An interview on biting incidents

A few weeks ago, we were contacted by a newspaper with the question if we would like to give an interview on biting incidents. As we believe it’s important to educate the public, not only for their safety, but also that of our beloved dogs, we went forward and answered the questions sent to us. Sadly, a newspaper article only has so much space available, and due to editing often will miss important information and context. In this article, you will find the answers to the questions we got asked, raw, uncut, and uncensored. 

In a recent incident, a child was bitten by a dog. Could you explain how dog owners can better understand and manage their dog’s behaviour to prevent such events from happening?

The most important parts in preventing incidents from happening are understanding the language of dogs, interpreting and looking at their signals and behaviour through the lens of a dog, and not that of a human, and removing the dog from the situation as soon as you notice they are unhappy, uncomfortable, stressed or anxious. Dogs “talk” through body language, and constantly converse with us through their body and the way they move. Some body language signals are easy to spot, such as the stance of the ears and tail, but some can be very subtle, such as lip licking, showing “whale eye”, and blinking. There are many more signals dogs can use to convey how they feel, and some are more obvious than others.

When incidents occur, dogs often have already sent plenty of signals that they are uncomfortable, anxious, or stressed in a situation, but these signals are missed, misinterpreted (looked at through a humans lens), or ignored by dog owners and those in contact with the dog, which sadly sometimes has devastating consequences.

Dog language is also complex and always needs to be viewed in context of the situation, which is especially hard on those less experienced, which can lead to miscommunication between dog and human. A few good examples are that a wagging tail does not always indicate a happy dog, “whale eye” which is when the white parts of the eyes are exposed , doesn’t mean your dog is feeling guilty, and yawning isn’t always a sign of being tired, but may also mean a dog feels stressed. 

As a dog owner, it’s your duty to keep your dog, and those around you, safe. This is done by properly learning to understand your dog, and keeping in mind that others might lack this knowledge, and miscommunications can occur. To prevent incidents from happening, you need to constantly keep an eye on your dog, and remove them from the situation when you notice any discomfort. You will also need to anticipate and take control of situations. An example of this would be to stop a child that is approaching your dog, to make sure you guide the child and your dog properly through the situation. This only if your dog is comfortable around children of course.

Are there any training techniques you recommend to ensure that dogs are well-behaved and do not pose a threat to the community?

All dogs should be properly socialised and trained throughout their lives. By socialising your dog you provide them with the opportunity to develop and learn important social skills they require in daily life. Socialising is done by exposing your dog or pup to different types of environments (sounds, textures, sensations, objects etc), interactions (with other animals, people of all ages etc)  and experiences (being alone, fireworks, etc). Just exposing them however is not enough, it’s all about HOW this exposure happens. A common mistake seen when socialising dogs and pups, is that they are put in uncontrolled situations for socialisation purposes, but then are left to fend for themselves and they don’t receive proper guidance, leading to an inadequate socialisation experience, or even a socialisation experience which turns out negative. A proper socialisation experience is:

  • The experience needs to happen in a gentle and safe manner. 
  • The experience needs to turn out positive. 
  • The exposure needs to be build gradually
  • The experience needs to be low stress and of short intervals
  • The experience should never be forced upon the pup/dog.

If you are unsure how to properly socialise your dog, you should consult with a professional, even if it’s just for a few sessions to show you the ropes. Besides socialisation it’s helpful to train your dog the basic commands like sit, lay down, wait, and look. All training and socialisation should be done in a force free and positive manner.

Are there any safety measures one can implement at home  to prevent dogs from escaping and causing harm?

To prevent dogs from escaping, one can consider tools like automatic gate and door closers, and fences. Not all dogs and living situations are the same, and for some dogs you might have to put more escape proof measures in place then for others. When having a dog it’s advised to always be mindful when opening doors, whether it’s when you’re leaving, or opening the door for a delivery. Make sure to check after cleaners/gardeners/workers if they locked the doors/gates properly.

Can you give any guidance on how to recognise early warning signs of aggressive behaviour in dogs and what steps to take when such signals occur?

