greater swiss mountain dog
| |

How to Prevent Dog Bites


greater swiss mountain dog
This is the actual dog who helped alert me to the cry for help.

A blood-curdling scream and a pacing Greater Swiss Mountain Dog alerted me to the horror unfolding about a hundred yards away. Hearing the sound someone makes when a dog bites them is not something I ever wish to encounter again.

The incident happened when my significant other and I were dog sitting a dozen or so Cocker Spaniels and one “Swissie” for a breeder friend of ours. We are dog lovers of the highest order who know what to do in an emergency, and we felt prepared for the task at hand.

I stayed in the house with most of the pack while my partner went to tend to the boys in the kennels outside. We’d been warned that two of the boys could not be kept together because they would fight and bite at one another. Darlene took one male dog out at a time, and when she was returning with Rex, she left Bowser’s kennel open. As one dog attempted to lunge and attack the other, Darlene stepped in the middle — and got bitten.

Seeing someone in the process of a dog bite is horrific, to say the least. As I approached the kennels, I saw one Cocker Spaniel clamped down on her arm while the other paced around, snapping at the other dog. I slammed a bucket down on the ground, Darlene screamed and the dog let go. We were able to safely get both dogs back into their kennels and deal with the aftermath.

cocker spaniel

The unfortunate series of events took place in such a short period. Accidents happen, but when they happen to you and the accident is a dog bite, it really, simply stated, sucks.

We called our friend so she could come home and we could rush to the emergency room. Unfortunately, medical personnel are required to report a dog bite to the proper authorities, who, in turn, will investigate. We felt terrible, because our treasured friend had nothing to do with it. It happened on our watch. It was our mistake. Everything turned out fine, however, and with proper treatment and antibiotics, Darlene recovered nicely, despite having a wounded spirit.

dog bite

We aren’t alone

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), every year more than 4.5 million people in the United States are victims of dog bites. One of the highest incidents of dog bites occurs toward mail carriers. The U.S. Postal Service ranks Los Angeles as the No. 1 city for postal employee dog bites in 2012. Nationwide, nearly 6,000 postal employees have been attacked in that same period.

I know when the postal carrier approaches our residence — my very own dog, Dexter, barks and wags simultaneously. From an early age, I taught him that the “mailman” is good and welcomed. After the mail arrives, Dexter loves to carry a piece upstairs as a reward.

dog body language

You have to think like a dog to discover why dogs are so threatened by a stranger on “their” property. The stranger appears almost every day, trespasses, leaves something with his or her scent on it, and then departs — only after the dog has barked and “scared” the stranger off. To a dog, he’s done his duty.

Kids are the No. 1 victims of dog bites. Surprisingly, the AVMA says most dog bites happen in the course of everyday activities with familiar dogs. Seniors are the second most common dog bite victims.

“I’ve treated dogs for bite wounds on numerous occasions, more than I care to count,” says Dr. Lorie Huston, a veterinarian with more than 20 years of experience with dogs and cats. “The most recent was just a couple of days ago. Wounds from dog bites can range from minor to quite severe.”

dog bite
Even dogs are victims of bites from other dogs (or people!) Courtesy Dr. Huston.

Why do dogs bite?

There are a variety of reasons dogs bite, and sometimes they are not the most obvious reasons. Dogs bite when they are afraid, feel threatened, get excited, are at play, have been trained to be aggressive, are being protective with food or treats, or are in pain or annoyed.

Dr. Huston says she encounters many people who ignore an owner’s request not to pet their dog and get bitten.

“Never approach a strange dog without first asking permission from the dog’s owner,” Dr. Huston says. “If the owner indicates that handling the dog is dangerous, listen to that advice and keep your distance.”

Laurie C. Williams CPDT-KA is a trainer and behavior consultant as well as the owner of Pup ‘N Iron Canine Fitness & Learning Center in Fredericksburg, Virginia. She has been training dogs for years and has a plethora of experience in recognizing if a dog will bite. She also trains her clients to prevent their own dogs from biting.


