Leading Cause of Dog Bites – Owner Denial!

by Camilla Gray-Nelson

owner-denialAs we move into summer and the month of June “National Dog Bite Month” approaches, I think back years ago to when I was hired as a freelance writer to pen an article on Dog Bite Prevention for the National Safety Council. In the process I interviewed several top dog training and behavioral experts of the day. One of my questions to them was this: “In your opinion, what is the leading cause of dog bites?” One answer left me speechless…

I was speechless because as a dog trainer and behavior consultant, myself, the expert’s answer was so unexpected, yet so SPOT ON. His answer? “Owner denial”. Yes. The #1 cause of dog bites is OWNER DENIAL!

Dogs are dogs. They will always act as dogs, whether they are living in our home, or out in the wild. We must respect them for the animals that they are and the inherent danger they pose. That’s what should be, but here is what IS: Dog owners seem to be locked in “Lassie Syndrome”, believing that dogs are, instead, loyal and benign creatures that live to protect and serve their human families. Lassie would NEVER hurt Timmy! Lulled by this Hollywood depiction of dogs, when their puppy growls at a stranger in real life, they pass it off by saying, “Oh, he just needs a little socialization”. When the family dog air-snaps toward their child, they blame the child for frightening the dog or defend the dog by saying “but he didn’t break skin”. If their dog growls at them when they walk too close to his food bowl, they blame themselves for not giving the dog his privacy.

YIKES!! Talk about lost in translation!  A dog growls, barks or snaps, he is telling you something! He’s saying, “Back off or I’ll do something more serious”. His message, however, falls on deaf ears if his owner and family are in denial – if they don’t want to believe there’s a problem or have been convinced that dogs are something they are not. Owners deny the obvious, continue in the behavior, and the dog – out of desperation – finally BITES. The real tragedy here is not just that a child, family member or innocent bystander is injured, but that the dog who tried his best to warn them, meets a more tragic fate.

Let’s all resolve to understand and respect dogs, listen to them and act responsibly around them. If and when you see even the tiniest hint of aggression, don’t brush it off or deny what you saw – seek professional advice. You may save your family heartache AND your dog’s life.



About Camilla Gray-Nelson

When I started training dogs professionally, it was women who sought out my help. Responsibility for the family dog typically falls to them, after all. Their homes were in chaos; they were yelling at their dogs – and their kids – and couldn’t control either one. The life skills of personal power that I learned as a child (and assumed everyone else had, too), turned out to be rare among my clients. Since that time, it has been my personal goal to share Nature’s message of quiet power with women (and men) everywhere to help them become more effective not only with their dogs, but in their greater lives as well.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Deborah Halbert April 26, 2010 at 9:21 pm

Amen Diva! Unfortunately it’s never about the dog. I see this so often at the dog park and it’s just a matter of time…Thanks for bringing this to our attention!

Camilla April 27, 2010 at 7:25 am


Glad I struck a chord. Living safely with dogs begins with understanding them. It’s why I started this blog, so encourage your friends with dogs to subscribe to Dog Talk Diva. Every post should offer insight into what dogs are, how they think, and how we can live safely and happily with them.


a June 20, 2014 at 1:48 am

There is certainly a great deal to find out about this topic.
I love all the points you made.

Camilla Gray-Nelson June 20, 2014 at 8:42 am

Thank you for reading. Share the link with your friends, especially those with small children or grandkids.


Jeana May 28, 2015 at 4:53 pm

Thank you for this! Our dog has shown aggressive behaviors in the past that we have felt with and have been able to avoid instances since then. We are concerned now because our dog doesn’t enjoy socializing with other dogs ( on leashes or off leash). She just wants to be with people. Are there ways to “socialize” a Five year old golden retriever to enjoy being around other dogs? We don’t want there to be any aggressive conflicts with other animals.

Camilla Gray-Nelson May 29, 2015 at 4:26 pm

Hi, Jeana:

We cannot change a dog’s personality by forcing him into social situations that they are telling us they do not enjoy (!) Liking all other dogs is NOT necessarily normal. The “original” dog did NOT trust or enjoy the company of unfamiliar dogs; they lived in familial packs of related dogs and were wired to distrust dogs that they do not know well. Dogs did not have visitors; they had intruders.

Today’s dogs either welcome or distrust dogs outside their familiar circle, and if they are the latter, no amount of “socialization” and exposure is going to change that. It’s how they are wired. In fact, forcing a non-social dog to face and interact with unfamiliar, untrusted dogs actually can make their antisocial behavior worse!

Listen to what your dog has been telling you for 5 years: “I don’t like new dogs. I want to be with YOU and know that I am safe.”

It will be a huge burden off your shoulders and a huge relief to your girl.

Please read my blog post: Fish and Other Dogs: Sometimes they just don’t like them! It deals with the limits of socialization.

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