Your Temperament Could Be the Reason You Got Bit

If you are “emotionally stable” a dog is less likely to bite you.

By Justyne Yuen-Lee


Have you ever experienced a dog bite?

Let me tell you a story: not too long ago, my friend messaged me to feed her pets as she would arrive home late that night. I agreed, and since I didn’t have pets of my own, I looked forward to time with her fluffy children. I let myself into her house, said hi to a tiny Pekingese/Maltese mix and the cat. Following all instructions, I put the dog’s food down after he did some tricks; he then inhaled it. I put the cat’s food down, and like many other cats, he took a nibble and walked away. While I was putting the food bags away, I noticed the dog eating the cat’s food.


My friend had warned me that I should stop this if it happened as it would result in tummy troubles for the pup.  I was about two feet away from the dog when I yelled at him to stop. He growled at me, and returned to the bowl.  So, I stomped my foot.  That little dog darted at my shin and bit me!


Small dogs can pack a big bite.

After a few choice curse words, I looked at the bite – it was pretty bad.

Now, I already know that you’re not supposed to get in the way of a dog and his food, but I believed that since I didn’t physically get in his way, I’d be okay. I was wrong. There are other factors that cause a dog to bite.

According to a study conducted by the University of Liverpool, I bear the scar of his bite because I am a nervous person. As a person who deals with an anxiety disorder and depression, it makes sense that I was victim to a 10-pound dog.


In the study’s survey, people who scored as being more “emotionally stable” on a personality test were less likely to be bitten by a dog. It’s an interesting bit of data. The reason that those with nervous personalities may be at a higher risk is due to subconscious signalling. Nervous types signal physically, socially, and emotionally that they are cowering. This elicits an aggressive response from dogs.


Although it may be difficult to know why a dog is excited or upset, the way a person responds will influence the dog’s reaction. Ideally, you want to remain calm to avoid escalation.

Nervous people send out cues that indicate to the dog that something is wrong. These cues include sudden body movements and high-pitched tone. Dogs can even sense hormones that are released by humans when they are nervous. According to Julie Speyer, a certified dog behavior consultant, dogs can hear a human’s heart pace change and this alone can set them into a state of high alert.  Any sudden change causes a dog to go from defensive to offensive.

Looking back on my experience, I now realize that the growls scared me. Then my yelling and stomping caused him to protect his food and bite me. #Oops.


Dogs have lived with humans throughout known history, learning our social cues and how to respond to them.  Dr. Carri Westgarth, lead author of the study, believes that the results can help improve dog bite prevention programs. It would make sense to target education outreach toward people who are most likely to be bitten.

For now, I know to serve the cat on the breakfast bar rather than right next to the dog. It avoids the whole interaction.