Being a pet parent—or simply having a dog as a member of your family—is a highly rewarding experience. Our dogs seem to know intuitively when we are feeling down, and they can provide the best snuggles when we’re having a hard time. Dogs tend to love unconditionally, which is why we animal lovers don’t understand how a person could ever mistreat a furry pal. However, there are instances when a dog may bite its owner, and, when we are pet parents who provide for every need (and let’s face it—every want) our dogs could ever have. There are times when a dog might bite another family member, too. Let’s take a look at the reasons why a dog might bite her owner or a family member, your course of action when this happens, and how to prevent it from happening again.
Why Do Dogs Bite?
The chief reason why a dog would bite anyone is that he feels threatened. This is true of all domesticated dogs, no matter the breed, and no matter how great a dog he is overall. Dogs are instinctively reactive when they feel that their territory or their “pack” is in danger. They also bite when they feel they might be in danger themselves.
Mother dogs have been known to bite their human family members in the weeks after giving birth, and the mom will bite simply if she does not want anyone—including her family—to disturb her puppies.
A dog will bite if she becomes startled. For instance, if you or someone in your family startles the dog awake or if you walk up to the dog from behind, the dog may react by biting you. It is important not to scare even the friendliest of dogs or you may see their instincts take over. Noises can also frighten a dog to the point he will bite.
It is also important to remember that dogs may bite if you or a family member unwittingly hurts them. For instance, if your dog suffers from arthritis and you bump into him and hurt already sore joints, he may react by biting. It is vital that you be careful around dogs who have had a surgical procedure or might be feeling ill. When a dog is in pain, she is more prone to biting even someone she loves very much.
Small children should never run away from a dog, even if the child is simply playing with the dog. Even the most domesticated dog can see this as an act of aggression and act accordingly.
Even if you have raised a dog from her puppy days, any of these situations can result in a bite. However, dogs that have been rescued—especially if the dog was abused—may be quicker to bite in these situations than a dog that has never been mistreated. Rescued dogs are NOT more likely to bite; we as pet parents must remember that they have survived tough times, and we should take extra care never to frighten a dog or play roughly with a dog that has been through a lot of trauma.
How Can I Prevent My Dog From Biting?
As a pet parent, you take your job of providing love and care of Fido quite seriously. Just as raising human children is a huge responsibility, so is raising a puppy (or adopting a dog). With that responsibility in mind, there are lots of things you can do to prevent your dog from biting you, a family member, or a stranger (to your dog).
It is a good idea to begin training your dog to accept new people and new experiences when she is a puppy. This will go a long way in preventing a dog bite later on in her life. This training is referred to as socialization, and the best time to handle this training is between four months to twelve months. At the same time, older dogs can be socialized, too; you just may have to commit a little extra time to socialize an older dog.
To socialize a dog means training your dog to accept new people, other dogs, other animals, loud noises, grooming, even vet visits. Socialization is not difficult to carry out; you just need to expose your dog to new situations so they learn to take surprises or things out of their normal routine in stride. Introduce your puppy to new people. Introduce your puppy to older people and younger people. Enlist friends with children to come over and play with Fido so he learns to accept children, their playful attitude, and even their penchant for squealing with laughter! On that note—be sure that the child you ask to assist you in socializing with Fido has had some experience with dogs. It is not fair to a puppy or dog of any age to allow a child to pull on a dog’s ears or squeeze a dog. A child who understands how to properly treat a puppy is a great helper in socializing a dog with children and their playful antics.
Socialization should also include getting to know elderly people, and it should also include being around disabled people. Have your puppy spend time regularly with children, elderly people, and anyone they won’t be around on a daily basis. You’ll also want to expose your dog to loud noises, people on bicycles, and even loud machines that you might encounter occasionally on a walk. A good rule of thumb is to socialize Fido to anyone or anything you think might cause a fearful reaction in your dog later in life.
Another way to prevent your dog from biting you or someone else is to give him basic training with commands such as “sit,” “stay,” “come,” etc. You want your dog to learn to pay attention to you and to behave based on your commands. There are also techniques for how to train a dog not to bite.
Now, you’ll also need to pay attention to your dog’s body language. If you know your dog might become aggressive in uncertain situations, it is time to remove him in order to prevent his biting you or someone else. Many times a dog will put his tail down and wag it slowly when he is anxious; other times the hair on his back will literally stand up.
