Why do dogs bite people?

Why do dogs bite people?

How many times have you heard someone say “all dogs like me.” My question to them would be, “Do you like everyone you meet?”, well neither do dogs.

Have you ever been in a situation when someone comes into your personal space and makes you feel uncomfortable? They obviously mean you no harm and usually are unaware of their invasion, but it is very awkward and sometimes intimidating just the same. The good thing is, we can move away or politely ask our invading guest to move away or back off.

So how must our canine friend feel when he is put in a situation of someone invading his personal space?

Let’s look at it from the canine’s point of view. Canines cannot speak our language, they are not bad or disobedient they are just trying to cope in a human’s world. They cannot tell us how they are feeling and what they would like us to do to ensure their safety, but they are the masters at providing information in canine - their language. This information is displayed through body language and gesture. Don't be fooled, a wagging tail does not always mean a happy dog.

Their language is canine and once we tap into their language we can protect ourselves, our children and our canine friend from harm.

Over the many years of working with dogs I have experienced first hand the compromising situations dogs are placed in by humans. We sometimes wrongly expect so much from them and then punish them when they behave in a manner that is unacceptable to us, but totally acceptable to their own way of thinking. I have learnt over the years that dogs don’t enjoy confrontation but will react the best way they know how in any given situation to ensure their survival.

How often do you walk up to total strangers, stare at them, begin talking to them and give them a hug. I am guessing the answer would be never. So why is it that we feel it is our right to walk up to any dog, stand and stare, talk to it or pat it? And why do we feel that all dogs must accept our space invasion, be a good dog and take it?

If we watch closely when dogs are meeting, there is a certain ritual that takes place. They very rarely great head on, they may even ignore each other for a while, they will avoid eye contact and respect personal space. If younger, more exuberant or impolite dogs overstep the mark they will be calmly put in their place by either a look, a slight grumble or even a quick snap. 

The older, more mature member will usually stand his ground whilst the younger dogs dances, darts around or may even lay down showing his vulnerable or friendly side.
Eventually when both parties feel comfortable some good old getting-to-know-you-butt-sniffing may occur and finally the greeting takes place. This process may take a while and cannot be rushed. This is canine edict at its best.

Now let’s take a look at what happens when human meets dog.
We walk straight up to them, say a few words, look at them and put our hand out – either to pat them or let them sniff it. One of three things may happen. If we are lucky they may just enjoy the pat, they may move away if possible or they may just bite.
Why take the risk and put the dog in such a compromising situation when we can provide information in the language of man’s best friend that allows them to make a choice as to how they are feeling at any given time.

Alternatively, why not just ignore the dog for the first few minutes, say nothing, certainly not look at him or put your body parts out to be bitten? The dog can smell you from where he is and will take in important information about your intentions from your behaviour. Once he has given signals that he is not threatened by you, try inviting him into your space. If he refuses to come to you, please don’t be offended and persist, take this as important information and ignore the dog. He is not defying you or trying to hurt your feelings, he is just letting you know that he is not comfortable at that given time. Accept his refusal to come to you as important information about how he is feeling and not how he is making you feel.

We often tune into the radio, turn on the TV or pick up the newspaper and learn the alarming news that a child has been bitten and the dog has been euthanized. As shocking as this is, I always wonder – how did this happen? Most dogs attack when they are provoked, not just out of the blue. Unfortunately due to our expectations of the canine we put them in a position where self-defence is their only option.

If we all follow this rule and teach our children and friends to respect a dog’s personal space by ignoring and then inviting, no one suffers the risk of getting bitten and dogs stop dying unnecessarily.


Jenny Golsby owns and operates Complete Canine Communication and has many years experience dealing with dogs and their owners. Workshops are run regularly at The Complete Pet Company.