Williams, Walsh & O'Connor, LLC

Preventing dog bites by learning how canines communicate

Many dog attacks are preventable, often on the part of the dog's owner -- and sometimes the dog-bite victim. This does not mean a victim is to blame for the bite, but some victims fail to understand what the dog was attempting to communicate in the moments before the attack.

Many times, dogs are far better at comprehending what humans are trying to convey than vice versa. Because anything that victims can do to avoid a dog bite is important, the following tips may be helpful to our readers.

Learn the language of dogs

Much canine aggression can be avoided if people learn to understand what dogs are trying to show them. While a snarling or growling dog is clearly indicating that it might lash out aggressively, much of the way dogs communicate is done silently through their body language. If you learn the basics, you can often tell when a dog should be given a wide berth and when it's OK to approach it.

Signs of a friendly dog

Does the dog look like it wants to interact with you? Is it panting to be petted, wriggling and wagging its tail, or is it cowering and avoiding looking at you? The former is likely to be a friendly interaction, while the latter case could definitely lead to a dog attack.

Signs of an unfriendly dog

A dog that is cowering with its tail between its legs and its ears slicked back is scared — and quite likely to lash out aggressively. Other signs of a potentially dangerous dog include a straight, wide-legged stance, as the dog perceives you as a threat and is attempting to make itself appear larger as a response. Dogs may also raise their tails up straight and wave them slowly and stiffly back and forth right before they lunge at a victim.

Dogs don't usually like hugs

People often greet their friends with enthusiastic hugs, so they may try to embrace dogs the same way. This is a recipe for disaster, as dogs don't view hugs the way that humans do. In fact, they may see a hug as an attempt to confine and constrain them and may bite accordingly.

Your own dogs may routinely allow or even appear to welcome hugs from you. This is less because they enjoy the interaction but because they fully trust you and have become accustomed to the way you show affection to them. But a strange dog should never be hugged, even if it appears friendly up to that point.

Beware of the whale-eye

A dog that's insecure and intolerant of a child's hug or attention often displays the whites of its eyes in a half-moon shape. This is a sign of increasing anxiety on the part of the dog. If you see this, make sure to end the interaction with the child (or yourself) and the dog before it escalates to a biting situation.

After a dog-bite incident

If you or your child is bitten by a dog, you will need to seek medical attention. If the dog can be identified, it is very important to verify its vaccination record (or lack thereof). You may also wish to seek damages in a premises liability claim for any injuries and losses that you suffer as a result of the attack.

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