Does your dog bite?

Cave canem It’s an old joke, I know, but I’m gonna tell it anyway.

A: Does your dog bite?
B: No.
A goes to stroke dog and nearly gets hand bitten off
A: I thought you said your dog doesn’t bite.
B: That’s not my dog.

In a conversation today I was told that signs in Germany which announce Achtung! Bissiger Hund! (Warning! Dog that bites!) have been criticised, if not actually banned, on the grounds that they are threatening to the public. Should we be heartened or depressed that health-and-safety mania is as rampant in Germany as it is in the UK? Anyhow, at least some Germans have struck back by putting up signs which say Achtung! Pflichtbewuβter Hund! (Warning! Duty-conscious dog!).

Photo credit: Cave Canem mosaic from the Casa del Poeta Tragico, Pompeii
Radomil 2004, GNU Free Documentaion Licence

7 thoughts on “Does your dog bite?

  1. I’m not a legal expert but as far as I know putting up a sign in Germany saying “Vorsicht! Bissiger Hund” is neither prohibited nor does it exempt you from your third-party liability if your dog bites someone. But: Coram iudice et in alto mare in manu dei soli sumus.

  2. I see that Beware of the Dog signs in the UK do not absolve the owners from liability either. My informants were not sure whether Bissiger Hund signs were banned, or whether they had just been deemed offensive by some overzealous authorities.

  3. John,

    isn’t there a difference in meaning between “Warning! Dog that bites” and “Warning! Snappish dog”? I have the vague feeling that the latter one catches the German meaning more accurately, although on the other hand, why would someone put up a sign stating the obvious.

  4. Petr,

    I bow to your native-speaker knowledge. “Snappish” is not a word I would use, though. “Snappy” doesn’t seem right either. I can’t think of a good translation for “bissig”. In the UK signs simply say “Beware of the Dog”.

  5. >Pflichtbewuβter <
    I am dismayed that you're still using β in this word in defiance of a spelling reform which remarkably among world spelling reforms is effulgent in its commonsensicality.

    “Snappish” is not a word I would use, either, at any rate not for bissig. “Snappy” doesn't cut the mustard either. But as long as I can remember I have liked to call pet animals 'bitey', but always with the connotation that they are playfully so, as their little'uns usually are. Looking that up, I only find it in the Urban Dictionary (, but the definitions there are spot-on for bissig, I should think.

    Not for nothing were the ur-bitey Cynics so bitingly folk-etymologized.

  6. Michael,

    I am mortified to cause dismay. However, type Pflichtbewusster Hund into Google and do an image search and the only spelling that you will encounter is that with ß. Sensible the spelling reform may be in some people’s eyes, but it seems to be meeting with more than a little resistance.

  7. Been there, done that, and fully expected to get the same T-shirt as you, but I did find Achtung! Pflichtbewusster Hund! On the sign itself – I realize you are not talking about any other wording. That was result 21 of about 230, linking to

    But before I could carry this quest further I was transfixed by two signs saying “Warnung vor dem bisschen Hund”:

    I am distraught to have caused you mortification. That was egregious overkill for having been caused mere dismay. I did suspect your defiance of the spelling reform was by way of being the rule rather than the exception, but look what happens when people try not to defy it! (If they’re trying anything other than bog-standard speech-recognition software.)

    I had supposed from the start that I was flogging a dead horse, but the overall image search results show that it is still on its feet and flogging itself to death rather than am Boden zerstört:
    641 for +Pflichtbewußter
    3,880 for +Pflichtbewusster
    (Google doesn’t discriminate between them if you don’t prefix the +)

    At first I got 1 for Pflichtbewuβter. Which was this page! Why? I copied it from your blog entry and you have an Asian-text beta for ß! You might wanna do something about that!

    But in a text search, to my amazement I got

    11,700 for +Pflichtbewußt
    59,100 for +Pflichtbewusst.

    16,300 for +Pflichtbewußter
    65,000 for +Pflichtbewusster

    21,500 for +Pflichtbewußte
    118,000 for +Pflichtbewusste

    2,460 for +Pflichtbewußtes
    13,900 for +Pflichtbewusstes

    17,900 for +Pflichtbewußten
    77,500 for +Pflichtbewussten

    412 for +Pflichtbewußtem
    1,940 for +Pflichtbewusstem

    So the spelling reform is not in such bad shape as we thought.

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