dog bite with no warning signs

Dog bite with No warning signs

Dog bite with No warning signs?

Each week, as many of you know, I consult with many dog owners who are reacting to their dogs behaviour. This often means that there has been a dog bite with no warning signs, and they need help.

You know, in 99.9% of the cases, it’s not true that there were no warning signs, it’s just that they occur at times when the dogs owner wasn’t paying attention or they simply did not connect the warning sign with the behaviour they are facing now. In that other 0.1%, it usually is a case in which the dogs owner has been aware of the behaviour and has attempted to stop the dog from displaying the behaviour but only successfully punished out the warning signals.

So you see, when a person tells me there was a dog bite with no warning signs, they either missed them or have extinguished them through a poorly thought out behaviour modification program.

Why do dogs bite?

There are only two true ways (IMO) that dogs communicate, this is through either reinforcement and or body language. In all dog bites the dog is trying to communicate with the one they were biting.

Communicate that they were frightened, sore, anxious or in some cases the dog was protecting space or another resource like food, a toy or a place. Knowing this, it makes perfect sense to me that these dogs need to be taught how to behave appropriately or perhaps have some adjustments made to their expectations.

Here is an example; I worked with a dog recently who would guard a lounge chair that he had become used to sleeping in. If he was on this chair and you walked into the room, he would instantly look away.

So there is warning sign number one, he was reacting to a person walking into the room.

Take a step toward him and he would adjust his position on the chair, then another step would trigger growling and lip licking and he would then bare his teeth.

This dog had bitten the owner for trying to get him off the couch. Breaking eye contact, reposition, growling, baring teeth and licking lips were happening every time but yet I was told there had been a “dog bite with no warning signs.”

Another example was a dog that just attacked another dog out of the blue. The dog was taken to dog park a few times a week, on entering the dog would roll on its back when approached by any dog. Then one day just attacked? for no reason…

dog bite with no warning signs
These dogs are playing, body language can be deceiving.

We all know dogs love going for a walk and the dog park right? WRONG.

Just as some dogs are food motivated, some are not. Some dogs love getting out of the house but once out your front gate are nervous, anxious dogs that have concluded that they will need to fight to survive.

The dog in my dog park example above was excited to have the leash fitted and was delighted to bounce down the hallway of the house and out the front door.

That enthusiasm declined fast the moment the dog walked out the front gate, and concern took over. Once we hit the corner and the dog park was across the road, the dog would pull on leash, dart left and right.

On entering the park the dog was really anxious and when a dog approached it, would throw appeasing signals at the other dog and throw itself onto its back, finally urinating all over itself.

In nearly all cases the other dog would race off looking for fun but when it hung around or stood over the clients dog, out came a flurry of noise and teeth snapping. Another dog bite with no warning signs…

Not everyone is a master of reading dog body language and those of us that can may not be paying attention, and that is o.k, but if your dog is prone to displaying undesirable behaviours around people or dogs, perhaps avoid them until you have a plan.

Practice makes ? —- no, not perfect, permanent. Dogs don’t grow out of behaviour problems, they reinforce those behaviours through repetition.

Some dogs are screaming out for help and when we don’t hear these calls for help, they get replaced with more assertive behaviours. These behaviours will often attract punishment from the owners.

Imagine being a dog in this situation…

If you have a dog that has some undesirable behaviours, try running through these 5 questions in your head: –

1. Is your aggressive dog being dominant? If you answered “yes”, try taking out the dominance label and what else could it be? What does your dogs body language tell you?

2. Is your dog anxious? What does that actually mean? If you don’t know what it means you probably should not label the problem, get some help.

3. Your dog loves playing with other dogs right? Does he or she really like it? Or are they just battling through like a child that gets bullied at school. Not every bullied child hates going to school, many just hate the interaction with bullies.

4. Don’t dogs need consequences for their actions? I find it really helpful to look at the reason why a behaviour is occurring rather than attacking that behaviour. If I stop a dog reacting to other dogs but the dog is still fearful, what tools have I given the dog to deal with other dogs?

5. What have you done? Your interactions with your dog may total 10 000 in a day, if you change just one thing in an attempt to modify your dogs behaviour, your dog may not notice. Behaviour Modification programs I write require quite a bit of change or we might not get noticed, no notice = no change.

If you need help with your dog perhaps we can help, this page can help explain how, or you even may benefit from starting with a Phone Consultation.

There are very few dogs that can’t be improved upon, I bet your dog isn’t one of them.

As always, we love to hear your feedback below and feel free to share this article.

