It seems unthinkable that our calm canine or a friendly four-legged neighbor would suddenly clamp down and deliver an injurious bite. But National Dog Bite Prevention Week reminds us each year that “any dog can bite” and so, despite that usually sweet face on our positive pooch, we must face the facts, educate ourselves, and prepare accordingly.
Sometimes the Truth Bites
Even on the most adorable dog, those canine teeth are sharp! Accidents and misunderstandings happen when we least expect, and we shouldn’t simply hope we get the lucky roll of the doggy dice. The American Veterinary Medical Association and others have compiled statistics that reveal:
- There are over 4.5 million dog bite incidents in the Unites States each year.
- At least 20% of those will need medical attention.
- The most common bite recipients are children, usually between 5 – 9.
- Injuries in most of these cases are usually bites to the head or neck.
- The next most likely to be injured are Senior Citizens.
No dog lover wants to get bitten, but—perhaps more importantly—they don’t want to be responsible for someone else getting hurt by their best buddy! The following signs, tips and training should set a good direction for defense and preventative measures.
Sign of the (Biting) Times
Body language isn’t wholly reliable to know what a dog is thinking or feeling, but there are common signs that should raise a red flag. Ask yourself the following:
- Are the dog’s ears back?
- Does their body appear stiff?
- Do they look unhealthy?
- Do they appear to be in pain?
- Do they seem to be hiding?
- Are they eating or possessively protecting a toy?
- Is that a low growl you hear?
- Did they snap at you?
Bites typically happen because dogs feel frightened, protective, territorial, or because they’re in pain, or poor health.
Understanding why they bite and using good discernment is the first defense to avoid a bad situation.
We can’t be inside a dog’s head or always read their body language, so employ these and other tips to prevent an altercation:
- Don’t leave unattended infants with any dog, including yours.
- Supervise all children playing with a dog.
- An off-leash dog with no human companion present should never be approached.
- Always ask pet parents for permission before petting their dog (even if you know them and have obtained permission before).
- If an aggressive dog approaches, don’t run away. That will seem like an invitation!
- If aggression is apparent stand still with your hands at your sides and fingers curled in for protection.
- Never lean down and put your face into a dog’s face: It’s intimidating!
10 Training Tips for Dogs (and Humans)
It’s important to exercise early and regular training to help stave off bite behaviors and cultivate conditions that help avoid incidents later. Consider these options to set your pooch and friends up for interactive success:
- Spay or neuter your dog: according to the MSPCA dogs that undergo this procedure are three times less likely to bite.
- Teach them “drop it” or “leave it” early so they will learn to let go of objects like toys. This should help if any body parts get clamped down on and prevent a serious bite.
- As much as you (young boys particularly) like rough-housing with dogs, this kind of play should be avoided. Aggressive games reinforce growling, snapping and biting behaviors seem acceptable.
- Get proper vaccinations. If even the kindest dog contracts rabies or other diseases, that leads to temperament issues and aggression.
- Regular veterinarian visits will also ensure general health, injuries, or pain that might lead to an unexpected reaction from an otherwise well-behaved pet.
- Seek advance training for issues like bowl aggression or other territorial issues.
- Socialize your dog with leashed visits to dog parks for interactions with animals and humans so they’re comfortable around others.
- Reward passive, healthy behaviors and never give treats as a way of stopping aggression. This will have the reverse effect of making the behavior seem acceptable!
- Don’t respond to aggression by yelling, hitting the dog, or making sudden movements (which startle dogs). This will only cause escalation.
- Teach children good dog handling before interaction: the ASPCA website even offers a rules recitation for children to help teach and reinforce good playing and protection habits with dogs.
While there may be not perfect method to ensure 0% chance of an incident, adopting these guidelines will greatly reduce the chance of physical and emotional wounds for the four-legged friends and beloved bipeds in your life and neighborhood.
Help promote Dog Bite Prevention Week this year May 17 – 23 to raise awareness. The AVMA features a dynamic dog info graphic about bite prevention, and the video below is helpful to get families started on the path to success. Thanks in advance for doing your part!
The information provided in this article is not a substitute for professional veterinary help.