Read the title of this website and any of the articles contained here within and you will know that I AM a dog lover. The term dog lover may have many different interpretations depending on the person to whom you are speaking, but the word “dog” should at least have a few attributes that are universal among all humans. Naiveté about one attribute in particular leads to people getting injured and dogs killed. Given the right circumstances, any dog can bite.
Considering Dogs as Guns
I don’t consider it hyperbole to compare a dog to a car or a gun. Each of them has the capacity to inflict serious harm when they are handled with ignorance, carelessness, and disregard. Guns and automobiles however, have an advantage over dogs when it comes to our assumptions about them, we are taught from the very beginning to regard them as potentially dangerous.
The very first thing we are ever taught about guns is to always assume they are loaded. Driver’s education courses often include grisly accident-scene photos or movies to show what can happen when driving distracted, impaired, or without regard for the safety of others.
Dogs have no comparable warning because of a major assumption we make about dogs, we all think we know the difference between dog that’s dangerous and one that’s not. Furthermore, we assume that after living with a dog for a period of time, we know them well enough to predict their behavior in any situation.
What does a Dog that’s about to Bite Look Like?
Barking, snarling, growling, and teeth barred are all classic signs of a dog about to bite, right? Well yes and no. Curiously enough they are also signs of dogs at play. We all have a classic image of the dangerous dog that can be conjured up just by the words “dangerous dog” that would probably look something like this.
Dogs displaying clearly observable “leave me alone or else” behaviors are certainly avoidable in most situations. But dogs also display easily identifiable signs of being ill at ease with a situation that don’t resemble the barking, growling, snarling, and snapping dog that we classically associate with a dog that can bite.
The video above is a good illustration of what I am talking about. Pedro, the dog in the video, clearly displays signs of annoyance and distress including:
- licking his lips (tongue flick)
- ducking his head
- body leaned away
- ears flattened back,
- whale eye
This is a dog that is paid to growl, bark, and snarl, but none of that was on display here. Nevertheless, Pedro gave clear warnings that he was uncomfortable and even ready to bite; warnings that were ignored or unrecognized
This trained handler was less than a foot away from the dog, had him on a tight leash, and yet failed to prevent the bite. He failed to prevent the bite because he made assumptions about what the dog would and wouldn’t do, and he either ignored or did not understand simple canine body language.
Time and time again I hear stories or read articles like this one from the UK’s Mirror News website. It describes another tragic incident of a dog being euthanized because someone assumed it would not bite just because it never had, and then placed it in a high stress environment where a bite could easily happen.
Our dogs have a highly developed fight or flight mechanism. We should consider it our responsibility to recognize when they are feeling this way and try to keep them out of situations where they feel the need to do one or the other.