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How can I tell when a dog might bite me?

There are about 78 million dogs in the United State and any one of them can bite someone. Dog bites do not occur based on breed, and sometimes the dogs we are most familiar with are the ones who end up biting us.

Dog bites can cause pain and spread diseases. Even minor bite wounds can be prone to infections, and may involve hidden injuries, like nerve damage. However, you may be able to prevent being bitten by a dog if you avoid high risk situations and understand some warnings dogs may give us through body language.

What situations involve a high risk of being bitten?

Dogs usually bite as a reaction to something, so situations when a dog may feel it needs to react aggressively could involve a higher dog bite risk. This type of situation includes when a dog is:

  • Stressed
  • Startled
  • Sick
  • Injured
  • Caring for puppies
  • Protecting something
  • Eating

In general, it is usually safest to only pet or interact with a dog after receiving permission from its owner and allowing the dog to sniff your hand. Do not approach an unfamiliar dog that is not with its owner, and never encourage a dog to play aggressively.

How might a dog use body language before biting?

Dogs use their eyes, ears, mouth, tail, sweat and posture to tell us how they are feeling. Being able to understand this body language can, in some situations, help you identify when a dog is stressed, protective, sick or otherwise at a higher risk of biting.

For example, a dog’s eyes may appear rounder than normal if it feels tense, and dilated pupils can be a sign of fear or stress. Yawning and lip licking can also be signs of stress, and a dog that is afraid will put its tail between its legs.

A dog that wants to give a warning may wrinkle the top of its muzzle and could also show its front teeth. However, sometimes a dog will show teeth as a sign of submission. In this situation it may look like the dog is smiling, and the dog’s posture will include a lowered head, flattened ears and squinty eyes. If the dog is showing its teeth as a sign of aggression, it’s posture may be tense and its body may appear large. The dog’s hair along its back may also be raised.

You may not always be able to prevent a dog bite. However, New Jersey dog owners can be held responsible for the actions of their pets. If someone’s dog causes you to be seriously injured, it may be appropriate to consider legal action.