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.