Pit Bull Informational Pages
by Diane Jessup 

Why Do Some Dogs Bite?

Chasing, Biting, Killing: Natural Behaviors
 

Dogs are carnivores. Carnivores survive by having a strong desire to seek out, hunt down, kill and consume other animals. The instinctive desire to do this is often referred to as "prey drive".

In the modern dog, these drives are still present, and prey drives are present in each dog in varying degree dependent on the animal's genetic makeup. For example, greyhounds and beagles are bred specifically for intense prey drives; their desire to chase and kill rabbits is extreme.

Boldog kennels breeds American pit bull terriers, otherwise known as pit bulls, for schutzhund, weight pulling, tracking, obedience, ring sport, narcotics, explosives, arson and cadaver detection for LawDogsUSA. Our dogs are Sorrells line pit bulls, and are not available for sale to the public. The Working pit bull site will show you everything you need to know about pit bull care, pit bull feeding, pit bull training, pit bull springpole, pit bull breeding, pit bull jenni, gamebred pit bulls, game bred pit bulls, pit bull dog fighting - something we are very much against - pit bull rescue, pit bull puppies, how to raise and train a pit bull to be a pet. Our pit bulls are specifically bred to be police K9 sniffer or narcotics and bomb detection dogs so that they will be a useful working dog in the future.
Boldog kennels breeds American pit bull terriers, otherwise known as pit bulls, for schutzhund, weight pulling, tracking, obedience, ring sport, narcotics, explosives, arson and cadaver detection for LawDogsUSA. Our dogs are Sorrells line pit bulls, and are not available for sale to the public. The Working pit bull site will show you everything you need to know about pit bull care, pit bull feeding, pit bull training, pit bull springpole, pit bull breeding, pit bull jenni, gamebred pit bulls, game bred pit bulls, pit bull dog fighting - something we are very much against - pit bull rescue, pit bull puppies, how to raise and train a pit bull to be a pet. Our pit bulls are specifically bred to be police K9 sniffer or narcotics and bomb detection dogs so that they will be a useful working dog in the future.
It's all relative. This German shepherd is called a "hero" because he is a "Jap killer". A dog's use of its prey drives is seen as "good" or "bad" depending on human perception.

 

Boldog kennels breeds American pit bull terriers, otherwise known as pit bulls, for schutzhund, weight pulling, tracking, obedience, ring sport, narcotics, explosives, arson and cadaver detection for LawDogsUSA. Our dogs are Sorrells line pit bulls, and are not available for sale to the public. The Working pit bull site will show you everything you need to know about pit bull care, pit bull feeding, pit bull training, pit bull springpole, pit bull breeding, pit bull jenni, gamebred pit bulls, game bred pit bulls, pit bull dog fighting - something we are very much against - pit bull rescue, pit bull puppies, how to raise and train a pit bull to be a pet. Our pit bulls are specifically bred to be police K9 sniffer or narcotics and bomb detection dogs so that they will be a useful working dog in the future.
This 1950's dog food ad shows images from a time when liability wasn't a victim's first concern. The smiling woman looks on as her Doberman lunges at a purse snatcher's throat. Today this dog would be declared "dangerous" and would be lucky to get off with its life. If the dog was a pit bull instead of a Doberman protecting it's owner's purse, no doubt the dog would be called "vicious" and put to sleep.

Boldog kennels breeds American pit bull terriers, otherwise known as pit bulls, for schutzhund, weight pulling, tracking, obedience, ring sport, narcotics, explosives, arson and cadaver detection for LawDogsUSA. Our dogs are Sorrells line pit bulls, and are not available for sale to the public. The Working pit bull site will show you everything you need to know about pit bull care, pit bull feeding, pit bull training, pit bull springpole, pit bull breeding, pit bull jenni, gamebred pit bulls, game bred pit bulls, pit bull dog fighting - something we are very much against - pit bull rescue, pit bull puppies, how to raise and train a pit bull to be a pet. Our pit bulls are specifically bred to be police K9 sniffer or narcotics and bomb detection dogs so that they will be a useful working dog in the future.
Dogs associated with "fighting drive" such as pit bulls, show bulldogs and bull terriers have always appealed to "fighting men" as mascots. "Fighting drive" in terms of survival, means the ability to tackle prey animals which are large enough or tough enough to fight back, injuring and possibly killing the predator. "Bulldogs" [pit bulls] were developed to grip, stop and hold very large, tough animals such as wild boar and rough cattle. This calls for a large measure of useful "fight drive".

