Because May is dog bite prevention month, I thought I’d write briefly on that topic. So many times when a dog bites a person the lines “we didn’t see it coming” or “the dog didn’t give us any warning” are used. In most situations though, this is hardly the case. Most dogs do give warning; the problem is that people don’t see it. If people miss the warning signs and the stressor for the dog continues, someone can get bit. Not only is a dog bite bad for the person who was bit, but it is bad for the dog and often the dog’s breed in general.
One of the first classes I took in veterinary school was animal behavior. This class has been priceless to me. One of the first topics covered was reading a dog’s body language. I learned what a dog is saying with certain actions and which actions demonstrated the dog was stressed or scared, which would put the dog in a situation in which it might bite.
Since then it seems like every dog I see, I feel myself reading its body language. When I pull up to a farm for a farm call and am greeted by several farm dogs who are barking and running around, I look and see who’s barking just because there’s something new there (me!) versus who’s barking because of being scared or uncomfortable. This helps me know which dogs would welcome being petted and which would be best left alone.
As veterinarians, one of our most important jobs is to be an advocate for the animals. To me this means that veterinarians need to educate clients on the warning signs that may indicate a dog is uncomfortable and might bite. It’s best for all involved.