Often dog bites occur because no one noticed and acted on the early warning signs given by the dog. My clients usually say, “He didn’t give us any warning…he just bit.”
What is more likely is that the signals that the dog was giving were not recognized. To help with this, I’ve put a list of body language cues and behavior to be aware of that can indicate the dog may be preparing to bite.
1. Observe the dogs face for “early” signs of stress and stop child/dog interactions if you see them.
- yawning -when they are not tired
- flicking tongue – when they haven’t eaten
- darting eyes – as though looking for an exit
- panting – when it’s not hot
2. If a dog actively moves away from the child or situation, do not let the child pursue them. It’s likely the dog is making a choice to feel safer or more comfortable. If the child continues to pursue him, the dog could feel forced take the next step and say, “Leave me alone!” with a bite.
3. Listen for growling. It may be soft, with no teeth showing, but it should be interpreted as the dog communicating that he wants the attention from the child to stop.
4. Look for “later” signs of stress, which often occur just prior to a bite:
- an impression that the dog does not seem to be enjoying the attention
- stiff body – with a frozen stance or hunched back
- hard staring eyes, or half moon eyes – whites of the eyes are showing
- tightly closed mouth
Sometimes it’s the child’s behavior that needs to be addressed. Just because a dog seems to tolerate a child laying on it, hugging it, pulling ears, legs, or tail, doesn’t mean the dog should tolerate this behavior. If the dog turns to leave or hides under an object, like a table, don’t allow the child to grab for them or reach under the object for the dog. Look at the dog for signals, and if they are not enjoying the attention, redirect the child. In my Stop, Look and Paws sticker activity, I address these issues in a way that engages children to make safer choices before a real life scenario occurs.
Now that you have read this blog, look at the photo of the girl hugging the dog at the top of this post. Do you see any signals the dog is giving that concern you? …. The answer should be, yes! The dog is exhibiting a tightly closed mouth, half moon eyes, and an overall impression of not really enjoying the hug.
I hope this information is helpful to keep child/dog interactions safe in your family. In my next blog, I’ll share body language cues that indicate your dog is enjoying interacting with your child.