4 min read


Why Do Dogs Attack Owners



4 min read


Why Do Dogs Attack Owners




Just recently there was a report of a woman in Virginia who died in very tragic circumstances after she was attacked by her own dogs. The victim was Bethany Stephens who was only 22 years old. Her two dogs attacked her while they were out for a walk. It is very sad to think that her very own pets would attack her, despite having raised them since they were little puppies. People who have never cared for or owned a dog have apprehension or anxiety about dog behavior about attacks and bites. Suffice it to say that it is bizarre for man’s best friend to suddenly turn on him and attack, or worse, kill him. 

The Root of the Behavior

A dog does not suddenly just develop an intention to kill his human but rather he exhibits early signs that are either not recognized or ignored by the family. It is of utmost importance to detect these early signs to avoid injuries and death. Most people who fail to detect these signs are those who have not established a clear rapport with their dogs or a good communication. So, what would make a dog turn so dramatically?

Experts say that dogs can be aggressive when they feel frightened and for most bites, the motivation is fear. Dogs, by nature, are territorial and they guard something which they value highly, and they defend their favorite resting place. Dogs can become aggressive over various things. Unlike humans, dogs do not know how to speak so we have to look at their nonverbal cues. It can be very easy to miss what they are trying to say.

In general, however, dogs do not act aggressively unless there is a trigger. According to experts, one of the possible reasons why the woman in Virginia was attacked by her own dogs is that they sensed “prey” such as a squirrel or rabbit and decided to go after it. If she interfered with the dogs while they were going after the prey, they might have redirected their aggression towards her and killed her. Usually, there is some initial aggression, the human tries to stop it and the dog reacts to that.

If you own more than one dog, it is a must to check how they behave with one another. Competitive behavior between dogs can lead to aggression which can be potentially directed to the owner. It is also important to look for signs of pain. A dog that is generally pleasant is more likely to attack if it is in pain. 

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Encouraging the Behavior

Safety begins with pet owners. Just like their relatives, which are wolves, dogs are pack animals and they are wired in a similar way. Pack mentality is the sociological structure which wolves create in order to survive. They work as a team and they have close family bonds. 

If you have ever seen a dog pulling its human on a leash instead of the other way around you must have started thinking exactly who was leading who. In this instance, the dog is taking the part of the pack leader because he has not been trained properly. As the pet owner, how can you tell if the dog sees himself as the leader of the house? A dog who thinks he is the leader of the house is difficult to control; he sits anywhere he likes, he walks ahead of you and enters the room ahead of you, he wakes up before you want to wake up, he wants to play with you all the time, and he doesn’t listen to you when you call him.

Some of these things might seem like just innocent play and might even strike pet owners as cute, but these are tell-tale signs that a leadership vacuum exists between the pet owner and the dog. A dog would not dare touch the things that belong to the alpha leader because doing so means there will be consequences. It is important for pet owners to take control with consistent and strong leadership skills so that the dog is easier to live with and train but also makes a very good pet canine, which will not react with vicious behaviors such as attacking or biting.

Other Solutions and Considerations

Always think about the children’s safety. Figures show that almost 2,000 children are taken to hospitals annually after being attacked by dogs. More than half of these dog bites to children were to the cheeks, lips, or nose because their height puts them on the same level as the dog. Small people who behave rather unusually while squealing and trying to pick them up can make these dogs very fearful and may trigger them to act aggressively.

Dogs commonly show signs of anxiety before they attack. They adopt a low posture, have their tails under their legs, lick their lips, or have their ears back. However, little children have no idea about these things so responsible adults must always be mindful of little children.


With all those pictures of dog bites and dog attacks being shown in the media, it is very easy to fear dogs and view them as harmful creatures, but they are not. Dogs are not naturally predisposed to attack people unless they feel that there is a threat to themselves, their territory, or to their pack. Although the problem cannot be avoided because there are some pet owners that are negligent or irresponsible. However, we can be ready with the information what we can prevent situations from escalating.

Written by a Chow Chow lover Jhoana Carla de Toro

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 02/16/2018, edited: 01/30/2020

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