Dog bites: important warning signs - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

Dog bites: important warning signs

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In 11 years of working with dogs, Kate Johnson has gotten very good at reading their body language. What she sees in a now viral home surveillance video of a dog attacking a young boy makes her skin crawl.

"Absolutely terrifying. Absolutely horrific,” said Johnson.

You see a little boy on a bike, just around the corner, a dog.

“It's an exceptionally dangerous dog," said Johnson watching the video.

The Jabula Dog Academy trainer says if you hit "pause," you’ll see the moment the dog freezes, and goes into what she calls "prey" mode. The dog stands completely still, alert and tense, its tail barely moving. It’s a posture that sends chills down her back because she says this is a very dangerous dog.

“It’s staring as if it's staring through the vehicle, because it can hear the child, I'm assuming, talking or giggling or something on the other side," said Johnson watching the dog.

When the dog moves in, it's very quick. It runs around the back of the family’s SUV and, without hesitating, runs up to the boy.

“There’s no pause in its movement from behind the car to the child. The only time it slows down, really briefly, is to drop its head. Which is a prey instinct," said Johnson.

The attack is swift and brutal. Johnson finds it most terrifying when the dog grabs the child's leg and immediately shakes, which is a 'kill' bite, and then drags. She feels certain if the boy's cat, Tara, hadn't intervened, the dog would've attacked again, with deadly consequences. The next bite would’ve likely have been aimed at the child’s neck or head.

“What I take from this (video) is how quickly something can happen, and how tiny the warning signals were," said Johnson.

About 4.5 million Americans are bitten by a dog each year, according to the CDC, and many of those bites come from family pets. Some of the animals have lived in families for years, seemingly biting out of the blue.

“Honestly, no dog bites out of the blue. They don't. In a case like that, my immediate thought is there were warning signals. They were just a lot less overt," said Johnson.

Johnson says a wagging tail doesn't always mean a dog is friendly and just because a dog is not growling, or showing its teeth doesn’t mean it’s not dangerous. So, if you don't know a dog, Johnson explains, ask the owner if it's okay to approach the animal. If it is, wait and let the dog come to you, and smell your hand at your side. You may want to turn your body sideways, without looking directly at the dog. This allows the dog to smell you and feel comfortable with you before you try to pet it.

Never leave a young child alone with a dog, even with a pet you trust, even if it’s just for minute.

"It’s just not worth it, you can never undo a bite," said Johnson. As for Tara the cat's body language? Amazing. Johnson says, “I get goose bumps at that cat. That cat honestly saved this child's life. There's no two ways about it."

Johnson says her best advice for sizing up a dog is pretty simple. She says, if the dog is moving, bending or wiggling, it’s probably friendly. But beware of dogs who are just the opposite: still, rigid and tense. Those dogs are much more likely to bite.

The dog in California was picked up Tuesday by animal control. It will be euthanized.

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