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Important to understand canine boundaries


May 15, 2018

Having the closest relationship to humans of all those in the animal world, it’s easy to understand why dogs are known as “man’s best friend.” But that’s not to say the relationship is perfect.

Dogs and humans have been almost inseparable in the thousands of years their companionship has endured. Unfortunately, there are plenty of times the connection doesn’t click, the match is flawed, or something goes terribly wrong. And in those situations the results can range from disappointing to downright dangerous.

As loving as they are and as well as they can blend into a family, adapting easily to human habits and expectations, dogs are animals and with that come some unavoidable truths — they are constructed to hunt and scavenge, with all the necessary agility, speed and instinct that entails.

They are also wired to protect themselves and their resources, which means fight or flight is a default instinct when they feel cornered or threatened.

Add to that sharp rows of very capable teeth backed by strong jaws, and their response to such a moment can be devastating, especially if directed at a member of their human family.

The mouth of a dog can snap quickly, clamp down or puncture, rip and tear, and with remarkable speed can deliver one bite after another often before a human even has time to react.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs every year. More than 300 deaths were attributed to dog attacks from 1979 to 1996; the majority of victims were children.

Additionally, when dogs bite, serious injuries and infection are often a consequence, the CDC reports, and about one in five dog bites requires medical attention.

University of Liverpool researchers recently turned to the online video sharing site YouTube to see what could be learned by observing footage of actual dog bites and attacks — logical since a spontaneous bite from a family pet isn’t exactly something easily staged for research purposes.

Published May 8 in Scientific Reports, the study authors narrowed their search videos posted between January 2016 and March 2017, analyzing 143 videos.

Not only did they document the characteristics of the humans and dogs in the video — age, gender, breed — they also looked at the context and severity of the bite or attack and in approximately 40 percent of the videos, footage allowed them to assess the behavior of both dog and human right before the bite.

They noted that what they saw in the videos balanced against existing findings in dog bites research, with the most common breeds involved being Chihuahuas, German shepherds, pit bulls and labrador retrievers.

Additionally, human males were the most common bite recipients and children and infants received more than half of the bites they analyzed.

In looking for common behaviors leading up to bites, they found that consistently, the humans either touched, leaned or stood over a dog about 20 seconds before the dog bit them.

Understanding the relationship between touching, leaning or standing over a dog and bites should influence dog bite prevention strategies and education, the researchers concluded.

Indeed, everyone and especially children should understand dogs, just like people, have personal space boundaries and whether they mean to or not, when humans don’t respect those boundaries, they can provoke a dog to bite them.

Being in tune to signs of discomfort or tension and avoiding aggressive or invasive behavior are all important parts of forming a trusting and respectful relationship with your pet and it’s only fair, after all, it’s what we expect from them.

Sharna Johnson is always searching for ponies. Contact her at:


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