A dog is about to bite but can you tell?
Garima Singhal and Boo
It is usually after a dog bite has happened that the pet parents are horrified and often say: I had no idea. I couldn’t tell. He never does this. He has never done this in his life. However, there is a good chance that their dog was displaying signs of deep stress and agony for a while before she finally let go and bit, only the clueless humans didn’t know how to ‘listen’ to heir pet.
Recently there has been a barrage of ‘cute’ videos on social media that mostly display a child or a toddler ‘playing’ in dangerous situations around a dog. The manner in which the child is interacting with the dog is clearly unsafe, and yet this trend continues.
Read your pet’s warning signs
Dogs give out warning signs about how they are feeling, every time they are faced with a situation. It is incredibly rare for a dog to bite completely out of the blue. If you are not paying attention to your pet, aren’t listening to him, and the stress mounts, the last option for the pet is to bite and vent out his feelings. It is important to know the warning signs. Understand these signs and you can judge whether the dog is friendly or in the mood to be patted. Nor every dog is friendly, and neither every dog is aggressive. We need to comprehend what the dog is trying to communicate through his body language.
- Stress yawn
- Wide eyed pawing
- Lip curl
- Hackles up
- Licking the lips (dog language for – I am uncomfortable, please stop)
- Averting the gaze
- Making direct eye contact (this is a direct threat from the dog)
- Tail up, wagging stiffly (wagging doesn’t always equal happy dog. A wagging tail indicates a state of high energy or tension)
- Ears up or perked
- Chest thrown out (the dog is trying to look big and intimidating)
- Legs apart (same as above)
- Showing front teeth (short mouth, and this is a clear intention to bite)
- Growling and snapping (the most obvious one)
Often, dogs ask for your help by showing these indicators. They’re trying to tell you to protect them or get rid of the stressful stimuli.
Ways to keep your dog calm & happy
- Regular exercise will keep them engaged. It’s great not just for their body but also their mind.
- Playtime is important, but avoid rough games or might provoke the guarding or fighting instinct in a dog. Tug of war and hide n seek are two most loved games, but you need to be careful while playing these.
- Don’t find a game that pits your dog against you, because let me break it down, when it comes to a physical standoff, you will lose.
- Don’t wrestle with your dog.
- Dogs in general do not like hugs.
- Make sure your dog is well socialised to every sort of situation.
- Work with a trainer as soon as your pet shows the first signs of resource guarding.
- Extra classes of obedience training and consistency in practice are paramount.
- Supervise interactions across your fence with strange humans and dogs, as dogs do tend to pick up bad habits.
- Familiarise yourself with your pet’s body language so as to communicate with him better.
- Teach children, yours, and others that come around your dog – how to behave with an animal. Make them understand to be compassionate with animals and not to pull their ears or play with their tail.
- Never reach out to pat an unknown dog.
Things to do in the moment of threat
- Stand motionless. Let him know you are not a threat.
- Don’t make eye contact.
- Don’t try to take away whatever he or she might be guarding.
- If the dog looks away, take a step back slowly.
- If the dog approaches with growls or snaps any ways, give them whatever you have got (a purse or jacket- to distract them).
It’s important to understand your pet’s body language when you approach them. A little understanding goes a long way!
It is our duty to keep our pets and ourselves safe, by learning to communicate and listening to them.
(Garima Singhal is a behaviourist, neurobiologist, school teacher and a long-term pet parent of her dog Dobie).