a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: Does Your Dog Bite?

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Does Your Dog Bite?

SUMMARY: Responding to strangers in the Real World.

Reading posts on three other blogs (Days of Speed, Agility Nerd, dog-li-ness) about encounters with less clueful people and their dogs, I am reminded of a recent incident involving mere humans and not even dogs at all, except mine.

I've always been irritated by the first question that many people say upon seeing my dogs: "Do your dogs bite?" Are they planning on attacking me and want to know whether they're safe to do so? Are they planning on attacking my dogs? Do they think I'm walking my killer dogs around on leash and am planning on releasing them suddenly as soon as I espy a likely looking human victim?

For years, I've just said, "No," because none of my dogs ever bit anyone for any reason, except Jake, whose first reaction when someone stepped on his tail (which was often) or crowded in closely to him in a very confined area was to whip around and grab the nearest ankle. He broke the skin a couple of times when we first got him. We really worked hard on adjusting that tendency, but he never completely got over it.

And "No" seemed like a better answer for publicity purposes in a world where dogs seem to be more vilified and more excluded every year. Especially after the well-publicized Preso Canario murders (according to the trial verdicts) up in San Francisco a few years back. I didn't want complete strangers and non-dog people to continue thinking first thing that what dogs do is bite.

Except that somewhere in the last recent years I decided that honesty is a better policy. Because I've decided that I'd rather have people be cautious around dogs they don't know (and I'd rather be cautious around people I don't know) and the hell with good publicity. Last week I went for a walk around a shopping center. Because I was there. And it's good practice for Boost to be exposed to unfamiliar noises, sights, and smells. And it's a lovely thing for people who like dogs, because my dogs love meeting people. But one of a couple of guys hanging out by a lightpost as I approached said, first thing, "Do those dogs bite?"

Scared of these cutey wootey widdle baby puppy toofers?
Remember, this question has always annoyed me and I don't feel obligated to explain myself. So these days I usually respond the way I did this time: "Of course they do; all dogs bite." Both guys jumped back away from me and my dogs so fast it'd make your head spin. So much for good publicity. I figure that anyone ignorant and/or frightened enough so the first thing they ask is whether dogs bite is not necessarily someone I want approaching my dogs, and even more so if they can't read between the lines of my response: "All dogs bite sometimes."

And it's true--all dogs bite given the proper provocation. It's what they do. They don't have fists to hit with; they can't speak English to tell someone to back off; they don't understand the world in the same way that we do to be able to analyze whether there's really a threat that they need to respond to quickly and violently.

I'm much more agreeable with people who ask, "May I pet your dogs?" With Jake, if a small child was involved, I'd have to say, "No, sorry, he doesn't like children." But now, with these dogs, "Sure!" I say. "They'd love it!"


  1. even we're living in a different continent... but the same issue arise, the 1st question non-dog people ask us is 'do ur dog bite'..

    and unfortunately my answer is 'yes'... if a stranger decide to pat her head.

  2. I'm with you, elf. Being the owner of 3 lovely, non-biting female ROTTWEILERS(!!!) I am asked this question quite often. I used to say no, but now I find it much more helpful to use roughly the same strategy you do: "Yep, they bite. They bite their dog food, their bones, toys, flies, and sometimes their own skin... and if you're concerned about them biting you, well, if you're that uncomfortable around my dogs, why ask??? Just stay away."

  3. Yep, you have to know your own dogs and manage the public well. Cute dogs sometimes are snappish. Big strong dogs with bad reps are sometimes pussycats. That's why breed-specific legislation is just plain dumb. But I won't go there--


  4. Thank-god!! I have been looking for an article or blog post about this question because it annoys the bejesus out of me.

    In Boston, most of the city parks are dogs park in the morning and after work. People bring their dogs to the park and let them off leash for both the dogs and humans to socialize with their neighbors. I love it!

    Every once in awhile on walks, I get the "does your dog bite?" question and I still haven't come up with the perfect response, but some include:
    -Only if you're dog food
    -Does anyone answer yes to that?
    -Yep, count your fingers as you pass.

    People don't talk to one another anymore and you wonder why. All you have to do is look at the owner first and you can usually deduce what the dog's behavior is like.

  5. It is true that dogs are animals (not humans) and really don't behave the same way that humans do. I think that most "nondog" people recognize that they're different, but don't know how to deal with it.

    Still, "does your dog bite?" just isn't really the question that they want to know the answer to. Puzzling out what they really want to know ("do I have to move from where I'm standing?" "can I pet your dog?" "I have a steak in this bag, will he try to take it from me?") is maybe what really annoys me.

  6. It was helpful.Thanks for sharing.It looks great.funny dog pictures