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Paying attention to dogs' body language can avert attacks

Dogs certainly have a special place in many homes here in Illinois. Whether they are considered treasured family members in their own right or workers with important jobs to do, there is no doubt that dogs of all breeds play important roles in people's lives.

But that is not to say that owning a dog does not come with its own set of responsibilities that go far beyond their care and feeding. Owners must be held accountable when their canine companions lose control and bite someone.

Learn to read dogs' body language

Most dogs are not vicious in the least — but any animal with teeth can bite and maim. That's why it's important that you learn how to interpret a dog's body language to deflect an attack. It's easy to tell that a snarling, growling dog is poised to attack, but not all dogs show their intentions so clearly.

The following signs are indicators that a dog is uncomfortable and could potentially attack.

  • Widespread stance. The dog tries to make itself appear larger by spreading its paws. It may stretch itself forward and closer to a potential target.
  • Straight, stiffened tail. The tail may wag or quiver slowly from side to side.
  • Ears alert and forward. An alert dog pricks up its ears automatically. An aggressive dog often splays its ears out in a widened "V" formation.
  • Wrinkled nose, curled lips. While some non-aggressive dogs will "smile" goofily, there is nothing funny about most dogs' show of teeth. This is especially true when coupled with a wrinkled muzzle, as it means the dog may lunge and bite.

Beware of fearful dogs

Even the most sweet-tempered pup will bite and lash out in fear if cornered, threatened or if it is in pain. Look carefully at the dog's eyes. Do you see a sliver of white crescent at the corners or on top? If this portion of the sclera is showing, it's known as "whale eye" and indicates the dog is acutely uncomfortable with the situation and may bite from fear.

Give a wide berth to a mother and pups

This is just common sense, as mothers of all species will fiercely protect their young. Children must be taught at a young age to never, ever approach a mother dog during the birthing process or afterward around her litter of puppies.

This is even true when the mother dog is part of the family and has never shown aggressive tendencies. Some dogs will let their owners handle their pups, but many won't, especially if they fear a child might harm them.

If you are bitten

Seek medical attention for dog bites; if the skin is broken an infection could result. If the owner of the dog can be identified, it may be possible to pursue legal action against them and/or the homeowner's insurance policy holder for your damages and injuries.

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