Most dogs are loving and loyal companions, but even the sweetest of pups may one day bite a person. In fact, injuries from dog bites are relatively common in the U.S., and a sizable proportion of these injuries requires medical attention, causing people to educate themselves on how to prevent dog bites.
Statistics suggest that 4.5 million Americans are bitten by a dog every year. One in five of those bites will require the attention of a medical professional, which means that approximately 885,000 people will make an appointment with their doctor each year after being bitten by a dog. In 2006, the most recent year for which data is available, some 31,000 patients required reconstructive surgery after suffering a dog bite. Clearly, injuries from dog bites are a major public health concern.
The good news is that most dog bites are preventable. A well-trained dog and responsible pet parents can stop most of these injuries before they happen. A large part of dog bite prevention is understanding who is most at risk when it comes to being bitten.
Children are by far the most prone to suffering these kinds of injuries. Kids between the ages of five and nine appear to be the most susceptible. There are probably a number of reasons behind this statistic. At this age, children are more likely to have time for play that is not under the direct supervision of an adult. Moreover, children in this age group tend to be relatively bold in the way they interact with dogs, especially in the case of kids who do not live with dogs. This unfamiliarity leads children to engage in behavior that frightens or aggravates the dog, sometimes resulting in a dog bite. Additionally, children who are bitten are much more likely than adults to receive medical care in the aftermath of a bite.
Other population groups that seem to be bitten more often are adult males, who are far more likely to suffer a bite than adult females. Additionally, people who reside with dogs are bitten far more often than people who only casually encounter dogs on an infrequent basis. Even the number of dogs in the home may affect the likelihood of receiving a bite. Anyone living with more than two dogs is five times more prone to bites than someone who does not live with a dog.
Since children are exceptionally prone to dog bites, it stands to reason that educating them about how to behave around dogs is the key to preventing many of these accidents. Whether children live with dogs or not, the guidelines below will help them avoid a potentially painful accident.
How to Prevent Dog Bites: Dog Prevention Tips
- Do not “sneak up” on a dog. Allow the dog to see your approach.
- Do not bother dogs that are eating, sleeping or providing care for puppies.
- Notice the dog’s body language. A tense body, stiff tail and pulled back ears are all signs of an animal that is on edge. Do not approach a dog that is exhibiting these signs.
- Do not kneel down and put your face in front of the dog’s. This may be seen as an aggressive maneuver.
- Avoid making eye contact.
- Approach a dog slowly and only with the owner’s permission.
- Hold out your hand to allow the dog to smell you before attempting to pet him.
- Do not approach an unfamiliar dog, particularly if there is no adult in the area.
- Make certain that adults are watching while kids are playing with dogs.
- Do not turn your back or run away when a dog appears aggressive. This may cause the dog to give chase, and most dogs are far faster runners than humans.
- If you fear that a dog may be aggressive, freeze. The dog will eventually lose interest, providing an opportunity to slowly back away.
- If a dog knocks you over, curl into a tight, little ball with your hands over your ears. Resist the urge to scream, thrash or roll as these may only heighten the dog’s aggressive tendencies.
If bitten, the injury should be immediately reported to the nearest adult.
While these guidelines are designed to be helpful to children, the reality is that they are sensible solutions for people of all ages. Learn these guidelines, and you and your kids are less likely to be bitten by a dog.
Of course, another effective method of dog bite prevention is to do everything in your power to ensure that your dog is less likely to bite people. This begins with carefully choosing the dog you bring into your home. There are no guarantees when it comes to preventing dog bites. However, if you take these factors into consideration, you are far more likely to avoid dog bite injuries.
How to Avoid Dog Bite Injuries
Ask someone with considerable experience to recommend a non-aggressive breed. Veterinarians, some breeders, and animal behaviorists can point you toward dog breeds that are less likely to bite. This consideration must be weighed against others like size, shedding and the amount of required exercise when you are choosing the right pup for your family.
