An understanding of canine body language could have prevented an incident at the White House last week.
As the Obamas prepare to move out of the White House, the human family members aren't the only ones feeling the strain. Sunny, the family's four-year-old Portuguese Water Dog, reportedly bit one of Malia Obama's teenaged friends when she was over visiting last week.
According to the NY Daily News, the teen was bending down to kiss Sunny when the dog lashed out and left a half-inch gash under her eye. The girl was seen by the Obama's family doctor, who determined she needed stitches.
The incident isn't the first and won't be the last example of how little people understand about canine behavior and body language. A language barrier keeps dogs from using words, but that doesn't mean they don't communicate. Dogs tell us when they're happy, when they're stressed, and if we pay attention, they let us know when they're about to bite.
According to The Pet Professional Guild, dogs use body language to convey feelings about certain situations. Heavy panting, yawning when not tired, scratching when not itchy, and turning their head away are only a few examples on a long list of canine avoidance behaviors.
When dogs do these things, it's important to intervene and redirect the situation. It happens when children are overly excited to pet the dog, when someone wants the dog to do something they don't want to do, and as Sunny proved, when teenagers invade their personal space without permission. The signs aren't always as obvious as growling or snapping. Sometimes they're subtle, but they shouldn't be ignored.
Doggone Safe, an organization that educates people about dog bite safety, states that the majority of dog bite incidents aren't random. Dogs show aggression when they're protecting something, when they're frightened, or as a last straw act when someone isn't picking up on their other warning signs.
Dogs behave similarly to humans in this way. People can only tolerate so much before the stress and anxiety become too much handle. Humans let their tempers flare when they're annoyed, frustrated, and stressed, and so do dogs.
Dogs rarely, however, deliver a full bite. As with Sunny, they open their mouths without closing their jaws on flesh. These warning bites leave behind a singular scratch, but a full bite will have puncture wounds from both the top and bottom teeth. Both kinds of bites can be painful, but a dog delivering a warning is still in control. They usually relax once the message has been sent and received.
Whether the dog is a stray or a member of the First Family, understanding their body language is an essential part of dog bite safety. It's important to respect their space and understand that their patience is limited. The combined pressures of a transitioning environment and an unfamiliar person invading her space pushed Sunny to do something that may seem out of character, but was actually completely predictable.
Sunny has no history of aggression and has frequently been seen socializing with White House visitors without incident. White House Press Secretary Josh Ernest said during a press briefing on Friday:
"Bo and Sunny have been genuine ambassadors to the American people. They've represented themselves and their country quite well."
What do you think about what Sunny did? Let us know in the comments.
All images via Bo and Sunny: The Obama Dogs/Facebook
WATCH NOW: 10 Strangest Presidential Pets