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Focus on Dog Bites: Why Dogs Attack

Every year in the United States, close to five million people are bitten by dogs. About 20 percent of these dog bites require medical treatment. That is close to 800,000 trips a year. Predominantly, those treated are small children between the ages of five and nine.

Dogs that bite range in breed, size and tempermant. The phrase, "There are no dangerous dogs, just dangerous owners," holds some truth, but any dog has the potential to bite at any time. The good news is that, by understanding the motivating factors behind dog bites, you can go a long way towards making sure that you, your family and your friends do not fall victim.

Why do dogs bite?

Dog bites are less about dogs with a tendency to bite than they are about why any dog will bite. There are certain dog breeds that are, historically, more aggressive - more on that in the next post - but this should not be the focus of dog bite discussions.

The important thing to remember is that any dog at any point in time has the ability and potential to bite. That potential may be a great deal lower in certain breeds, but is still there.

Most dogs bite out of fear, not aggression. As Debbye Turner Bell pointed out in a recent article on dog bites, dogs mostly bite because they feel:

  • threatened
  • unsure
  • challenged

Dogs are acutely aware of their surroundings and do not like to be taken by surprise. For example, say you approach a dog wearing a protective collar from the side. Since it will not be able to see you approach, your touch may take it off guard and cause its protective instinct to kick in.

Or, say you visit a friend and he has a dog that is not familiar with you. Quickly approaching it in an area of the house which it considers its own could be a fast way to provoke a negative reaction. Interrupting dogs while they are eating can also spark aggression in a dog. 

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