Dog Bite Risk, Are You Making Good Decisions?

©Scott Sheaffer, USA Dog Behavior

I've received two notable dog bites in my dog training career:

Dog Bite 1: An on-leash 60 lb. mixed breed was walking directly toward me in a training facility I was visiting. I could see the dog was under extreme stress and I chose (key word here) to ignore the threat. The dog lunged at me and the ensuing dog bite sent me to the physician's office. I could have avoided this incident completely.

Dog Bite 2: I was handling a recently spayed 45 lb. Border Collie at a large dog kennel. Someone asked me how the dog's surgery site was healing (from being spayed) and I decided to lift the dog by her front legs and look at the incision. I had some concerns that this might hurt her a little, but chose (do we see a pattern here?) to continue. She didn't like having her sutures stretched and hit me with a perfectly placed bite on my shoulder. Fortunately, no physician visit that time. Totally my fault.

Dogs are animals and their behavior is never 100% predictable - this applies to the dogs you know and love too. We can never eliminate the risk of dog bites; however, we can reduce the risk.

Some basic rules of risk management apply to handling dogs. Let's review a few of them:

1) Long periods of exposure without incident breed complacency.

Sometimes those who handle dogs the most (e.g., owners and trainers) are at a higher risk of a bite because they let their guard down. This is further exacerbated by confusing our feelings of affection for dogs with an absence of risk.

2) Most major accidents happen quickly with little or no warning.

Dogs can bite extremely quickly. Very very quickly. Please see the following 35-second dog bite video; I want to warn you before viewing that it is violent. I am amazed that the handlers didn't warn the news anchor not to put her face into the dog's nose. Dogs view this behavior as confrontational. Note how the dog's lips start to move forward (an "I'm about to bite you" warning sign) a few seconds before the bite and how the dog licks his lips for no apparent reason - another sign of stress and confusion. Most, but not all, dogs give a warning growl before biting - this one didn't.

3) We have to both understand and use safety guidelines.

It is possible that the handlers in the above video may have known dog bite avoidance techniques. If they did, they chose not to apply their knowledge with the news anchor.

We can never eliminate the risk of dog bites, but we can make informed decisions and act on them to greatly reduce the probability.

If you have any questions about proper dog handling or dogs bite prevention techniques, please consult a certified professional dog trainer or veterinary behaviorist.

Please see these additional articles:

Do You Have An Aggressive Dog?
4 Dog Bite Prevention Essential You Need To Know To Protect Your Child