Williams offers these guidelines to reduce the likelihood of dog bites.

Tips to prevent dog bites:

  • Know the basics of a dog’s body language. A wagging tail does not always mean a dog is friendly. Depending on the carriage of the tail, it could mean the dog is nervous, stressed, and uneasy.
  • Teach children to never approach a stray dog under any circumstances. And if they are approached by a stray, they should “be a tree,” and not move until the dog moves away.
  • Never taunt a dog. If you dare a dog to bite you, he just might give you exactly what you’re asking for.
  • Don’t put your face in a dog’s face you don’t know. Children should be taught to never get up in a dog’s face, even the family pet. Many dogs read that as a challenge and react out of impulse to protect themselves.
  • Respect the growl. A growl is a warning from a dog that he may bite, and you should always believe him!
  • Never sneak up on a sleeping dog. Never approach a dog who is eating. Never back a dog into a corner where he feels he can’t escape.
  • Supervise all interactions between young children (under 10) and dogs at all times. Children forget to tie their shoes and make their beds, so naturally they could forget the correct way to play with and handle the family dog. An adult should always be present to make sure the rules are followed.

Though National Dog Bite Prevention Week happens in May, dog bites are commonplace year round. As for my friend and I, we continue to dog sit, and the dog biting incident has not had any permanent effect on my partner. My heart, of course, continues to beat dog.

Have you ever had a dog bite happen to you or someone you know? Tell me about it in the comments. Below are also a bunch of pet bloggers who probably feel as passionately as I do about pet bite prevention. Check them out on this blog hop: 

Note: I wrote this article originally for Dogster magazine and am re-running it here in light of the time of year and since more of us will be outside and interacting with dogs.


  1. Great post and always timely to remind people about the dangers of dog bites. It never ceases to amaze me how oblivious people can be sometimes. Dogs give so many warning signals that get ignored or overlooked because it’s a strange dog. Education is the key I think.

  2. I still have to warn parents from thinking that their children can do anything they want with the Boys to include trying to “ride Leo” I’ve never met or seen these people before in my life. I know they are fluffy and inviting, but really? I agree with Slimdoggy “Education is the key” Great post, sorry about Darlene, happy she recovered.

  3. I start with the reality that the consequences for my failure could be very serious not just to my pocket book, but to my dog’s life. Thankfully, my dogs tend to be friendly, but any dog can bite. It amazes me how ignorant and frankly uncaring many parents are with their children around dogs. I have to parent their children by removing my dogs when some will just not listen to directions and understand dogs are not stuffed toys. Combine careless parents with unobservant dog owners and tragedies occur.

    That being said even the most observant of dog owners can have challenges. We ended up replacing the 5ft fence we had when we came here to a 6ft privacy fence (the highest allowed by our city) because the neighbors couldn’t control their kids and they were constantly taunting our dog and throwing things at him. The kids were bairly school aged. I wasn’t going to let our dog be punished because these kids had useless parents.

  4. These are great tips. Even though Chuy is small, I cringe when small children come flying towards him wanting to put their hands all over him without asking first. I would bite someone if they did that to me LOL

  5. There’s never “too much” discussion on this topic! I’ve never been bitten by a strange dog, but I have had my hands accidentally nicked during games of tug, fetch, etc. and it HURTS! I can’t imagine the pain of a full on attack. It must be horrible. I try to keep my dogs out of situations where bad things can happen. Places such as crowded festivals, sidewalks, etc. where inevitably someone’s kid is going to try to touch my dogs. They are very tolerant, but environments like that do up the stress level, so why take the chance?

  6. I love your infographics, especially the first one! It is serious, but funny. Both Bentley and Pierre are friendly, but I keep a tight rein on them. We had an insane Miniature Schnauzer that would go from docile to vicious in the blink of an eye. We are truly fortunate that he didn’t cause serious injury and/or a lawsuit. This is all great information.

