Dog bites: why they happen and what you can do to stop them

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When the unexpected happens, you may find yourself wondering “why did that happen to me? What could I have done differently?”

We don’t want you to be in the situation where you are left asking, “why did that dog bite me?” We will examine some of the causes of dog bites and what you can do to avoid this from happening to you or those close to you.

how often do dog bites happen?

How often do dog bites happen?

In the UK, the average number of reported dog bite related hospital visits is nearing 8,000 each year*. When you consider that these are only the reported incidents where someone went to the hospital, the actual number of dog bites is more than likely much higher.

There are over 900 million dogs worldwide, with about 9 million of them living together with their owners in the UK. So, bites are bound to happen. What we need to ask is why do dog bites happen? Is there something wrong with dogs? Or are we to blame?

Dogs and their nature

Any dog owner will tell you that their dog has a unique personality. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, dogs are intelligent animals with emotions that we need to respect and understand. If there is something that happens to a dog that they don’t like or that makes them scared, they will try to tell you. If you ignore or do not recognise the warnings, there is a chance that you may get bitten.

What can you do to minimise your chances of getting bitten?

There are some simple common-sense precautions to follow, especially if you do not know the dog:

  • Do not stroke a dog without the owner’s permission – if the dog is unattended, leave him/her alone.
  • Do not attempt to pet a dog over or through a fence – even if you know the dog, they may feel that they need to defend against intruders.
  • Look for signs that a dog may be running loose on the grounds of the property before you enter.

Kids and dogs

Supervise children when around dogs

There are so many issues that cause parents sleepless nights. The potentially life-changing consequences of a dog biting a child are definitely towards the top of the list. We cannot state it strongly enough – teach children to never approach a dog without the owner’s permission.

Unfortunately, it is not just a child’s interaction with a stranger’s dog that parents need to monitor closely. The ever-faithful family dog can bite. This is normally due to the child not understanding a dog’s warning signs.

Our advice is to teach your children the following, do not:

  • hug or climb on top of dogs.
  • grab a dog’s paws or tail.
  • wake a sleeping dog.
  • interrupt a dog when he/she is eating

Young children should never be left on their own with a dog. It is not fair for either the dog or the child to expect them to behave whilst they are unsupervised.

What are the dog bite warning signs?

In most dog bite incidents, the dog will try to communicate with you first. If you don’t understand the signals – they may be left with only one option, to bite.

These are the warning signs to look out for:

  • Ears flattened back
  • Yawning
  • Intense staring
  • Tense body
  • Licking lips
  • Growling or baring teeth

What should you do if you encounter an aggressive dog?

An aggressive dog is intimidating. A key to preventing an attack is to know beforehand what you should do.

  • Do not run – dogs often have a strong instinct to chase their prey.
  • If you can, move slowly away and place an obstacle between you and the dog.

Try to avoid making eye contact. This can be difficult as your natural reaction will be to back away from the dog whilst watching the animal for any signals it may attack. Looking away is a signal that you are not a threat. You can also reduce any perceived threat by turning sideways towards the dog.

What should you do if an attack from an aggressive dog seems imminent? 

If you encounter a dog that charges towards you, try to get an object, such as a bag, rucksack or jacket between you. Something that the dog can bite without harming you.

If you are knocked off your feet curl up in a ball to protect your head, neck, and face.

Advice for joggers, cyclists, and dog walkers 

You may find yourself being followed or chased by a dog whilst you are out and about. Particularly if you are jogging, cycling, or out walking your dog. Planning how you will react can save you from being bitten.

Joggers and cyclists

Joggers and cyclists can trigger a dog’s prey instinct. If you find yourself being chased by a dog, you may be able to dissuade the dog by:

  • Carrying dog treats that you can drop as a distraction
  • Make a loud noise by shaking a homemade rattle to frighten the dog. You can make one from an old can and some metal screws or stones.
  • You can also use a whistle to frighten the dog away.

Dog walkers

The best advice we can give dog walkers is to keep their dog under control and to be aware of their dog’s reaction to others. A gentle correction at the right time can stop a situation with another dog from escalating. For example, if your dog stares it may be interpreted as a threat by other dogs. The training could be as simple as getting your dog to pay attention to you. Alternatively, you can move in a different direction so your dog has to pay attention to where you are going instead of other dogs.

If you always reward your dog’s good behaviour in these situations, your dog will naturally look to you when other dogs are around. Consequently, reducing how often dog bites happen.


Being prepared and understanding a dog’s body language and warning signs will go a long way in reducing the risk of being bitten by a dog. We hope that you continue to enjoy your interactions with man’s best friend.

* Royal College of Surgeons of England – NHS figures show an increase in hospital admissions for dog bites.

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