Reading body language: How to predict and avoid dog bites this summer


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When the weather gets warmer, all kinds of living creatures emerge from  hibernation. Two-legged types meet the four-legged, beginning the spring and summertime ritual of intermingling in parks and along sidewalk.

While most of us look forward to this seasonal dance, it’s one that sometimes requires a bit of choreography — namely, if you’re about to get bitten.

"Even the gentlest dog — if it is physically or mentally unhealthy, is in pain, feels threatened, or is protecting its food or a favorite toy — can bite," said Dr. Clark Fobian, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). "Fortunately, most dog bites are preventable through appropriate pet selection, proper training, responsible approaches to animal control, and education of dog owners and potential victims."

Before you approach any pup, remember the following tips, courtesy of Heidi Ganahl, CEO and founder of Camp Bow Wow, a pet care franchise, and Behavior Buddies, the training component of Camp Bow Wow:

  • If you see a dog licking his lips, yawning, wide-eyed or exhibiting spiked fur, be careful. All of these could indicate a stressed dog, depending on the situation. If a dog is lying on the couch by himself and licks its lips, he is most likely not stressed. But if a dog is being tugged on and emits warning signs, he could be stressed.

  • Don’t try to stop a dog from growling. You want dogs to growl, because it lets us know that he is uncomfortable. If a dog gets in trouble for growling, he will stop and potentially bite.

  • A stiff wagging tail could signal stress. Look out for a tail that is pointed high and moves quickly back and forth.

  • If a dog is averting his gaze, it could indicate he is uncomfortable.

  • A cowering or tail-tucking pooch could mean a dog is fearful. This doesn't mean the dog will bite, but he could if his fear intensifies.

  • Attending a reward-based training class is a great idea to help train your dog. You’ll also learn the signs of stress.

  • Don’t leave a child under 10 alone with a dog, even if the pooch is trained and trustworthy. Children aren't able to pick up on stress signals.

  • Always ask owners if you can pet their dog. Only they can tell you if their dog is comfortable interacting with new people.

  • All dogs can bite. Never grab their fur, ears, tail or any other part of their bodies.

  • If you encounter a dog who is off leash, don’t scream or run. Stand still, ignore the dog and wait for him to leave.

  • Don’t chain your dogs. Doing so makes them more likely to bite because they can become protective of that particular territory.