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  1. We recently adopted a male min pin a week ago. He was neutered a few days after we adopted him. He is about a yr and a half. He had tried biting me 9 times now and our 18 yr old daughter 5 times. All of the times there were warning signs except 2 times. He had no issues with this prior to the surgery. The surgery has been 3days ago. No episodes yesterday. Today he tried to bite while we were on the couch. He was laying beside me and I was pretting his head. He lifted his head slow, looked at me and lunged at my hand. I made him get down off the couch right away and have since ignored him.

  2. I like to say interesting artical, I have a 4 year old Male Dob, I have 1 acre as do my other neighbours. My property is cut in half with a 1.2m fence, My 3 neighbours have Dogs a big square and all dog start barking in the middle corners where all yards meet. Now When all this has started I had Locked my dog under the House Pergola to have control on my dog for the last 2-3 years every day morning and afternoon these other 5 dog 2 dogs in 2 yards and 1 in the other. So in the 3 yards the 5 Dogs go at it up and down the fence-line continuous barking and carrying on. The other day I let my Boy out after feeding him and for some exercise and the Dogs in the corner Started their thing running up and down the Fence-line when my boy seen and heard this he amazed me and just Jumped and cleared the fence ( My partition )and ran to where this was happening, They started being aggressive through the Dog Wire fence the borders the neighbours yard he then stopped and ran over the others neighbours yard and there dog ran towards him being aggressive he turned around and had a 2 second altercation with this other dog Left 2 puncture mark on this other dog as to say ( I want to play Not Fight) There was NO Lock on or anything other aggression. Just one Bite and that was that. No real aggression with my dog to other dog just a 2 second thing and he stopped. I managed to control him straight away and take him home. Now my dog watches and hears these other 5 Dogs doing this every day for the last few years. My question Why did my dog Bite His Dog and just stop. Was it just a warning to the other dog. I have had Dogs a long time have seen dog fight and they Lock on and hard to separate. Do you have any answers for me.

  3. Hi Steve,

    Great article. We have a 5-year-old lab mix who we rescued as a puppy. He has been well socialized both on and off leash and frequents dog parks and a daycare completely without issue.

    In the past, we have seen aggressive behavior only with another dog in our house and only when he was protecting his food. We remove the food – no aggression (as long as the dogs were first introduced outside the house).

    A short time ago, he got free and attacked another dog who was walking on a leash. While he has escaped before, it was always without incident even with other dogs around. I did not see what happened and what led to the attack, but it nearly impossible for me to remove him.

    Recently, we were out for a walk and came across another dog. Both leashed. We both agreed to let the dogs sniff and almost immediately he latched onto the other dog. I saw no warning signs and may have been guilty of correcting those in the past but he simply never exhibited any aggression outside before. He encounters several dogs daily and still does daycare, but this is the second incident this month, the first ever while leashed, and I’m unsure where to start for help. We are thinking the vet first?

  4. Hi Steve,

    I have had 3 incidents with my 2yr old male beagle. I moved back home with my family after having him alone in my apartment for 1yr, and now we live with the them who already have 2 male dogs. They have an 11 yr old beagle and 3yr old French bulldog. Both of which get a long very well.

    My dog and I have lived there for about 3 months now with no problem, but recently my dog has been attacking both of the other two. I think it is a territory/food issue. First of all 3 attacks were in my and my dog’s room…he sleeps in my room, eats there, and all his toys are kept there. One time he was being fed and the other beagle entered the room and he attacked with seemingly no warning (a little stiffened posture, but there was no time to stop before he lunged). Our other dog had to get stitches because he almost ripped our other dogs ear off… The second time was over a toy in that same room. Again straight for the ear, but got him off in time. The other dog bled a little, but no serious scratches/puncture wounds. The third time, we were in the backyard and my dog found a fig (from a fig tree in the yard). He was eating it when the bulldog tried to take it, and he attacked. Again scratches on the ear, but I ended it before it got potentially more serious. He doesn’t give enough warning time for me to intervene so I don’t know how to help. I try to avoid these situations as much as possible. Keep the other dogs out of my room all the time (might be counter productive?) and keep them separate at feedings.

    I want to note that I take my dog to the park very often, and he is actually very submissive. He runs away from bigger dogs and gets scared with aggressive play. He’s also never lunged at a random dog – he’s super friendly. He’s also never lunged at a human. I could take food or a toy away from him so easily and still do it often to try and remind him not to be possessive.

    I’m hoping for tips or training that might help… I am scared this will start to move away from just the dogs at home and to outside people or dogs OR that one of our family dogs will get more seriously injured.

    Any help is appreciated…

  5. Hello Steve,

    I just found your website looking for these keywords.. our 1.5 year old Malinois bit me with no warning signs. Not exactly, but a strange behaviour.