 

Boldog kennels breeds American pit bull terriers, otherwise known as pit bulls, for schutzhund, weight pulling, tracking, obedience, ring sport, narcotics, explosives, arson and cadaver detection for LawDogsUSA. Our dogs are Sorrells line pit bulls, and are not available for sale to the public. The Working pit bull site will show you everything you need to know about pit bull care, pit bull feeding, pit bull training, pit bull springpole, pit bull breeding, pit bull jenni, gamebred pit bulls, game bred pit bulls, pit bull dog fighting - something we are very much against - pit bull rescue, pit bull puppies, how to raise and train a pit bull to be a pet. Our pit bulls are specifically bred to be police K9 sniffer or narcotics and bomb detection dogs so that they will be a useful working dog in the future.
Some breeds are bred specifically to have "prey drive" directed toward humans. Dobermans, German shepherds, rottweilers, Belgian malinois and Dutch shepherds, like the dog shown here, are some of the breeds which have hunting drives easily directed by police trainers from game animals to man. Police dogs must have a strong "hunt" drive and also a strong "fight" drive to locate and overpower suspects.

What Makes A Dog Dangerous?
"Chips", one of the most famous and decorated war dogs of W.W.II, was the first dog awarded the Silver Star medal for "bravery in action against the enemy", and saved many human lives. Chips is mentioned with honor in many books on working dogs, and even had a Disney movie named after him. Yet Chips began life as what would be considered today a "dangerous dog", terrorizing the neighborhood and biting the garbage man. Many, if not most of the military and police dogs of the past, and many serving today, joined the armed forces because of "past trouble". Are these canine officers and soldiers "bad" dogs? Should dogs of their breed be banned from towns, cities and even entire countries? Most decidedly not. Taken out of the hands of "high risk" owners who allowed them to engage in problem behaviors, these dogs become useful, beneficial and even heroic members of society. The key to what makes a dog dangerous is how the owner handles it.

Dogs are large, powerful carnivores, yet they are often adopted into human families in the role of companion, child substitute or guardian. Many people feel more secure after entrusting their loved ones - spouses, elderly parents or children - into the care of a large and often aggressively protective dogs. It speaks well of the dog that he alone of all animals can so faithfully fulfill this complex and unique role. It can even be said that dogs treat humans far better than humans treat dogs! After all, in the US dogs kill an average of 10 to 15 people each year while the number of dogs killed by humans each year numbers in the hundreds of thousands. Another way to put it in perspective is to realize that a child is 300 times more likely to be killed by its parents or guardians than by a dog.

But dogs do bite, and sometimes kill humans, and statistically they bite and kill those who own or care for them more often than strangers. What causes this behavior?

Why A Dog Bites
To a dog, biting is normal behavior. While interacting within their own species, dogs use a variety of physical signals to clearly display intent, anger, fear, uncertainty, protectiveness and a variety of other emotions. Dogs most often bite, in varying degrees of intensity, for the following reasons:

  • in play
  • as a warning
  • to protect themselves
  • when fighting
  • to kill

1) When playing, dogs inhibit their bites almost completely. The "bite" becomes stylized. Dogs generally take turns "winning". Humans and dogs often engage in "play fighting" behavior with each other, with the human slapping or grabbing at the dog playfully, and the dog returning the gesture with play bites. Young dogs, still learning the fine art of inhibiting their bite when playing, will often bite quite hard. This will almost always result in the play companion - human or animal - retaliating with action designed to make clear that the bite was not appreciated.

Some behaviorists discourage any roughhousing, tug-a-war or play-biting behavior with dogs. They consider it inappropriate to ever allow a dog to put its teeth on human flesh. However, this is contrary to Nature, where youngsters of almost all species grow up learning how to inhibit unacceptable fighting and biting behavior by play biting and fighting. Especially in breeds with a genetic predisposition to grip, total denial of the outlet of this drive can lead to high levels of frustration.

2) A bite should be a dog's last step in the warning processes. A sound dog will warn with an escalating scale of threat. Say a dog is enjoying a bone. Another dog enters the area. The dog in possession of the bone will often make eye contact and freeze, just momentarily. This is a clear, distinct warning that another dog would respect. Should the approaching dog continue to press, the dog with the bone would stop eating, go rigid, and either stare straight ahead or at the approaching dog. This rigid, tense posture is a dog's most clear warning, and one which many humans fail to recognize.

