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Why Dogs Bite

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Why Dogs Bite

Dog bites are scary, no two ways about it. Big sharp teeth, bared gums, that rumbling dog growl–it’s ironic how man’s best friend can occasionally become so quickly sinister. But there are reasons that dogs bite, a study published in the journal Injury Prevention shows that territorial behavior, anxiety and other medical issues lead dogs to bite (the study focused on dogs that had bitten children).

In the study researchers examined 111 cases of dog bites by 103 dogs (41 different breeds) and found several patterns that related to the dogs’ territorial behaviors, and suggested that these were the main causes of aggression in dogs:

Young children (under 6 years) were more likely to be bitten when a dog felt the kids were threatening to take the dogs’ food or toys.
Older children were bitten when the dog felt the kids were encroaching on its territory.
Children familiar to the dog were more likely to be bitten while the dog was guarding its food.
Unfamiliar children were more likely to be bitten while the dog was protecting its territory.

Seventy-five percent of the biting dogs studied exhibited anxiety, either by being left by their owners or being exposed to loud noise, such as a thunderstorm or fireworks. Young children in particular tend to be noisy and make unpredictable movements, which could frighten an already anxious dog and cause them to bite the child, the researchers said.

Half of the dogs also had medical conditions, such as eye problems, liver and kidney disease, and diseases that affected their bones and skin. Study leader Illana Reisner of the University of Pennsylvania and her colleagues suggest that pain from these conditions could have pushed the dogs over the edge, causing them to bite.

Next: How to avoid a dog bite.

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Read more: Behavior & Communication, Dogs, Pets, , , ,

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Melissa Breyer

Melissa Breyer is a writer and editor with a background in sustainable living, specializing in food, science and design. She is the co-author of True Food (National Geographic) and has edited and written for regional and international books and periodicals, including The New York Times Magazine. Melissa lives in Brooklyn, NY.

87 comments

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6:47PM PST on Mar 2, 2013

TYPICALLY AN ENCOUNTER WITH A STUPID HUMAN!

3:23AM PST on Mar 2, 2013

Always use common sense.....

3:03AM PST on Mar 2, 2013

Thank you

2:59AM PST on Mar 2, 2013

They need respect and learning like us

3:38PM PDT on Jul 29, 2012

Dogs bite due to fear or stress. Their actions are know different than if a human was fighting back out of fear

6:22PM PDT on Jul 23, 2012

It makes sense why the dog would bite. Protective instincts come out. How would you like it if you were being threatened? Wouldn't you fight back?

1:34PM PDT on Jul 23, 2012

Thanks for posting!

6:55AM PDT on Jul 23, 2012

treat dogs the way you would like to be treated and avoid bites!

2:01AM PDT on Jul 23, 2012

Yeayyy!!!!! A decent study. As a positive trainer it is good to have scientific back up for alot of stuff we already know.
When called in for bite cases the first thing is usually a trip to the vet for a full medical. Most of the cases there is some physical disorder that has lowered the dogs tolerance of a child's behaviour. The other part is that people misread their dog and don't understand that just because they like the kids in their family doesn't mean they like the neighbours child. Nor do people take the time to properly train their dog not to guard food or toys. As far as I am concerned this is a must around children.
The other thing is parents don't know what to teach their children about dogs because they themselves don't know.

12:08AM PDT on Jul 23, 2012

Thank you for sharing it!

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