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Why is my dog biting his leg? (Image: James Molloy/SPL)
A ‘chillingly’ funny cartoon about why dogs bite each other and themselves has become an unlikely favourite among readers of the internet forum Ask MetaFilter. The original comic, Ask the Aardvark, was submitted by a dog owner who wanted to find out why her dog occasionally bites itself. But the thread that developed around it has since spawned its own, entirely separate thread, filled with thousands of posts and images, many of them equally hilarious. The cartoon has inspired a host of memes, including a Tumblr named after it, and an animated version with sound. But why, exactly, does a dog bite itself, and why do people find this funny?
What we actually mean when we talk about our dogs biting themselves is quite simple. They’ve bitten themselves. They’ve been in a fight and have got their teeth stuck into their leg. It’s similar to how you would get your hand stuck in a car door – you’ve grabbed your hand through the opening and got your skin between the door and the frame. That means you’ve got it stuck in there, and it’s quite painful. A dog would be experiencing this if they’d been biting something. We call this biting itself. It’s like a car door, only you’re getting bitten in a different place.
There are two main theories for why a dog bites itself. The first is that it’s a form of self-mutilation. An animal will sometimes deliberately hurt itself in some way because it thinks it’s ugly, or thinks it will grow better if it is injured. In a similar way, it seems, some people bite themselves as a way to make themselves feel better. In this case it is thought that they are hurting their mouth, their tongue, their gums.
Another theory is that it’s a form of punishment or punishment behaviour. It’s thought that when a dog is fighting it is experiencing a form of aggression. They are fighting for a higher position in the pecking order, for access to the females, for things like that. To fight, the dog gets hot and sweaty, and if it does this in some places and not others, this will feel very painful. If a dog bites itself in such a way that you’d notice if they’d been in a fight, then it’s probably because they’ve got it in their mind that it’s going to feel better. And this means the dog is trying to get some sort of compensation. They’ve fought and it’s been painful, but they’re still suffering. In this case it’s thought the bite is actually being a punishment for biting something else. In a similar way, if you go out to buy a new piece of clothing for an evening out, it can feel very good when you get it home. It’s something that feels nice. But if you get home and you put it on in your bed and you think that someone has tried to damage it in some way, then suddenly it can feel much more painful, because you now believe that it was really painful when it was bought. It’s been spoiled somehow and you’re angry about that, so you have to punish the thing by putting it in your bed.
It can be interesting to go to websites such as Bite Back which is an organisation run by a man called Chris French, who runs a website called Bite Back. It’s a website which teaches people how to stop dogs attacking themselves. Chris tells people to go out and buy a book called Understanding Dog Behavior, which is sold through many bookshops. Chris is in the bookshop as well. He actually explains that if a dog does something that shows it’s trying to kill itself, you should try to distract the dog from what it’s doing. You should try to show the dog that something else is happening that you are interested in. If you are at all unsure about what to do in a situation, you should take your phone and call someone to find out what to do. Sometimes the best thing to do is to leave the dog alone. As Chris points out, he doesn’t suggest that a dog should go around biting people. There’s certainly no reason to go around biting people. He says you can’t change a dog’s nature, all you can do is teach them something else to do. He says you shouldn’t go out into the street and start trying to bite people, you just can’t.
One of the ways to tell a ‘man bites dog’ is that the victim of the bite says that the man ‘just lunged at him’ and ‘just bit him’. People always say the same thing. It seems to be the way people think. It’s a bit like the story about the woman who was attacked by a man, and the man who was with her explained that she just threw herself on the floor and ‘just lunged at him and just bit him’. One day a little girl was playing with a ball and a man chased her. When he got her, he grabbed the ball from her and he started to beat her. But when she put up her arms to defend herself, he just bit her.
Sometimes a dog will go mad with fear and bite a person. People can go mad with fear as well, but if a person goes mad with fear and is scared to the point where they start attacking other people, then we usually call that a man bites dog. And if a dog goes mad with fear and attacks a person, we’ll say that the dog went mad with fear.
When someone says ‘The dog just lunged at me’, that’s how the man bites dog stories are told. A dog is being provoked into behaving in an aggressive way.
Sometimes a dog will get a bad idea and bite someone, and the dog will have an instinct that he should attack. In that case, it’s said that the dog went mad, and it’s the same thing as a man going mad and attacking a person. But some people think that this instinct is inside the dog all the time. In those cases, people think the dog is in trouble because his nature is being bad. But the dog didn’t know about that, because they haven’t been taught that bad things should be avoided. If you tell a dog, ‘You should not be vicious. Don’t attack people’, they won’t understand. If you say that a dog is being bad, they’ll say, ‘Oh no, that dog just did something nasty.’
Most people will say that it was a man who went mad and attacked a woman, or it was a dog who went mad. But the truth is, it was the woman who went mad and attacked the man. She put her hands on her chest and started running towards him and shouting.
So if you want to get some ideas for teaching a dog some manners, be careful. Remember, it’s important to show the dog that you’re a good person and what you’re trying to teach it is good. Not all bad ideas come from bad people.
This story was submitted to LoveToKnow. Click here to read more stories