If pressed, the dog will further warn the intruder away with a growl, a threat display involving bared teeth, and then a short, inhibited snap which falls short of the intruder. If all these warnings fail, a dog may then bite, though generally the bite is inhibited even at this point.

3) When warnings fail, some dogs will react with biting behavior to protect themselves. This is a defensive maneuver, and the bite will characteristically be a "repelling" bite. Meaning that the intention of the bite is to repel the intruder, not hold them or kill them. A "repelling" bite is generally a snap or a slash as opposed to a gripping bite.

4) When fighting (anything) how much a dog inhibits its bites depends entirely upon just how threatened the dog feels. Two dogs may emerge from a furious bite with little or no damage - both dogs inhibited their bites, even though aroused and fearful. In other cases, dogs will bite with complete removal of all inhibitions, their intent to seriously injure or kill their opponent.

5) When killing prey, a dog will bite. Interestingly, prey biting is not as frenetic or fearsome looking as defensive biting. Predators do not kill large prey by slashing at it, but rather by taking a solid grip and bearing it to the ground where it is often suffocated by a throat hold.


How A Dog Bites:
The Purpose of the Head Shake
Anyone who has played
with their pet knows that a dog shakes its head violently when playing tug-a-war. This action serves a very real purpose, and is a very important aspect of canine/human safety in severe dog attack. Your knowledge of shaking behavior can mean the difference, literally, between life and death in cases of severe dog attack.

Imagine a wolf trying to bring down a caribou which weighs several times the weight of the wolf. The only weapon the wolf has to tackle this much larger prey, are its teeth, and of those, primarily the four canine fangs. With these small "weapons" the wolf must bring down an animal several times its size and remain unharmed in the process. Shaking behavior as well as "regripping" make this possible.

At the point where the wolf has initially gripped the animal, two things may happen:

  • the prey animal tries to flee or goes into shock
  • the prey animal fights back

The first example will ultimately lead to death for the prey animal. The second, fighting back, gives the prey animal a better chance at survival as it leads to three distinct behavioral choices from the wolf.

  • the wolf will experience sufficient pain and stress to throw in the towel and retreat, allowing the animal to escape.
  • the wolf will quickly regrip, moving the bite up and in, in order to obtain a better, more damaging and controlling hold.
  • the wolf will begin to shake its head, causing severe tissue damage to the bite area, causing shock in the prey animal, and enhancing blood loss.

This scenario is, unfortunately, mirrored in exactly what happens to human victims of severe dog attack. Human victims, too, have the choice to either try and flee, go into shock, or fight off the attack. Those choices will ultimately determine just how injurious the attack will be.

A human which chooses to fight off a dog attack will be faced with the three same behavioral choices as did the caribou:

  • the dog will experience sufficient pain and stress to throw in the towel and retreat, allowing the human to escape.
  • the dog will quickly regrip, moving the bite up and in, in order to obtain a better, more damaging and controlling hold.
  • the dog will begin to shake its head, causing severe tissue damage to the bite area, causing shock in the victim, and enhancing blood loss.

For humans, the best choice when faced with dog attack is to neither try and flee, nor to continue to fight the animal once it has become apparent that the dog will not cease. The safest course is to move (dragging the dog if necessary) toward the nearest gate, door, car, or other object which will allow you to shield a large percentage of your body from the animal. It is a simple equation: the less human tissue the dog can reach, the less human tissue it can damage. The less tissue damaged, the longer the victim can remain conscious, effect an escape from the situation and obviously the quicker the recovery time from the injury.

Boldog kennels breeds American pit bull terriers, otherwise known as pit bulls, for schutzhund, weight pulling, tracking, obedience, ring sport, narcotics, explosives, arson and cadaver detection for LawDogsUSA. Our dogs are Sorrells line pit bulls, and are not available for sale to the public. The Working pit bull site will show you everything you need to know about pit bull care, pit bull feeding, pit bull training, pit bull springpole, pit bull breeding, pit bull jenni, gamebred pit bulls, game bred pit bulls, pit bull dog fighting - something we are very much against - pit bull rescue, pit bull puppies, how to raise and train a pit bull to be a pet. Our pit bulls are specifically bred to be police K9 sniffer or narcotics and bomb detection dogs so that they will be a useful working dog in the future.
This woman, the first recipient of a face transplant, had her nose, lips and lower portion of her face removed by her pet Labrador retriever. The woman was unconscious at the time; it was possible the dog began licking behavior that turned into inappropriate "consumption" behavior. This kind of "eating" of humans is rarely associated with "aggression", rather it is an example of prey drives surfacing in inappropriate forms.