Finally, when you are training your dog, always use positive reinforcement. This is especially true if your dog is a rescue and it’s possible former owners were mean to the dog. Never hit your dog as punishment. Reward him for good behavior, and he will want to continue the positive reinforcement.
I tried all these suggestions, but my dog still bit me. What do I do now?
In the immediate time, remain calm. Never, ever react in anger when your dog bites. Typically, this is a one-time occurrence anyway. If you are at home, take him to his dog crate and calmly put him inside. If no crate is available, then place him in another room with the door closed. Even if the dog bite does not break the skin, you’ll want to wash the bite with warm, sudsy water.
If you are unable to crate your dog or put her in another room, then you might want to take her leash and tether her so that she is unable to wander off. You want to give her time to calm down after the bite; it is always possible that whatever caused her to bite is still present (in her mind, the threat is still there).
If the dog bite was hard enough to break the skin, then you’ll need to carry out first aid . If you believe the bite wound will require stitches, if you are not up-to-date on your tetanus shot, or if your dog’s rabies vaccinations are not current, then you should head to the hospital.
However, if the wound is really nothing more than a scratch, then wash it with soap and water, rub an antiseptic cream on the area, and cover it with a bandage.
How Do I Approach My Dog Once She Has Bitten Me?
It is vitally important that you approach the dog after both of you have had time to calm down. If a dog has bitten you, do NOT look him in the eyes (dogs can take this as a sign of aggression), and when you speak, use soothing tones. You may even want to turn your body away from her. In fact, it might be a good idea to crouch down and call the dog to you. If she puts her head down, ears back, and wags her tail in a quick manner (and often to the left), then you can bet she understands that she did something wrong and is remorseful.
However, if she growls, wags her tail nervously, or otherwise still seems anxious, then it might not be time to try to approach her. Many times, however, your dog knows she did something out of character, and she may actually want you to comfort her because she understands she has broken your bond.
Once you two have both calmed down and she’s no longer showing aggression, then it’s time to figure out what caused her to bite. Consider all the typical reasons a dog bites as described above. How was she behaving at the time? Had she growled before she bit you? How were you behaving? Were you doing something out of character for you? Did she possibly think you or another family member was in danger? (It is not uncommon for dogs to get between a parent who is disciplining a child, even if the parent is not physically touching the child. Dogs are protective of their pack, and often, dogs accept young family members as a part of the pack—and they WILL defend those family members, even against Mom or Dad!
Should I Take my Dog to Obedience Classes?
If your dog has never bitten anyone and you determine that your dog bit you or a family member due to being injured or startled, then, no—you likely don’t need to seek professional help for your dog. However, if your dog begins to bite or growl at you or other families, then you might want to first enlist your vet.
Sometimes dogs will bite because they’re in pain. However, our dogs can’t talk, and they may be in pain from a condition that we don’t always observe. If you have not noticed your dog limping, but the dog growls when you try to touch one of his paws, it might be a good idea to take him to the vet for a check-up.
If your vet declares Fido is completely healthy, but the aggressive behavior continues, you may want to consider professional training. If the bite frightened you to the point you are not able to interact with your dog, then professional help is a must.
Remember, dogs typically bite because there is an underlying cause; only rarely are dogs aggressive toward their owners. With the help of your vet or other professionals, you can find out why Fido has bitten you, and you can do behavior modification so that it won’t happen again.
1. What do you do if your dog bites you?
Depending upon the severity of the bite, separate yourself from the dog so that you can both calm down. Administer first aid; if the wound is significant, seek medical help. Once the wound is bandaged properly, you can reapproach the dog to determine what caused him to bite.
2. Should I be worried if my dog bites me?
Yes and no. If this is atypical behavior, then get to the root cause of the bite. However, if your dog begins to bite regularly or displays aggression often, then you may need to seek the help of your vet or a professional trainer for behavior modification.
3. Why do dogs bite their owners?
Typically, dogs only bite their owners when they are frightened or injured. They only tend to bite when they feel threatened in some way.
4. What to do if your dog bites you and breaks the skin?
You may need to visit the ER if the dog bite creates a wound that needs stitches. Otherwise, clean the wound with soapy water, apply antiseptic ointment, and bandage the wound.