DOG BITES – CAUSES AND REMEDIES
If you’ve ever been bitten by a dog, you know it’s very painful and that severe bites must be treated by a medical professional in a timely manner. Hopefully you’ll never have to experience the pain of a dog bite, but it seems that dog bites aren’t uncommon.
Dogs always have a reason for biting and before we can avoid being bitten, we need to know what’s causing the pet to bite. Puppies tend to nip and bite, which is called “mouthing” and is a normal behaviour. When puppies are very young, they play with their mother and siblings in the litter and if they bite too hard the other puppy will yelp. In most cases, pups soon learn that biting too hard isn’t good and playtime stops. If puppies are taken away from their mother too early or they have no siblings to play with, they won’t have learned this and then it’s up to you as their guardian to teach them.
If you have a young puppy and find they’re biting too hard or nipping and mouthing constantly, you need to stop the behaviour as soon as possible--especially if there are any children who may play with the pup. When your pup bites hard, one thing you can try is to yelp and let your hand go limp. Ignore the pup for a minute. This may be difficult, but your pup will soon learn that biting makes playtime stop. After a minute or so, offer your puppy a toy instead of your hand. If this doesn’t work, you may want to try other deterrents like spray, several varieties of which can be purchased at most pet stores. Try to stay calm and don’t react by hitting or trying to hurt your puppy in any way. If your puppy gets over excited and you can’t control the mouthing, it’s time to put them in the crate for a “time-out”.
Young puppies will keep mouthing for several months. Their baby teeth are extremely sharp and can puncture your skin quite easily. Be sure you provide lots of chew toys for your puppy to help them through this teething phase. You may also want to give them a frozen chew toy made specifically for puppies who are teething, or even a few ice cubes. These will help numb their gums and curb the biting. If your pup is chewing on shoes or furniture for relief, you can try spraying any of these items with Bitter Apple or similar commercial sprays. Don’t worry, mouthing is natural and usually stops once the baby teeth fall out and are replaced by permanent adult teeth.
Another reason dog’s bite is out of fear. Dogs can display fear aggression toward strangers and other pets. If your pup has been rescued from an abusive situation or was used as bait for dog fighting, it will take time and patience to earn their trust and correct their behaviour. You should take your pup out for lots of one-on-one walks to bond with them. Don’t let others approach your dog. Instead, keep your distance and once your pup feels comfortable, they can approach on their own terms. By doing this, your pup will gain confidence and gradually lose their fear. You should also approach your dog from the side of his head while bending down, rather than while standing tall and coming at him straight-on.
Dogs may bite because they are in pain, but are also masters at hiding their pain. If your furry friend has sore joints due to aging, excessive exercise, or arthritic pain and you press too hard on the sore spot, your pup may instinctively react by biting you. It’s sometimes hard to tell when your pup is in pain, but you need to watch for signs: is he licking a certain spot repeatedly? Do you hear him whining when moving about or trying to jump on the couch? You may notice changes in your dog’s eating and drinking habits or their sleeping habits. They may seem anxious and snarl or growl easily. All of these things can be signs that your pet is in pain and may need to be taken to the vet to ascertain the cause. Hopefully your vet can prescribe something to address or relieve the pain.
Pups may also get possessive of their toys, a favourite blanket, or even food and react by biting when someone tries to take the item away. Food aggression can be very dangerous and needs to be dealt with immediately. Your pup should understand that you provide everything for them. So before giving your pet a toy, treat, or their evening meal, have them him wait and get your permission first. This way they’ll learn that they can’t just take something and keep it to themselves. This is the time, if you haven’t already, to start teaching your dog to “leave it” or “drop it”. This basic command is important for your furry friend to learn since he may pick something up--medication, cannabis edibles etc.--that if ingested, could be lethal to your pet.
While teaching your pup to “leave it” or “drop it”, you may want to start by exchanging the item he has in his mouth for something else that’s more appealing and isn’t harmful; a favourite toy or a tasty treat, for example. If this isn’t working, you need to distract him and get him to focus on something else. The sharp, sudden sound of a whistle or loud clap will often cause your dog to lose focus on the item he is fixated on. If your pup is acting possessive with a toy or food, don’t play tug-of-war with them. This will only make the behaviour worse.
Prey drive is another reason your pup may lash out and bite. Depending on the breed, most dogs were at one time bred to hunt and it may be this instinct that causes them to bite during play. With some rescue dogs, depending on their prior situation, prey drive may have developed as a way to survive. Whatever the reason, if you see this trait in your dog, stay away from games that encourage chasing or running away.
If you know someone whose dog has recently given birth, never reach into the kennel to touch the puppies. A mother’s instinct is to protect her young. This could very easily result in a bite. If it’s your own dog that’s had the puppies, approach her very slowly, talk softly, and gently pat her head; make sure that she’s comfortable with you near her litter. After a few days, she’ll know that you won’t harm them and may start to let you handle the babies.
Take your time.
Regardless of the reason for a dog biting you, try to remain calm. If you overreact you may make the situation worse. If the dog hears you yelling or you attempt to hit or kick them, they’ll become more fearful and agitated and may bite again. Instead, calmly move away from the dog and get to a safe place; both of you need to cool down. Then you can assess the wound.
As with any injury, the first thing to consider is the risk of infection. Dogs have a lot of bacteria in their mouths, so it’s important to clean the wound with warm water and soap. If the skin has been punctured, apply pressure to the area and cause it to bleed. This will, in turn, get rid of some of the bacteria. Wash the area again with soap and water and apply pressure with a clean cloth to slow bleeding. If available, apply an antibiotic cream or spray to the area-- don’t use alcohol wipes--and apply a bandage before visiting your doctor. Since dog bites have a high rate of infection, you should see a doctor within eight hours even if you think the bite is not that serious. If the wound is deep, you may also require stitches.
If it’s your own dog that bites you, have his vaccination records available or the name and number of his vet. Your doctor will need to know that they’re up-to-date on their shots and, in particular, the rabies vaccine. If you have been bitten by a strange dog, get the owner to provide proof of the dog’s vaccinations. Otherwise you may be subject to a series of rabies shots.
Once you’ve received proper medical attention, try to find the initial cause of the dog bite. It’s important to know what caused the bite and how it could have been prevented, in case it happens again in the future. You don’t want to go through this again, so be sure you know what triggered the reaction and that you can trust your dog not to bite again.
If your dog has aggression issues, you should discuss their behaviour with your vet and and a qualified trainer and consider keeping them in a muzzle when out in public. If the aggression cannot be controlled or corrected, it’s best to surrender the dog so you and your family will remain safe in the future.