Most people realise they might have a problem once their dog starts nipping, snarling, and growling. However, when a dog gets to this stage, often a period has already passed in which the dog has sent more subtle signs indicating they feel anxious, uncomfortable or stressed. Growling, biting, nipping, or the behaviour which is often referred to as aggression, are all escalated signals because their subtle signs have been ignored or missed, and they see no other option to get their point across than more extreme signals. Some signals that can be seen in situations and may indicate a dog is feeling anxious, stressed, and uncomfortable are;

  • Nose and/or lip licking
  • Smacking of the lips
  • Licking the recipient’s mouth
  • Softening of the eyes
  • Whale eye
  • Blinking
  • Yawning
  • Smiling
  • Making the face round by keeping the ears close to the head. 
  • Head turning
  • Turning the body away
  • Slow body movements
  • Freezing of the body
  • Displaying a play bow
  • Sitting
  • Lying down
  • Reducing body size
  • Suddenly sniffing the ground for no obvious reason
  • Walking in a curve
  • Wagging the tail in a low position
  • Paw Raise

More signals may be seen at one time, and signals should always be interpreted keeping the context of the situation in mind. When signals are missed, ignored, or misinterpreted and the dog is forced to stay in the situation, or continuously put in the same situation, eventually they will result in more extreme signals like growing, lunging, and eventually biting. 

Are there any legal responsibilities of dog owners regarding the behaviour and safety of their dogs?

The law for Dubai indicates that dogs always need to be on a lead outdoors. Dogs on the banned breed list additionally need to wear a muzzle outdoors. For the safety of your dog, make sure they are micro chipped, and that the microchip is registered at your vet and Dubai Municipality. Ensure to update your details when your contact information changes. 

When should you seek professional training or help for your dog?

It’s important to realise there is a difference between basic training and behaviour modification. Any new dog owner should seek professional training for their pet, even if it’s just a few sessions to help you get started. Things like puppy classes or basic obedience are not only helpful to teach the dog, but just as much for the owner, as you will learn how to guide your dog, and what methods are best to use when teaching them things.

Professional help for behaviour modification should be sought as soon as behaviour issues arise. Both training and behaviour modification should always be done with the owner present, as the training is just as much training the dog owner, as training the dog. You will need to learn how to manage, read, and guide your dog, else training will not nearly be as effective as it could be, and in some cases will not be effective at all and the dog will fall back into old behaviour once back home. 

What immediate actions should a dog owner take after a biting incident to address the situation responsibly? And what to do when a dog shows aggressive behaviour?

For any behaviour that could lead to biting incidents, or for that matter any behaviour that is considered a “problem”, one should contact a force free dog behaviourist to make a suitable plan of action. When wanting to modify dog behaviour, It’s important to get to the root of the issue, and aggression is often a symptom of an underlying reason, such as anxiety. So to prevent any incidents from happening, the anxiety should be addressed, and the owner will need to learn how to correctly guide their anxious dog. Simultaneously, it’s advised to have the dog checked by a veterinarian if there could be a medical reason for the behaviour, for example, biting sometimes happens when a dog is in pain. 

If a biting incident has already happened, one should check if medical assistance is required, and exchange contact details. And for the rest it’s the same as the above.

Are there any specific dog  breeds that require more attention or specialised training to ensure they are safe around people, particularly in a densely populated and diverse area like Dubai?

EVERY breed has its own needs and will require tailored attention, exercise, and training, to ensure they stay happy, full-filled, and safe around people. Some breeds were bred to guard, others to herd, others to hunt, and others as companions. When getting a dog, you should always keep the breed in mind, and provide your dog with what they need. On top of that, every dog is also its own personality, and some may require more than others regardless of breed. 

The biggest mistake is choosing a dog on looks only, which sadly happens too often. If you get a high energy working breed, you almost certainly need to get active with your dog to keep them happy and full-filled. A dog that has unfulfilled needs, whether it be in activity, attention, or even rest, will most certainly start showing behaviour which we will perceive as a problem, such as destruction, anxiousness, or they may even start using instinctive behaviour on humans such as trying to herd them.  

So it will all come down to the owner of the dog, and as long as the owner puts in the work, there is not a specific breed which is more suitable in a diverse or densely populated area. All breeds can be safe around people, just as much as all breeds can be unsafe around people. 

Have a look at the following articles

Why Socialising your Pup is Important and How to Do It Right.

Pets and Kids. How to Keep Both Safe.

Pups & Overstimulation. The Importance of Sleep and Rest

Calming Signals, Stress Signals, and Displacement Signals Seen in Dogs

Understanding Dog Language and Signals

Dog Muzzles. What you Need to Know for Correct Use

What is Force Free Training, Handling, and Pet Care?

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