    We have a big van and camp in it during weekends and holidays. Now on our return home from a relaxed walk downtown the dog started getting all excited when he sees the van and wants to enter. We did not have the keys with us so could not open. He pulls so hard my girlfriend looses the leash. I step in and want to get him by his leash. The dog bites me in 3 places with the last bite in my fore arm, pretty deep and very painful.

    I have to say the situation in the van is completely change lately. The dog became very possessive about the 2-seater in the middle of the van, his throne where he travels and sleeps. Until recently we could just sit next to him, now he is becoming a dictator in anything in or around the van and we are afraid of being bitten, trapped inside such a small space. My girlfriend was anti-dog-cage until the incident yesterday. We bought a cage today, hopefully he will accept his new kennel without issues.

    Unfortunately we have more behaviour and aggression problems with the dog, it is not the first time he has bitten me, although most of the time they where just “warnings” in situations around food, places or him being tyred.
    Fact is I fear my dog more and more now and notice he just smells this. I am worried things will become worse, like they usually do.

    The dog has had a nice puppyhood with no problems. He has loads of time with us, running and walks and trips. – But something changed lately, even though aggression around his food has always been there though, from day one.

    We called the breeder lady but where told we are incapable to handle the dog and should return him. I was shocked to hear that she told my girlfriend we should hit the dog so hard he fears us. I am totally against this because violence returns into more violence. The husband of the breeder is a well known trainer here with international successes in the past. They breed lines of working dogs and now tells she regrets having sold us the dog.

    We where thinking about an e-collar to train him not to be aggressive in certain situations but I think this will again only return in more aggression.


    • Thanks for your comment, you will neede to source a great trainer to help you with this dog. I would not want him to fear me, nor would I hit him.

      An e collar will not fix your dog but it may be a useful tool in helping him, but only if you learn how to use it properly.

      The basic advice is find a great trainer 🙂

  6. Hi Steve I have a 4 yr old blue staffy cross that I got from the pound and is a great cuddly lovable dog and gets alone great with my 1 yr old brown staffy there was one fight over a treat once but that’s it but he is aggressive to other dogs and did attack my mums little dog I tried to get him off and was bitten in the process and every dog he sees even if they are behind a fence or glass he will try and attack biting at them he gives no warning signs before hand either

    • Hi, there, if you read the article you will see that there are warning signs, you may just not know what they are.

      It would also pay you to learn how to break up a dog fight so that you can avoid being bitten again.

      Your dog should be assessed by a behaviourist to find out what is going on and what options there are for treating him.

  7. Well, I’m your typical dog owner….my Weimaraner Wilson (7 years) …not food interested. Good dog, love to jog with, and easy to live with. I have another puppy Doberman Sam. Feeding time is easy, no dog fights…I feel I have control in the house. Wilson was socialised when he was a puppy, but about the age of 2 years…got attacked in the Romaine Reserve (the other dog’s lead broke) and he went for Wilson, who was sitting beside me on the lead. Wilson won the encounter. The next day walking Wilson past the same house, the same dog, jumped the fence and attacked Wilson. Then the exact same thing happened at the school, another dog (off the lead) attacked Wilson again…lol. Shit happens. Wilson, since those encounters, has always baked at other dogs on the lead…I have always seem to manage it, by making him sit or submitting him. Since we have brought a new dog in the house…I used to jog Wilson first, then come back and get Sam and take her for her walk. Lately, there was a brown dog that always barked at Wilson, and Wilson barked back…Game on! I Watched an episode of Cesear Milan, where he made the person sit the dog and stand in front…so I tried this….Wilson bite me, trying to get to the other dog on the other side of the road. Shit it hurt…I kept running, until I got home. I went and bought a muzzle…horrible thing. Now, Wilson hates the muzzle so doesn’t come running anymore but stays asleep in bed. No biggy, I take Sam. But, now I try and take Wilson at lunch time, cause there aren’t many dogs around. I am now scared…I bought a e-collar but am not sure when to use it. I can feel Wilson getting agitated when he sees another dog and he sticks his chest out and tenses up..I really don’t know what to do. A dog trainer told me to use a clicker, and food, but he isn’t interested in food. If other dogs bark at him behind fences, no problem, or in cars, no problem. If dogs come visited that he knows, no problem. Once, a greyhound that walked on the other side of the road, walked past, Wilson was okay, then the dog cocked his leg….Wilson had a melt down….I really struggled to hold him. Other ppl are scared too because Wilson is bigger than me…he weights 40 kilos…and I am only 5 foot and probably only weight 56 kilos. I believe in excersing my dogs and always have done….it’s just this walking thingo with Wilson when we see another dog….I know I have lost control, but really don’t know how to get it back. Wilson, is not an aggressive dog, but he is a charger at other dogs….once, he got off the lead and charged at another dog, but didn’t fight…just charged. Sorry I have rambled on. How do I stop this fear that I have developed and get Wilson under control please? ps my partner, has the same problem with Wilson too…it doesn’t worry him….cause he is 6 foot and strong and can hold him, but Peter doesn’t believe in much excersing for dogs.