  7. I HAVE A BITE STORY!!! I worked at my local humane society for a year and LOVED IT. I did both kenneling and customer service. We had a stray Pekingese named Zeke, and everyone loved him. Customers loved to take him for walks, and I spent a lot of time with him in his kennel, playing and giving him lots of snuggles. He was a great dog. He had been there about three weeks, maybe, and a man came to visit him and consider using him as a therapy dog for special needs children.

    I was very excited that Zeke might get to use his charming personality to help kids. The man had Zeke on a leash and was talking to the shelter manager. I bent to pet Zeke and had been petting him for a couple of minutes. Mid-pet, he jumped up, snarled, and bit my mouth/chin region. I was SHOCKED, so much so that I hardly felt any pain. There was quite a bit of blood, and I had to get a single stitch. For the next week or so, the whole lower half of my face was black and blue.

    I still am not quite sure what happened. I had interacted with Zeke plenty of times, and there was never any hint of aggression. The on-site vet tested him for weeks afterward and never saw any aggression either. Maybe I petted in the wrong place? Maybe he was wary of the man that was holding his leash? I don’t know. The staff mentioned having him put down, but I said NO WAY! He got sent to a Pekingese rescue a state away instead, for further testing. I was only upset about it because I was so confused – it hurt my feelings because I thought the dog and I were “buds.” 🙂 Sorry for the novel-length comment!

  8. Bites are bad. Mom got bitten once in Germany by the neighbor’s dog that went after Mom’s dogs. She got in the middle and it happened. It is a sad thing when it happens and frightening too.

  9. Oh my! Glad Darlene healed and everyone was ok!
    These infographics are so important and it’s so true that dogs try to give preventative signals before resorting to the ultimatum of biting because no other communication is working. And education is soo important! Though I’m not sure how many people really understand a proper dog greeting ritual. Since having a more reserved pup around strangers, my eyes have been opened to how oblivious people are to how they act around someone else’s dog and the improper way they act upon greeting. We are working on building acceptance for this type of handling, since I figure that’ll be much more productive than trying to tell people the polite way to greet a dog (which I have done, and then as soon as I have finished telling them how to please greet my dog, they immediately proceed to ignore everything I just said and do exactly what I was trying to have them not do-go over my shy dog’s head and pet roughly). I’m amazed to see the difference in the dog when it’s greeted properly and the reaction when it’s greeted improperly (just last night at a training class, I went to greet a somewhat reserved poodle puppy. Since I was proper in my greeting, she came right up to me and sniffed me and allowed me to pet her. Another person went to greet her like most people do, and she wouldn’t come up to the person, let alone allow him to pet her, even with a treat offered). I can also see a huge difference in my shy dog when he is with a dog savvy and knowledgeable person-he relaxes and comes out of his shell much quicker.

  10. Great post! Thanks! One of my pups, who under normal circumstances would never have made contact with his teeth on my skin, bit me last winter. I had stepped out of the room to get a glass of water. My boy and my foster dog were being amicable. That particular foster was volatile, and his warning signs were very subtle and very quick. As I turned away from the sink, I heard a snarl and a bloodcurdling scream. I ran in and dumped the glass of water on the entwined dogs (which did nothing) and grabbed one in each hand to pull them apart. I pushed mine away and held the foster with two hands (he was the in it to end it type). I had never seen my boy so enraged, and he lunged at the foster. I blocked him, and he bit my arm instead of the foster. I’m glad he did, because the bite was deep and would have been significant on the foster. The foster didn’t even have a nick. My pup ended up with a torn ear.

  11. Wonderful post with great tips. My family teases me that I am way to cautious about our dogs but I am just adament, I want no one hurt … especailly my dogs. I do not think they would bite but I would rather be over protective than proven wrong.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.