of bites by dogs stuck in this kind of a situation.
Another reason for bites is due to fear based aggression. Dogs dealing with separation anxiety or exposed to loud noises which scare them can put a dog into an aggressive mode. Dogs under these circumstances may feel threatened by things they would not normally perceive as threats. A threatened or scared dog when confronted by a noisy and rambunctious child may instinctively strike out.
Most of the dogs, over 80% studied, had never bitten a person before and two-thirds had never bitten a child. Three-quarters of the dogs had exhibited separation or noise anxiety and half also showed some underlying medical situation, most often dealing with the skin or bones but other health issues included growths, eye problems, liver and kidney disease, hormonal problems and infections. so pain may have yet been another underlying factor in why dogs bite.
It seems that the common advise of neutering and training actually have very little impact on the probability of a dog biting when it is in certain situations as outlined above.
Some of the actual statistics are as follows;
- Children under 6 were most commonly bitten in association with resource guarding – (44%)
- Older children were most commonly bitten in association with territory guarding – (23%)
- Food guarding was the most common circumstance for bites to familiar children – (42%)
- Territory guarding for bites to unfamiliar children – (53%)
- Behavioral screening of the 103 dogs examined revealed resource guarding (61%) and discipline measures (59%) as the most common stimuli for aggression.
- Anxiety screens revealed abnormalities in 77% of dogs.
- Potential contributory medical conditions were identified/suspected in 50% of dogs.
- When history before presentation was known, 66% of dogs had never previously bitten a child, and 19% had never bitten any human.
- Most dogs (93%) were neutered, and 66% of owners had taken their dogs to obedience training classes.
Bottom line is that a dog owner needs to know their dog. Most owners know or at least they should know what triggers their dogs to be frightened or scared or angry and combined with guarding and territorialism, it is the owner’s responsibility to protect potential victims from their pet.
Often children tease dogs, their own and others, and a teased dog can very quickly lash out if it feels threatened. Children need to learn what is acceptable behavior around animals or they should not be around them. Never leave a small child unattended with a dog! Like it or not, dogs are prey animals and there are many things that can put a dog into ‘prey mode’ especially when it feels threatened. Small children as well as other small animals are often perceived as prey.
And for God’s sake, unchain your dog!! Statistics show that up to 25% of fatal dog bites are inflicted by chained dogs and often the victim, most of the time a child, is unaware of the dog’s presence until it is too late.
Arm yourself with knowledge and protect your canine companion and protect others from becoming an unsuspecting victim.
Statistics provided by Journal of Injury Prevention.
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