    • Hi Helen, I would probably make a few points that might help you understand Wilson and get better results. The first being that Wilson didnt win that fight, no dog wins a fight, one dog gets hurt and the other dog learns he can be hurt or hurt others.

      You mentioned you watched an episode of Cesar and… The CM show is for entertainment not education, would be like me watching ER and operating on my kids.

      To use a muzzle you need to condition the dog to wearing a muzzle or yes they will hate it.

      The e collar is a good tool but not for this situation, you cannot learn by video how to modify behaviour. The clicker is a good tool but you said that he was not food motivated, so how are you rewarding?

      The best advice I can give you is seek help of an experienced Behaviourist, get them to work with you to rehabilitate your dog. Jumping from one technique to another and one tool to another will only make your dog more unstable.

  8. Hi,

    Great article! We have a JRT/ACD with dog problems on lead, is selective of what dogs he can get along with, could be described as dominant but I think a lot of it is insecurity. I have given him another focus – me (through treats, distance & play). We avoid other dogs on walks and only socialise where he is comfortable and known dogs. He is also doing obedience classes purely so he can learn to be around other dogs without reacting. You have no idea how proud I am when he does a 3 min down stay right next to the dog he has issues with (generally big dogs). I am also so proud to say that I am brave enough to enter him in CCD soon as he has completed a whole class off lead. His enthusiasm for working with me and trying 110% all the time is truly amazing. If he were in a different situation and allowed to just run at the dog park, sure he would bite. He wouldn’t back down but I don’t let that happen. I believe he is happy and have noticed a much more relaxed dog on walks too who will ignore dogs who are far enough away. The future holds Obedience, Rally-O & Agility!

    • Good on you Ellen, well done!

    • Hi there!
      We have 3 dogs, one who is newer to us.. we adopted him from a rescue a little over a year ago… He is great with adults, I have taken him to agility, do daily basic training, have my child do basic training… the works! I also run a boarding kennel and daycare on my property… when we first adopted him my 9 year old child bumped him while he was sleeping and he jumped up and bit her in the lip in an instance. We then made sure all training, feeding etc was done by her so they could bond. He was doing really well until he got into the garbage one day.. our daughter told him to “leave it” and he walked over and level 3 bit her knee then went back to the garbage. … no bites for months and months after that. He does however, chase cats and will try to bite them.. we have 3 so now we keep them separated and the cats aren’t allowed in the main house which isn’t ideal. I have always had a multi pet household. We also adopted a senior mastiff who needed a home, all was well.. until it wasn’t. Ross our “problem dog” and the Mastiff got into a very severe brawl and both were injured with punctures on their faces. Not serve place on the body but the fight was severe… it happened again a few months later and we decided to send back the mastiff and chalk it up to a foster situation that wasn’t a good fit for our current animals. Since then all has been ok.. our problem dog does have some separation anxiety, he jumps fences, cannot be trusted with dogs but does do very well with controlled on leash intros… he is bomb proof when taken to stores in town, and loves to learn new tricks. Another issue is he has an unhealthy attachment to me and will and has peed on my bed if I haven’t taken him with me for an outing… I am busy so sometimes they stay inside at home. Fast forward to this morning.. my daughter had a friend over who my problem dog was fine with at first and has met before.. but he bit him in the arm. The child was just walking to the bathroom and the dog walk up, bit his arm level 3, and walked away. There was a mark, there was some blood. That is 3 times he has bitten a child. I have worked with some trainers in the passed… but after today I am seriously considering euthanasia. He is a pit bull staffy mix of sorts.. which doesn’t help his case unfortunately… he is so good in a lot of ways.. but the ways he isn’t, are so very serious. I do wish I could have the cats come into the house, not be on the dog 100% of the time to make sure he is contained from jumping fences, isn’t around children, cats, etc.. it is just very difficult to even think about. Do you have any thoughts on this matter? We do not have any laws here about “dangerous dogs” or three bite rules deemed for euthanasia. So I just need some help to make this decision. Re homing doesn’t seem responsible with all of his issues, and sending him back to the rescue isn’t ideal either.

      • Hi Mandy, what immediately stands out is that there are a lot of opportunities for this to bite and re bite. I suggest there is a resource issue with your son and the dog, which needs to be identified and rectified.

        This dog can likely be safe but the current system isn’t enough to remove biting opportunities and they happen when ever the right combination of triggers assemble.

        I would recommend some professional help.

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