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Advice Before the Dog Bite Happens

Often a dog bite seems to occur very quickly and without warning. In reality it is  usually because no one actually 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.

I’ll also make suggestions to help you and your puppy get off to a good start.

First, let’s talk about the signals from your puppy that he is showing signs of stress.

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 the puppy. 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 to take the next step and say, “Leave me alone!” with a bite.  Practice having your child sit on the floor and allow the puppy to go to the child versus the child always going to the puppy. This may be hard to do as we all know how excited kids can be if this is a new dog or puppy.

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.  If the puppy gets in the habit of growling to communicate that he wants a behavior to stop, he may learn that growling works and may use it more frequently in the future.  Let’s try not to put him in the position to feel that he has to use this as a defensive tactic.

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.  It can be as simple as the child frequently picking up and holding the puppy that becomes a negative thing for the puppy.  As I mentioned earlier, allow the puppy the chance to approach the child for affection.  

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, seen here in this link, https://youtu.be/9XKc60NHNys, I address these issues in a way that engages children to make safer choices before a real life scenario occurs.

Keep in mind that so much is new to the puppy.  Give him time to acclimate to all of the new sights and sounds of your home.  Encourage your children to have gentle hands.  Slow relaxed petting can allow the puppy a chance to get used to hands reaching out to touch and that petting is something positive.   Keep interactions fun between your child and your puppy and this will encourage bonding between the two!

Keep interactions positive.

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.

If you feel you are in need of personal help, feel free to call me or email me for a consultation.

Lesley@kids-n-k9s.com or 707-338-1332