Getting bitten by our own dog shocks us and provokes a myriad of emotions. We may feel wronged because, after all, we are his care givers. We may  feel he has betrayed our trust and may even feel he is undeserving of our love.

But how about gaining awareness of the reasons why your dog may bite you, instead of labeling him as “ungrateful”, “untrustworthy” or “defiant”? More challenging yet, how about gaining awareness that quite often we are the culprits; the ones who provoke the bite?

Let’s look at some situations, provoked by us, that may easily lead to a bite.

Unknowingly, we are invasive

Our dog is resting and we decide to stroke him – you may have such a rambunctious and energetic dog that you feel the only time he is still enough for you to cuddle him is when he’s sleeping. Some dogs snap and may bite if woken with a startle and others may wake and display subtle signs of discomfort. Your dog may look at you sideways, avoid eye contact altogether, turn his head away, yawn, lick his nose…and because you don’t recognize these as stress signals, you insist on cuddling him. In a blink of an eye, he growls, charges and bites you. In this scenario, the warning was given, but you didn’t understand it.

We punish our dog because we feel it’s unacceptable that he would growl at us.

Growling is part of a dog’s communication system and has different meanings including warning. Let’s say you give your dog a bone (which is extremely valuable to most dogs) and then decide to take it away just to test his reaction. He growls, you say “don’t you dare growl at me!” in a menacing tone of voice; you continue reaching for the bone; he continues growling but bares his teeth, this time; in a split second you think “no way are you going to threaten me!” and give him a direct hard stare (which is a very threatening thing to do) and grab the bone. He bites your hand. The correct thing to do in this scenario would be to not insist on taking the bone away and recognize that if your dog has a resource-guarding issue, that problem needs to be solved.

Our anger prevents us from recognizing a fear response

You arrive home, notice your dog chewed the sofa and start scolding him. He runs and hides under the table, because the truth is he doesn’t know you’re furious because of the chewed sofa. If you had a close look at him in that moment, you would most probably notice his ears were flattened, he was crouching, and his tail was tucked between his back legs – all of these are signs of fear. But because you want him to understand he can’t chew the sofa, and believe the only way for that to happen is through scolding, you try to grab him and pull him from under the table so you can continue scolding him until you, yourself are calmer. As you grab him, he bites.

It’s important to realize that any being, be it an animal or person, can respond aggressively when afraid, as aggression is a defense mechanism.

There is always an emotion that drives a behavior. Therefore, every time a dog decides to do something, there is at least one emotion behind that decision. The emotions associated with the decision to bite are usually: fear, stress, anxiety, frustration.

One or more of those emotions are always at play in situations where your dog has bitten you before, or bites you for the first time unless:

a) you change your approach, namely learn how your dog communicates and respect his personal space;

b) get help from a professional behavior consultant or dog trainer to solve your dog’s behavior problem.