I was talking to our neighbour yesterday who said that their dog bit their grandson without warning. We have our grandkids coming next weekend – how can we make sure that doesn’t happen with our dog?
Firstly, I am always a little suspicious when I hear people say ‘the dog bit without warning’. Most of the time, the truth is there was loads of warning – we humans just aren’t very good at reading the signs (or we simply don’t know what they are).
When a dog feels uncomfortable about a situation, the first thing the will do is indicate that with their body language. That can be in the form of freezing (where they suddenly go still), showing the whites of their eyes (called whale eye), turning away, yawning, panting, nose licking, tongue flicking, pinning ears back or shaking off (like when they’re wet). All of these signals give us an indication that the dog is stressed or unhappy.
Once you know what to look for, these body language cues really stand out. If you aren’t sure what I’m talking about, look up ‘dogs and kids’ on YouTube and see how many of those signals above you can identify.
The problem is, we either miss these subtle signs, or ignore them completely. So the dog feels like they need to speak louder to let us know they’re not happy. Now we start to see things like barking, baring teeth and/or growling. Unfortunately, many humans think this is funny (once again – check YouTube) – or they punish the dog for behaving in this manner. So the dog often drops the growl/teeth baring behaviour, and moves to a form of biting – the air snap.
Air snapping is a warning bite. It is not designed or intended to make contact with the individual it’s aimed at, but serves simply to say ‘you’re not listening to me, so I have to speak louder’. Once again, humans will often punish this and the dog will then begin biting with the intent to connect to get their message heard.
To prevent this escalating to this point, learn to read the early warning signs. Educate your grandchildren on signs that the dog isn’t happy and tell them to them ‘back off’ at that point. Or better still, help them teach the dog that interactions with them are always fun and enjoyable.