Ask the Vet: Tips to avoid a dog bite
By Matthew Kearns, DVM
You can’t log onto the internet without finding some sort of clickbait story about a dog attack. It is estimated that approximately 370,000 people are bitten by dogs every year. Although I believe that aggression is never appropriate and should not be condoned, recognizing aggression and problem situations is the key to avoiding bites. Here is a list of the different types of dog aggression:
Territorial Aggression — the need to protect its territory is hardwired in dogs long before they were domesticated. If a dog senses (or perceives) that someone or something has violated its territory, it will feel the need to defend itself. This could refer to the dog that is barking and snarling at the fence. Dogs do not differentiate property lines and will soon consider any portion of the block their territory.
Fear Related Aggression — this is where a normally friendly dog becomes so fearful that any type of interaction is taken as a threat and they respond with aggression to “defend themselves.” This very commonly happens at the veterinarian’s office.
Food Aggression — growling and snapping if a person comes near the dog when they have a treat, near the food bowl, etc, is inappropriate and intervention is needed.
Dominance Aggression — this type of aggression can be directed against other pets in the household or family members and will manifest itself when the dominant dog is challenged.
Here are a few tips on avoiding potentially dangerous situations:
■ Always approach a dog you have never met before with your palm up below their muzzle. This is an act of deference or neutrality, whereas approaching a dog with your palm down and above the head (as if to pet the dog) is an act of dominance or aggression.
Also, if a dog is growling, barking, or snarling but still is wagging its tail; believe the growl/bark/snarl. I have seen many a dog attack another dog (or person) while still wagging its tail.
■ Beware of dogs roaming the neighborhood. Although most have just escaped the yard and are no threat, approach with caution and have an escape route for yourself.
■ If a dog is growling and hiding in a corner do not try to engage them, but rather ignore the behavior and let them come to you.
■ If you notice any signs of aggression as a puppy bring them to the attention of your veterinarian and consider one on one training with a behaviorist.
I hope this helps to recognize aggressive behavior to either avoid dangerous situations or intervene early on so that we can all enjoy our barking, furry family members safely.
Dr. Kearns practices veterinary medicine from his Port Jefferson office and is pictured with his son Matthew and his dog Jasmine.