Dog bites are becoming an epidemic in society. As we get further and further from dogs living and working alongside us, we start to lose the ability to be able to read their body language and know what they are feeling. Below, I will outline a few different things to look for to help prevent a dog from biting. Learning how to read a dog’s body language is key to knowing if we are pushing them past thier comfort zone.

Defining a Bite

Bite: has punctured skin and drawn blood.

Nip: has contacted but not broken the skin.  May have left a bruise.

Mouthing: mostly shown by young puppies or untrained adult dogs.  There is generally very little if any, pressure involved.  Puppies may end up breaking skin because they don’t know any better yet.

It is important to know what to call different levels of a dog putting their mouth on you.  Ideally, every dog would understand that putting their mouth on people isn’t acceptable, but sometimes they aren’t taught or feel they must defend themselves for some reason.  Teaching puppies bite inhibition from a young age will help them understand that teeth on skin hurts and that it is not an acceptable behavior.

Aggression Progression

One of the most important things to remember is that any dog can bite.  A lot of times we don’t see the smaller dogs as being as big of a threat (most likely because they aren’t horribly large), but they have teeth just the same as larger dogs.  We want to prevent bites from all sizes of dogs.  The ladder below, from Farm and Pet Place, depicts how we can visually see a dog is getting close to their biting threshold.


We never want to corner a dog.  A lot of times, the calming signals depicted in the above graphic, will present if an animal is uncomfortable with the situation.  Usually, this means that they feel trapped in one way or another.  Always pay attention to if you are cornering a dog.  Never approach a dog that is displaying any of the above calming signals.  If we approach when they are displaying these signals, they will escalate to the next level until, in their mind, they have no choice but to bite to keep you away.

Calming Signals Visualized