Stress & Calming Signals: Visual Breakdown of a Dog Bite - McCann Professional Dog Trainers

Stress & Calming Signals: Visual Breakdown of a Dog Bite

The role of dogs in our lives has changed drastically. The dog used to live in the yard or on the farm. He would be thrown scraps of whatever was left over for sustenance. He was the dog. Things were different. These days, our dogs are considered family members. They fill a void for those without children by becoming our "kids".

The dog food industry is a multi-billion dollar industry. We take them to training and send them to daycare. We insure them so that we can meet any medical needs they may have. Yes, the world and the role of dogs in it has changed, but dogs themselves have not! Our perception of what a dog should be is drastically different these days, but the dogs we love are the same. I repeat: dogs have not changed! So, I am going to be blunt in the hopes that this post may help someone, somewhere: Dogs are still dogs and your dog is no different! It doesn't matter how sweet they are or how much you believe in their gentle nature. It doesn't matter how much you love them or how well you've cared for them throughout their lives. It doesn't matter that you've provided them with a warm home or that you've spent $10,000 on vet bills to keep them healthy. Dogs are dogs and every single dog has the ability to bite!

Dogs with a bite history are often labelled as having been aggressive with NO warning. Much like the neighbour who was always such a nice, quiet person, until they weren't. We want to believe that something went wrong. Something must have snapped in order to cripple the gentle nature of the animal who became unrecognizable after they bit. It's a coping mechanism to believe that a switch just flipped and there was nothing we could have done to prevent the damage. Somehow, this will allieviate our guilt and allow us to continue to blame a random set of circumstances. The problem with this, however, is that lack of education moving forward.

While some dogs can be very subtle, there is usually a warning of some sort, or a plea from the dog for space. It's our responsibility to look for and identify these signals that may indicate stress or identify what are known as calming signals. We must NEVER put a dog into a position where we are applying pressure and not giving them an out. Dogs do their best to tell us how they're feeling and it's our duty to listen! Please understand that as much as you love your dog, they are not different. They are not the exception. They will react as any dog will, because they are a dog! It's our responsibility to keep them, and those we hold dear safe. It's our responsibility to listen.

Recently, there have been several videos circulating on social media of kids with dogs. The two I'd like to focus on are for illustrative purposes. They are both disturbing, but educational in nature. This first video illustrates just how quickly a dog can turn and bite. To an uneducated eye, it may seem that this dog bit without provocation or warning, but that is why we are here. This dog gave several clear warning signals that he was uncomfortable and requested space from this baby for a long duration. When he was not granted relief, he bit.

Video #1

Warning! This video content is graphic and will be disturbing to watch. It is a large dog snapping at and connecting with a baby. I've pulled screen shots from the video so that you can skip watching it if you'd prefer.
Click the link to view this video: Dog Biting Child Video

Let's break this video down:

Sign of Stress - Whale Eye


The first second of this video, we can see "whale eye," which is when you can observe the whites of the eyes. 

Calming Signal - Look Away

For the entirety of the video until the dog is out of frame, we see him looking away and trying to appease the baby and request space. At the 8 second mark, we see him look in the opposite direction in another attempt to convey this message.

Sign of Stress - Ears

Throughout the entire video, we see the dog's ears 'gapping' or being pulled back from his head. This clearly indicates that the dog is feeling tense and is requesting space.

Right around the 18 second mark, the baby moves closer to the dog's head and takes a hold of his elbow. That is when the dog, who has asked for space and tried to convey his stress, snaps at the baby.

Video #2

This video was taken for educational purposes and does not escalate to an actual bite. It's safe to watch.

Calming Signals Video

This video clearly illustrates how the dog is feeling and that he is asking for space. The calming signals include yawning and lip licking and the whale eye is a clear indication of stress.

Whatever your experience level with dogs and their body language cues, please remember that we are asking them to live in our world. It's our responsibility to keep them and our loved ones safe. So many unsettling videos and pictures show up online with captions of how cute, or how tolerant these interactions are. This just illustrates that we are not being educated well enough. Learn to read what your dog is asking for so that you can continue to love and ensure all of your family members, be they 2-legged or 4, can live harmoniously and safety.

Please be safe!

Hi! I'm Shannon Viljasoo and I joined the McCann team in 1999 while training Quincey, my wonderful and spirited Rottweiler, to have good listening skills. I'm the Director of Online Training and Content for McCann Professional Dog Trainers and I enjoy writing about dogs and dog training for the McCann blog. I currently share my life with 2 Tollers (Reggie & Ned) and I love helping people develop the best possible relationship with their 4-legged family members.

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