 

 

Boldog kennels breeds American pit bull terriers, otherwise known as pit bulls, for schutzhund, weight pulling, tracking, obedience, ring sport, narcotics, explosives, arson and cadaver detection for LawDogsUSA. Our dogs are Sorrells line pit bulls, and are not available for sale to the public. The Working pit bull site will show you everything you need to know about pit bull care, pit bull feeding, pit bull training, pit bull springpole, pit bull breeding, pit bull jenni, gamebred pit bulls, game bred pit bulls, pit bull dog fighting - something we are very much against - pit bull rescue, pit bull puppies, how to raise and train a pit bull to be a pet. Our pit bulls are specifically bred to be police K9 sniffer or narcotics and bomb detection dogs so that they will be a useful working dog in the future.
Properly bred and reared dogs will display appropriate drives in regard to humans. A dog with a sound mind likes human children unless trained otherwise. Animals which direct aggression toward family members display a trait which human breeders should see as undesirable. Far too often, breeders make excuses for dogs which are unsound in mind.

 

Boldog kennels breeds American pit bull terriers, otherwise known as pit bulls, for schutzhund, weight pulling, tracking, obedience, ring sport, narcotics, explosives, arson and cadaver detection for LawDogsUSA. Our dogs are Sorrells line pit bulls, and are not available for sale to the public. The Working pit bull site will show you everything you need to know about pit bull care, pit bull feeding, pit bull training, pit bull springpole, pit bull breeding, pit bull jenni, gamebred pit bulls, game bred pit bulls, pit bull dog fighting - something we are very much against - pit bull rescue, pit bull puppies, how to raise and train a pit bull to be a pet. Our pit bulls are specifically bred to be police K9 sniffer or narcotics and bomb detection dogs so that they will be a useful working dog in the future.
Contrary to popular opinion, mistreatment is not the most common cause of unsound character in a dog. In fact, pit bulls more often than not respond to kindness after being abused. Despite lack of socialization and cruel treatment, pit bulls seized from dog fighters are almost always described by animal control officers as "very friendly". This clearly shows the genetic component of sound behavior. Photo courtesy HSUS.

 


Boldog kennels breeds American pit bull terriers, otherwise known as pit bulls, for schutzhund, weight pulling, tracking, obedience, ring sport, narcotics, explosives, arson and cadaver detection for LawDogsUSA. Our dogs are Sorrells line pit bulls, and are not available for sale to the public. The Working pit bull site will show you everything you need to know about pit bull care, pit bull feeding, pit bull training, pit bull springpole, pit bull breeding, pit bull jenni, gamebred pit bulls, game bred pit bulls, pit bull dog fighting - something we are very much against - pit bull rescue, pit bull puppies, how to raise and train a pit bull to be a pet. Our pit bulls are specifically bred to be police K9 sniffer or narcotics and bomb detection dogs so that they will be a useful working dog in the future.
Those not familiar with "coursing" sports, may not realize that the elegant looking greyhound is, in fact, an animal bred for millennia for extreme "chase" and "fight" drive. Today greyhounds are often used to chase down and kill coyotes, dingo, and wild boar. Greyhounds are also often crossed with other breed to make faster "kill dogs".

 

Boldog kennels breeds American pit bull terriers, otherwise known as pit bulls, for schutzhund, weight pulling, tracking, obedience, ring sport, narcotics, explosives, arson and cadaver detection for LawDogsUSA. Our dogs are Sorrells line pit bulls, and are not available for sale to the public. The Working pit bull site will show you everything you need to know about pit bull care, pit bull feeding, pit bull training, pit bull springpole, pit bull breeding, pit bull jenni, gamebred pit bulls, game bred pit bulls, pit bull dog fighting - something we are very much against - pit bull rescue, pit bull puppies, how to raise and train a pit bull to be a pet. Our pit bulls are specifically bred to be police K9 sniffer or narcotics and bomb detection dogs so that they will be a useful working dog in the future.
In the "good old days" people seemed to understand that dogs bit... and kids and dogs worked out their relationships without lawyers and hysterical town councils.

