This week is National Dog Bite Prevention week! According to the American Veterinary Medical Association more than 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs in the United States each year. At least half of those bites happen to young children when interacting with familiar dogs. According to the CDC more than 800,00 require medical attention for the bites. While these numbers are alarming, there are steps that you can take to prevent dog bites!
We can prevent dog bites by managing interactions with dogs very closely. It is important to remember that any dog can bite, even friendly dogs that have never shown signs of aggression. Never leave children unsupervised with dogs, even those who are family pets. When managing the environment with children and dogs it can be helpful to implement the use of baby gates, crates, and allow the dog to have an off limit safe space such as a dog bed to relax on. There are several instances where a dog may be more likely to bite and we should avoid placing them in a situation that can provoke aggression. It is best not to touch or play with any dog who is injured, hiding, eating, sleeping, chewing on a bone, tethered, or behind a fence. It is important for both adults and children to ask the owner before petting a dog. We also recommend asking the dog if they are comfortable with being pet as well. You can do this by calmly approaching the dog, if it moves towards you in a friendly manner with loose body language and is seeking out petting, you may pet it. If the dog shows any shyness, avoidance, or seems uncomfortable it is not a good idea to pet them. When petting a dog, we recommend using a side approach and gently petting from collar to tail. Many dogs get nervous or uncomfortable when seeing a hand approach their head. Teach children not to pull on the dog’s ears, tail, or feet when petting or playing with them.
One of the best ways to prevent dog bites is to learn to read and closely monitor dog body language. Our dog’s are always having a conversation with us by using their body language, as it is their way to communicate with us. When dogs are stressed they are more likely to bite, we can gauge their stress by reading their body language. Ideally we want our dog’s body language to be loose and wiggly. Their tail should be relaxed and mid-line with the body, the mouth should be relaxed with no facial tension. Avoid interacting and petting dogs who have tense bodies, show avoidance from interactions, display wide whale eyes, yawn, or has a tucked tail. If you observe that the dog seems stressed, be sure to give them space and allow them to retreat to a quiet place. Dogs who show multiple stress signs are telling us that they are uncomfortable and need space.
Properly socializing and training our dogs as young puppies can also help prevent dog bites. Well socialized dogs are less likely to develop fears, phobias, and aggression. Proper socialization allows puppies to feel more comfortable in the world around them. We recommend to start training as young as 8 weeks of age. Be sure to use a trainer who uses humane, reward based training techniques. If your dog shows any signs of fearfulness or aggression, we recommend seeking a qualified behavior consultant for help as soon as you begin to notice the behavior. Early training can prevent the behavior from worsening.