Dog Bite Prevention Week occurs in May in the USA and next month in the UK. At tails.com we are always very upset to hear when dogs are put in situations where they feel the need to bite. Most dogs will never bite a human in their lives, but we still need to recognise the potential triggers that may cause them to do so. The main reasons many dogs will resort to biting are fear and frustration which can be prevented with good socialisation and training. Educating children (and indeed adults who are unfamiliar with dogs) on appropriate and safe interaction as well as canine body language is also crucial to prevent unwanted accidents, where dogs feel uncomfortable enough to snap or bite.
Socialisation of a puppy should begin from day one, getting the puppy used to the world around it with exposure to all of the things it will encounter in day to day life, over and over again. This involves getting puppy used to family members and pets initially, but perhaps more importantly getting used to strange people and unknown animals coming up to greet them. Although the critical window period of socialisation only lasts up to about 16-18 weeks of age, the process of socialising and habituating a dog to a wide variety of scenarios and new experiences should last for life. Calm reactions and behaviour should always be rewarded in new scenarios. Be wary of reinforcing or rewarding fearful reactions through praise and reassurance. Ignoring fearful reactions or substituting them for desired behaviour through reward based training or obedience commands is very effective at building a dog’s confidence and helping them to feel at ease around new situations.
Training and obedience:
On the topic of training, using obedience as a way of defining how you communicate with your dog will make things a lot easier for them to understand. The frustration with human interaction that can commonly lead to dogs biting is easy to understand when we realise that we often don’t communicate with our dog effectively. Humans and dogs speak very different languages, so investing in good training techniques can bring about harmony to an otherwise confused dog that doesn’t know what is expected, thus strengthening the bond between the dog and humans.
Teaching correct behaviour around dogs:
Finally, educating children (and indeed adults who are not used to dogs) about dog behaviour and body language can be a valuable lesson in preventing dog bites. Know and teach about the physical warning signs (gestures, postures and vocalisations) that show a dog is uncomfortable in a certain scenario. Tell children they should always ask if they are allowed to approach or pet a stranger’s dog. Similarly, children should be taught to never invade a dog’s private space or refuge area, not to disturb them when sleeping or eating, not to try take toys from them, pull their ears and tail or to climb on top of them, not to enter or reach in to stroke a dog on private property and so on.
More information, links and valuable advice are available from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) website page on dog bite prevention here: (https://www.avma.org/public/Pages/Dog-Bite-Prevention.aspx)