National Dog Bite Prevention Week is April 7-13, 2019. Over 4.5 million people are bitten each year and over 800,000 of those bitten require medical care. Over 50% of the victims are children and a higher percentage of the kids being bitten are under the age of 4. Over 50% of the biting dogs belong to family or friends, and greater than 77% of the bites occur on the dog owner’s property. These statistics show why it is important to always be aware of your dogs interactions with adults and children in and around your home.
Some general rules to teach your children to help avoid dog bites are:
- Never go near an unfamiliar dog. If an owner is present ask permission to pet before reaching out to touch them. If they say no, respect that and walk away.
- Never place hands inside fences or kennels to pet dogs.
- Never run from dogs as this encourages the dogs to chase.
- Never play with a dog’s food or toys
- Never approach a dog if growling or showing its teeth. A child not trained to be aware of this may think the dog is smiling. We show our teeth when happy.
- Never scream around dogs since this can be an instinct to attack.
- Never startle dogs from their sleep. They can come out confused and bite out of instinct. Wake them first with touch or calling their name.
- Never leave small children unattended with dogs. Many homes trust their dogs and do not worry about their dog with their child, but what if the unthinkable happens.
- Never touch dogs that are sick or injured. They may bite because of pain.
- Never approach a dog that seems fearful and is hiding or avoiding you.
Over 30 different breeds have caused human fatalities in the last 30 years. There are certain breeds that appear to be listed more frequently than others, but the take away is that any dog can be vicious. Large dogs are more likely to cause serious damage but small dogs seem to have a higher possibility of biting out of fear and anxiety. Here at Winterset Veterinary Center we see dogs of all sizes, ages, colors, and breeds. We always are cautious, even when an owner indicates their pet would never bite. Often times when a pet does attempt to bite during an exam the owners are completely shocked by this behavior. We often times are not surprised since we can pick up on body language that dogs offer up indicating they are not comfortable with a situation. A few simple things to take notice of are dogs licking their lips, yawning, looking away from the person they are avoiding, tail tucking, and ears pinned back are all signs that this dog is not comfortable in this situation. Not every dog will bite after showing these signs but the potential is there and either the dog should be left alone or it should be approached with caution.
If you are fearful of a dog that is approaching you, DO NOT RUN! Even if you are the fastest person on the track team the dog will pursue you. Chasing moving targets is an instinct that dogs act on. Screaming is also important to avoid since dogs often hear high pitched sounds and consider it a sign of weakness. A reason to be silenced and attacked. Why else are they relentless with that squeaky toy to the point of silencing it? Children have been taught since early ages that if they are on fire — they should stop, drop, and roll. Please teach your children—ICE, TREE, ROCK for dog bite prevention. It may save their life someday. Ice indicates to freeze in the presence of a strange dog. Tree encourages them to stand tall and not look directly at the dog’s eyes since that can be seen as a challenge. Rock is used when knocked to the ground by a dog and you curl up into a ball and protect the face and belly with your arms and legs. As difficult as it would be, you should try to tell your children not to scream as this encourages the dog to continue to attack.
Dogs bite for a large number of reasons. I could not possibly list all the situations that could potentially lead to aggression or biting. A couple of important things to remember is early socialization, in the first 14 weeks of the puppy’s life, it is critical to making your puppy comfortable with new situations and all ages of people. Dogs that miss this window of opportunity can learn new social skills but the challenges are much greater. Avoid rough play with your puppy where you are encouraging barking, growling, or nipping at people. If allowed to play rough with one person, they will consider this okay with all people from babies up to the elderly. Start training your puppy to sit, stay, come, down, etc., immediately. These basic commands teach the puppy they need to listen and respect you.
A responsible pet owner will have their pet spayed or neutered to avoid unwanted puppies. It has been shown that neutered pets are 3 times less likely to bite. Being responsible also means keeping this pet for its entire lifetime which can be 15-20 years. Unfortunately, I have seen far too many owners give up their pets when they find them to be no longer desirable. Taking your pet to see the veterinarian for preventive care and seek out a training program that can help your dog live out its natural instincts. Exercise your pet daily so they can feel exhausted at the end of the day.
The late Dr. Sophia Yin has a poster about kids and pets. Follow this link How Kids and Pets Should Not Interact and get your free copy of this poster and share with your kids or students. Maybe if we spread this information, we will see the number of dog bites annually decline. Dogs are the most popular pet in households within the United States. Let’s work to make them the safest pet to have in our homes by being responsible pet owners and educating our friends and families about dog bite prevention.