Whether you are adopting a dog at a shelter or buying one from a breeder, find out as much as you can about the dog’s temperament. A dog who has attacked people in the past is more likely to do so in the future. However, keep in mind that some attacks are the result of living in a hazardous or highly charged atmosphere. In a safe, loving home, aggressive tendencies may entirely disappear.
Spend as much time as possible with a dog before finalizing an adoption or purchase. This includes meeting the dog at the shelter or the breeder’s home and may involve at least one visit to your house. Make certain that all members of your family have considerable time to interact with the dog. This way, you’ll be far more certain that a particular pup really is a good fit for your family.
Watch children to see how they react to being around a dog. If they seem tentative or frightened, this may not be the right time to introduce a dog into your household. Try working with the child on the guidelines presented above to help them overcome their apprehension. Also, look into allowing the child to spend some time with the known, friendly dog of a family member. A little bit of familiarity can go a long way toward easing a child’s fears. When a child is relaxed, the dog is able to relax, and this makes a bite injury far less likely to happen.
Once you’ve found the perfect dog for your family, the work isn’t over. You can still do a number of things to minimize the chances of a dog bite injury.
Get started with training immediately. Some adult dogs have already had a good amount of training, but puppies and dogs who have not had training will need immediate guidance. Enroll your new dog in an obedience school where your family and its newest member can learn to love and respect each other. Dogs who faithfully obey straightforward commands like “sit” and “stay” are more likely to be well behaved when faced with a nervous or aggressive person.
Socialize your dog. This includes socializing with people and other dogs. Obedience training will help with this quite a bit as your dog will be exposed to new dogs, people and situations. However, you can take it one step further by arranging play dates for your dog and children with the dog and kids from another family. Do this only when you sense that your pooch is ready for all that stimulation and he’s far enough along in the training process to obey basic commands.
Avoid aggressive play. Dogs don’t always understand the difference between being serious and playing. Wrestling or roughhousing with a dog may seem like fun, but it can also signal to some dogs that aggressive behavior is not just acceptable, but encouraged. This aggressive tendency just might come out at exactly the wrong moment, resulting in a dog bite injury.
Spay or neuter your dog. Responsible pet owners should consider taking this step for a number of reasons. It means a more comfortable existence for your beloved pet, and it also means that you are responsibly controlling the pet population. Just as importantly, a spayed or neutered pet tends to be far less aggressive. If you’re really serious about dog bite prevention, then this is an important step to take. Spaying and neutering are relatively low-risk, routine procedures that vets perform dozens of times each year. The recovery time is minimal, and it genuinely is the responsible approach to pet ownership.
Take your dog in for regular veterinary exams. Sometimes dogs who have never been aggressive develop the tendency because of a medical condition. Keeping up with exams and vaccinations is another way to keep your dog even tempered and less likely to lash out at people. If you do notice behavioral changes in your beloved pet, consult your veterinarian as soon as possible. It may be that he is suffering from a health condition that can be successfully treated.
Many organizations have published useful articles and guides that deal with preventing dog bites and what to do if you believe a dog may attack you. Some articles also explain what to do in the aftermath of a dog bite and when it makes sense to consult a doctor about an injury. Check out these websites for further reading about preventing and treating dog bites:
The Humane Society of the United States:
The American Veterinary Medical Association
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals or ASPCA
Remember that dog bite prevention is an ongoing effort. From choosing the right dog and providing proper training to keeping up with all veterinary checkups, the way you care for your dog can stop bites before they happen. Moreover, when you educate children about how to behave around dogs, you can stop them from engaging in behaviors that are more likely to end with a bite.
Most dogs don’t bite because they are mean. Usually, it is a symptom of a different problem, such as fear or anxiety. Sometimes a medical condition causes a dog to behave aggressively when they would otherwise be friendly. If the underlying cause is successfully treated, then a bite is far less likely to happen. Additionally, if people learn to treat dogs with respect and read their often-distinctive body language, they will know how to prevent dog bites from a potentially dangerous situation.