Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Since this is National Dog Bite Prevention Week, we thought this would be a good time to discuss why dogs bite and offer some tips to avoid getting bitten. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 4.5 million Americans are bitten by dogs every year, and one in five dog bite injuries require medical attention.
One very important part of responsible pet ownership is doing everything you can to make sure that you, your family, visitors to your home and strangers on the street are all safe in the presence of your dog. Although there is no way to guarantee that your dog will never bite someone, there are things you can do to lessen the probability. First and foremost, it’s vital to arm yourself with knowledge about dog behavior.
Learn to “Speak Dog”
A good place to start is the educational website Doggone Safe, which has a wealth of information about dog bite prevention, including recognizing signs of anxiety, arousal, aggression, signs that a bite is imminent, and signs that a dog is happy. The site also has photos and a slideshow of different canine body language signals, which can be a very useful teaching tool for parents. Since dogs can’t verbalize how they feel, they use their body language to tell us whether they want attention or to be left alone. Learning to recognize signs of aggression will help prevent dog bites.
A dog that bites is not necessarily a mean dog or a bad dog. All dogs – even a docile family pet – can bite if they are frightened or feel threatened. “It’s not the breed of the dog that causes the bite, but rather how well the dog is trained and controlled,” says Victoria Stilwell, a well known dog trainer featured on the Animal Planet series, It’s Me or the Dog.
Tips to Prevent Dog Bites
● Socialize your dog from the start. Dogs that are not socialized may feel nervous when meeting strangers, and might bite out of fear.
● One of the most important basic commands to teach your dog is “drop it,” which keeps you from having to reach into his mouth to retrieve the ball or toy. Other commands they should know are come, sit, stay, no, and down (or off).
● Be cautious and alert when introducing your dog to new situations. At the first sign that your dog feels uncomfortable, remove him from the situation.
● Don't disturb a dog that is sleeping, eating or chewing on a toy.
● A mother dog will naturally be protective around her puppies; use caution when interacting with her or the pups.
● Never leave small children alone with a dog. Teach children to always ask permission before petting someone’s dog.
● When you encounter a dog in a fenced yard, keep your hands and face away from the fence. A dog considers the yard its personal property, and may bite to protect it. Always assume that a dog who doesn't know you may view you as an intruder or a threat.
● Avoid direct eye contact with a dog, which will be seen as a challenge.
● Before you adopt a dog, be sure to carefully research which breed will be the best fit for your family.
If a strange dog approaches you:
Don’t scream or make loud noises, and don’t turn your back on the dog and run away because a dog's natural instinct will be to chase you. Instead, remain motionless (“be still like a tree”), leave your arms at your sides or cross them over your chest, and look away from the dog.
If the dog does attack, give him your coat, purse, book or any other object that you can put between you. If you get knocked to the ground, curl into a ball and “be still like a log.”
The above is not meant to be a comprehensive tutorial on how to prevent dog bites, but it is a good place to start. You might also want to read Linda Cole’s “The Body Language of Dogs,” and “Teaching Kids How to Approach an Unfamiliar Dog.” Although these two articles are not specifically about preventing dog bites, they do include information that will help you in that regard.
Photo by Jeffrey Beall
Read more articles by Julia Williams