By Cesar Millan
A lot of people are afraid of dogs for one reason. They worry about being bitten. The number of people bitten by dogs every year in the U.S. may seem high — 4.5 million on average — but that’s only 1.4% of the total population.
Dogs aren’t the only animals that bite, of course. There are about 400,000 cat bites per year in the U.S., although with a lower mortality rate. The rare cat bite death is caused mostly by infection, while dogs can kill people outright, averaging 31 fatalities per year.
There’s one other animal that frequently bites people, though, and the name of that animal might surprise you.
That animal is called a human being, and the recent incident with Uruguayan soccer player Luis Suárez is just a reminder that humans biting humans is not as rare an occurrence as you’d think. According to some studies, human bites are the third most common type of bite seen in emergency rooms.
Human bites can also be very dangerous to both parties. Think of it this way: same species, same diseases. Human bites can transmit all kinds of infections, including hepatitis, HIV, and herpes.
Suárez certainly took the bite seen around the world, and I was caught up in all of the attention as well, with people suggesting that I should try to rehabilitate him. I even offered my own tips for handling a soccer player who bites.
But what gets lost in all of the attention over this one incident is this: humans bite because we are animals. And what causes people to bite? It’s a primal, instinctual reaction. Emotions take over and the intellect disengages. For humans, biting is frequently a negative response to frustration.
Humans who bite tend to fall into three groups: children, because they do not have the same impulse control as adults, and young males between 16 and 25, particularly if they’ve been drinking, since alcohol also reduces impulse control.
The third group, not surprisingly, is athletes, especially in contact sports, and Luis Suárez is not the only athlete to have bitten an opponent. There are other cases in soccer, rugby, hockey, and even basketball. Prior to the Uruguay/Italy soccer game, the most famous sports bite happened during a boxing match when Mike Tyson took a piece out of Evander Holyfield’s ear. By the way, that bite happened exactly seventeen years ago yesterday. Maybe there’s something about the month of June.
So what lesson can we take from incidents like this? The first and most important one is that it reminds us that we, like dogs, are animals first, and when we abandon our intellects and let our emotions and instincts take over, we can act like animals.
This is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as the emotions that take over are calm and positive ones so that we are happy-go-lucky. It’s only when strong negative emotions — anger, fear, jealousy — take control that we act like animals in a bad way.
The second lesson we can learn is empathy. Imagine what it would take to get you to bite another human being. You would probably need to feel very threatened, as well as trapped with no other option. Now guess why a lot of dog bites happen.
In the majority of dog bite cases, the victim is bitten by a dog they are familiar with, not by a stray on the street. And in those cases, it’s most likely because they didn’t respect the dog’s space, for example by approaching it while it had food or a treat, waking it up suddenly, or playing too roughly.
Now put yourself in the place of your family dog napping on the sofa when somebody startles it, maybe by moving suddenly, making a loud noise, or picking the dog up. Instinct kicks in. The dog is not going to take the time to process the information and realize, “Oh. It’s my human, it’s safe.” Living in the moment, the dog’s thought process is “Threat. Bite.”
Probably the only reason that humans biting humans is not far more common is because we have alternatives. We have fists and we’ve invented weapons. Dogs don’t have those options. They have teeth. In the dog world, their mouths are their “hands,” so a bite is going to be a dog’s first defense if flight or avoidance don’t work — especially if the dog doesn’t have time to make either of those two choices first.
Unfortunately, this was not the first time that Suárez has bitten another player during a game. However, because it happened this time on a worldwide stage, he’s actually inadvertently given us all an opportunity to learn how to be better Pack Leaders by reminding us of the value of trust and respect in the human-dog relationship.
Stay calm, and don’t bite anybody!
Have you ever been bitten by dog? How did it happen? Tell us all about it in the comments.