 

Boldog kennels breeds American pit bull terriers, otherwise known as pit bulls, for schutzhund, weight pulling, tracking, obedience, ring sport, narcotics, explosives, arson and cadaver detection for LawDogsUSA. Our dogs are Sorrells line pit bulls, and are not available for sale to the public. The Working pit bull site will show you everything you need to know about pit bull care, pit bull feeding, pit bull training, pit bull springpole, pit bull breeding, pit bull jenni, gamebred pit bulls, game bred pit bulls, pit bull dog fighting - something we are very much against - pit bull rescue, pit bull puppies, how to raise and train a pit bull to be a pet. Our pit bulls are specifically bred to be police K9 sniffer or narcotics and bomb detection dogs so that they will be a useful working dog in the future.
Walker hounds are bred specifically for aggression toward target animals such as raccoons, bobcat or cougar. At field trials, the strength of this aggression is tested in something called a "roll cage" contest. A raccoon is placed in a cage within a circle. The hound that attacks the cage with the most ferocity, rolling it out of the circle wins.

 

 

Boldog kennels breeds American pit bull terriers, otherwise known as pit bulls, for schutzhund, weight pulling, tracking, obedience, ring sport, narcotics, explosives, arson and cadaver detection for LawDogsUSA. Our dogs are Sorrells line pit bulls, and are not available for sale to the public. The Working pit bull site will show you everything you need to know about pit bull care, pit bull feeding, pit bull training, pit bull springpole, pit bull breeding, pit bull jenni, gamebred pit bulls, game bred pit bulls, pit bull dog fighting - something we are very much against - pit bull rescue, pit bull puppies, how to raise and train a pit bull to be a pet. Our pit bulls are specifically bred to be police K9 sniffer or narcotics and bomb detection dogs so that they will be a useful working dog in the future.
Fighting for dominance is common to all dogs of all breeds. Large livestock guardian breeds are used in the middle East for dog fights. Photo courtesty of the AP.

The Bored, Restless,
Unemployed Dog


Dogs from a variety of backgrounds bite. Often our perception is that only large, fierce, guardian type dogs bite, but this is simply not true. Labs, springier, cockers and sheepdogs are always near the top of lists detailing reported bites. Most dog breeds were developed for work - a job. In order to perform this work they were selectively bred for strong "drives", sometimes called instincts. These drives are a genetic predisposition to perform certain actions. This explains why sheepdogs tend to "heel" people (that is direct their bites toward the lower legs) because this is the area on a sheep that they must nip while herding. This trait has been selectively bred for.

Huskys and Malamutes are working dogs with a very short history as pets. While normally gentle dogs, they are also possessed of strong prey drives which have allowed them to survive in the harshest environment on earth - the arctic. Because of this they tend to kill and eat a wide variety of things, some more appropriate than others. They are notorious stock killers. What many people do not realize is that this same strong survival drive reduces their ability to discern between appropriate and inappropriate prey items. Huskies and Malamutes have, for many years, been responsible for the majority of human child dog bite fatalities. Unlike other breeds, they most often are involved in the act of consuming their victims.

The bulldogs and mastiff families of dogs, of which the Rottweiler and pit bull are currently popular examples, were bred to assist hunters with large game, and later butchers, in the cattle yards. Their job was to grip and hold the massive animals for their masters. For this work dogs were selected which developed great strength, courage and a strong determination to hold their grip. A few of these same dogs, when encouraged by irresponsible owners to turn their strength and courage against humans, have tarnished the otherwise noble reputations of these outstanding working dogs.

Another - important - factor in why dogs bite, is frustration and inappropriate confinement. Many jurisdictions do not require, or do not enforce, common sense confinement laws which require that an owner keep their dog strictly confined to their property unless they are present and in control of the animal. Obviously these uncontrolled dogs cause the majority of bites. However, inappropriate confinement can cause problems as well.

Keeping a dog is a responsibility, and something which should not be undertaken without preparation and thought. An appropriate area must be devised for the animal to be kept when it is not with the family. A kennel, well fenced yard or tether are appropriate. The dog should have room to move about freely, drink, relieve itself and move into protection from the weather. Confined in this way, a family pet is comfortable and safe while unattended by its owner. However, confining a dog to a kennel or tether for extended periods of time, or worse yet, a shipping crate, can cause the dog to become frustrated. This will often result in nuisance barking and pent up stress which can be expressed as aggressive behavior.

Lack of hard exercise on a regular basis is another important contributor to canine aggression. Dogs require regular exercise, and mental stimulation as well. Many urban and suburban homes simply do not offer a dog an adequate outlet for both physical and mental energy. Responsible owners must often make a concerted effort to provide their pets with surrogate "work" which will help to relieve the stress of confinement.




 
 
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