Behavioral problems

My Dog Has Bitten Me and Broken the Skin

Marta SarasĂșa
By Marta SarasĂșa, Psychologist. Updated: January 30, 2024
My Dog Has Bitten Me and Broken the Skin

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Dogs will bite for various reasons, but there is an important distinction to make when determining the cause. Firstly, we have to look at whether the dog has recently been adopted or if they have lived with you for a long time. We also need to look at whether the dog was provoked or if the bite came out of nowhere. A dog's actions have reasons behind them, even if we are unable to understand them. This means understanding both canine communication and the context in which the bite took place.

Despite this need for context, we cannot allow dogs to bite their guardians or any other person. This nis especially the case if they draw blood. When the injury is sufficiently bad, it can mean the dog legally needs to be euthanized. At AnimalWised, we ask why my dog has bitten me and broken the skin?

  1. Intensity of a dog's bite
  2. Why has my dog bit me?
  3. What to do fi a bog bites and breaks your skin

Intensity of a dog's bite

When dogs are puppies, they will go through something known as the socialization period. During this time, they interact and play with their littermates and mother. Eventually, this period of socialization will spill over to the time after they are adopted by a human guardian and it will continue. Although the early stages of development are most important, it doesn't mean you can't socialize an adult dog.

One of the main practical boundaries they learn is bite inhibition. When play fighting, the puppies will bite down hard and their littermates and/or mother will quickly reprimand them. They will eventually learn what is a playful bite and what is too violent.

After a puppy begins to live with their human guardians, we may think we should stop biting behavior altogether. This is not the case. Dogs do not have hands with which they can manipulate and explore their environment. Using their mouth, they will bite for various helpful purposes. With proper bite inhibition, a dog can bite us as a sign of affection, to get our attention or to convey some other emotion in a healthy way.

Biting us out of anger, fear or any aggressive emotion is not the same as exploratory biting. However, it is important to note that a bite is very rarely the first recourse of a dog. Before a bite occurs, the dog will likely give various calming signals in an attempt to deescalate a situation. These calming signals are part of their body language and include the following:

  • Yawning
  • Licking hands of the person
  • Turning their head away
  • Walking in circles
  • Stretching out
  • Lying with their belly up

When a guardian ignores these calming signals, it means the dog has to resort to aggression. This includes biting. Part of the problem for a guardian is that we either do not recognize the signals or do not understand that our actions are antagonizing.

Even if we have reached the point where the dog will bite us, a bite that breaks a skin will usually be an extreme situation. This is because there are different levels of dog bites. Biting or barking to warn us not to antagonize us any further are usually used like a warning shot, i.e. they are not intended to cause damage. For this reason, we need to understand why the dog is biting.

Why has my dog bit me?

As stated above, one of the main reasons dogs bite their guardians is because the latter do not recognize or respect calming signals. It is unlikely your dog actually wants to harm you, but they want to convey something to you and biting is their last resort. Here are some of the main reasons a dog will bite you and break the skin::

  • Fear: fear is one of the main causes for aggression in dogs. A frightened dog feels threatened and may not see any route for escape. in these cases, their natural instincts will kick in and they will bite to maintain their own security. When they are sufficiently scared, they may bite enough to break the skin. Fear is engendered by many factors, including a lack of socialization, traumatic experiences, neglect or even poor education.

  • Pain: a dog that is in a lot of pain can bite their guardian if they are disturbed or manipulated. This is especially the case if they are aggressive or scared all of a sudden. Unfortunately, dogs are good at hiding their pain. A guardian may not recognize signs of pain in the dog and keep touching them, unwittingly causing them harm. In this case, the dog may bite to stop us or prevent being hurt further. It is vital we go to a veterinarian to determine the cause of the pain.

  • Frustration and stress: frustration can arise in the dog for various reasons. There might be a change in their routine, a change in the home, not being given enough attention or not being given the right kind of attention. Poor education and a lack of understanding of canine communication are also important factors. Biting which breaks the skin usually means their stress is acute.

  • Defense: a dog does not usually bite a guardian offensively. There is also the possibility that the animal is simply defending themselves from a potential threat from which it cannot escape. For example, a dog might bite another dog because they feel threatened. This happens even if the pain is only perceived, but not actually present.

  • Aggression: a dog can also bite due to an aggressive character in certain contexts or towards certain individuals. Aggressiveness has both genetic and an environmental components, so there are many factors that must be taken into account when determining the degree of aggressiveness of an animal.

  • Play: all dogs play by biting each other and this is completely normal behavior. This is explained in our previous section concerning bite inhibition. However, a dog can simply get too excited and bite a little too hard. If they break the skin and we react badly, they will likely stop and show concern. However, it is rare for a dog which has learned bite inhibition to forget or neglect it.

  • Resource guarding: this happens when a dog is overly protective of something or someone. If a dog is insecure and we move towards a toy, accessory, food or other resource, they may think we are trying to take it away from them and bite to prevent it. Often, dogs attack other dogs or people when with their guardian because they perceive them as a threat and want to protect their kin. This often happens in dogs which have been taught to be aggressive for purposes of defense or as an attack dog, even if they have are otherwise docile with their own family.

  • Reflex reaction: dogs sometimes bite unintentionally as a result of a reflex action. For example, if your dog is sleeping and you approach to touch them, they may become startled and bite reflexively. This is an accidental type of biting and will occur more in dogs which are particularly sensitive or easily frightened.

Each dog is different and two different animals in the same context can have totally different reactions depending on their character, genetic heritage, education, socialization and life experiences, among many other factors.

My Dog Has Bitten Me and Broken the Skin - Why has my dog bit me?

What to do fi a bog bites and breaks your skin

If your dog has bitten you and broken the skin, they will usually back away and stop an attack. If they keep attacking you, you will have to defend yourself physically, but this is uncommon. In most cases, you will have to remain calm and remove yourself from the situation. Do not get overly upset or immediately try to punish the animal.

When the dog is aggressive and maintains an attack, you will need to get yourself and others to safety. You may need to hide or call for help.

In the majority of cases, the dog will bite due to misunderstandings or neglect of calming signals. In this case, the dog will likely have made their point and retreat. Scolding them or moving closer to punish will only make them think we have not heeded their warning and may bite again.

If the dog has bitten you and drawn blood, wash the wound well with saline or sterilized water. If you do not know the dog, go to a medical center. Although very unlikely, it is possible the dog will be rabid and you may need a rabies vaccine. If the dog is otherwise healthy, you should be able to perform first aid, although go to the doctor if the bite is sufficiently bad.

Once the situation has calmed down, analyze what happened. The incident may have occurred accidentally or the dog may have acted entirely voluntarily. Think about what you were doing just before the bite and if your dog was giving you any kind of warning they were uncomfortable. This is very important, as it will help you avoid future attacks and will help you better understand your dog's behavior.

If a dog bites you and breaks the skin, it is a serios incident. You will need to determine whether the dog is a danger to yourself or others. If you think the dog may be dangerous, you will need to speak to a canine ethologist. They will be able to assess the dog and determine the best course of action. They may be able to implement training methods to help stop a bit happening in the future. They can also assess the level of danger the dog provides.

If you want to read similar articles to My Dog Has Bitten Me and Broken the Skin, we recommend you visit our Behavioral problems category.

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My Dog Has Bitten Me and Broken the Skin