Warning Signs That a Dog Might Bite

A strange dog suddenly startles you. You ask yourself, “Is this dog friendly? Will he bite?” It’s important to know the warning signs that a dog might bite.

Warning signs that a dog might bite.
Learn ways to help prevent dog bites.

It can be very frightening when an unfamiliar dog comes out from behind a parked car and startles you. You may ask yourself, “Is this dog friendly? Will he bite?”

It’s important to know the warning signs that a dog might bite in order to protect yourself in this situation. An easy answer to the questions above is to always assume that the dog is not friendly and walk away. But I know that if a fluffy little dog pops his head out from under a car, it’s going to be hard to resist.

Unfortunately, many dogs have learned to mask obvious indicators of biting (like growling and barking) because they have been corrected for displaying these behaviors. When a dog is corrected for things like this, they learn to suppress the warning signs and not the bite. A bite that came from “out of nowhere” is probably from a dog that has been conditioned and trained in this manner.

For this reason, you must be aware that dogs read your body language during your approach. Before you can adjust your own behavior, you need to read the dog’s body language.

Warning Signs That a Dog Might Bite

Some of the most common indicators that a dog might bite are:

  • Direct eye contact (This is a direct threat from a dog).
  • Tail up, may be wagging stiffly (Just because the tail is wagging doesn’t mean that the dog is happy or he likes you; a wagging tail indicates high energy.)
  • Legs apart and chest thrown out (The dog is trying to look big!)
  • Ears up or perked
  • Low rumbling growl
  • Showing front teeth (This is considered a “short mouth” and it shows clear intention to bite.)

If the dog you are approaching is showing any of these signs, assume that the dog will bite — and then back away slowly.

If You Need to Make Contact, Do This

If for any reason you need to make contact with this animal, approach slowly but not directly.

Be aware of all the signals you are giving the dog by becoming aware of your own body language. Keep your hands low to not threaten the dog. Speak calmly and softly and do not make direct eye contact.

You also shouldn’t try to tower over the dog; a defensive dog will be threatened by height.

If the Dog Moves to Attack, Do This

In the unfortunate situation that the dog still lunges at you to bite, you must protect yourself. You certainly don’t want to make yourself a target.

Grab anything you can to put in the dog’s mouth before your arm, leg or face. If you are carrying a purse or backpack, shove that in the dog’s mouth when he opens it. The dog will probably let go and try to bite you again. He has to open his mouth to get to you, and when he does, just put your purse back in his mouth.

If the Dog Bites You, Do This

If the dog manages to bite you, try not to panic. You never want to yank yourself away from a dog’s mouth — this will cause the dog to bite down harder and cause tearing.

Hitting the dog and trying to physically harm him usually will cause him to get angrier and will do more harm than good.

The best thing to do is to try to stick something in the dog’s mouth. This will work as a gag for the dog, and he will let go. The dog’s mouth can be dirty, and infection is possible. If you are ever bitten by a dog, I suggest going to the doctor, even if it’s a minor bite.

Conclusion

Because dogs are domesticated, they are usually not going to bite unless they feel it’s a last resort or they are provoked. If you encounter an unfamiliar dog, my suggestion is to just leave it alone and call the local animal control.

For more tips, check out this video from the American Veterinary Medical Association:

Photo: State Farm/Flickr; Source: Animal Behavior College

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