National Dog Bite Prevention Week

May 15, 2011 at 10:34 pm Leave a comment

May 15 to 21, 2011, is National Dog Bite Prevention Week

Some facts for you:

  • Nearly 1 million people (about half being children) sought medical care in 2010 for a dog bite.
  • The main reason that dogs bite is because humans do things that dogs find threatening: getting in their faces, grabbing their food or treats, hugging them, etc.
  • It is impossible to claim that one breed is “more likely” to bite than another. Simply tracking the number of bites by a reported breed is both incomplete and faulty data.
    • It is incomplete because the number of dog bites by that breed is useless information if you don’t know how many animals of that breed are owned by people. If there are more Labrador retrievers than leonbergers, of course you’re going to have more bites reported by Labrador retrievers than leonbergers.
    • It is often faulty because visual breed identification is often wrong. Even dog experts, when asked to identify a dog by breed on sight alone, is wrong 75% of the time.
  • The dog most likely to bite is often an “outdoor dog,” chained up in the yard, away from its family. It is often malnourished or starving. It is often “intact” (not spayed or neutered), or is a female who has recently had puppies.
  • Dogs rarely bite without warning. People who claim their dog did so are often ignorant of a dog’s nonverbal warning signs: yawning, licking their lips, a tucked tail. People often discipline their dogs for growling, which means the dog is less likely to give a verbal warning before it bites.
What can you do to prevent dog bites? 
  1. Become educated in dog behavior and body language. Raised hackles do not always indicate aggression; a wagging tail does not always indicate a friendly dog.
  2. NEVER. EVER. leave children unattended with a dog. Not even for a second. It doesn’t matter how well trained your dog is. My Australian Shepherd mix is Canine Good Citizen certified. I will not leave her with a baby or child unattended. Dogs are still animals and unpredictable.
  3. Make sure your pet is spayed or neutered. Keep them up-to-date on vaccinations, and in good health.
  4. Teach children appropriate ways to interact with dogs. ALWAYS have your child ask permission before petting a stranger’s dog. Teach them to slowly extend an open palm for the dog to sniff. Teach the child to scratch under the dog’s chin rather than pat it on the head. Reaching over a dog’s head is a threatening gesture. Teach children to never run toward a dog, or even past a dog.
  5. Teach children never to bother a dog while it is eating dinner, or a treat. Never bother a dog while it is sleeping. It is not necessary to “establish dominance” over a dog by requiring it to surrender it’s food to you mid-meal. If you feed your dog on a schedule, your dog learns that you control its resources.
  6. Establish child-free safe zones for your dog. That can be the dog’s crate, a spare bedroom, or bathroom. It should be a happy place with a toy, or a yummy treat, where the dog is never bothered by the child.
  7. Keep your dog exercised. Most dogs require daily walks. Make it a family event. Including the child in an activity that the dog enjoys will create positive associations.
If your normally-friendly dog starts growling at you or your child, assess the situation. Did the dog have a valuable toy, treat, or food? Was the dog sleeping? Did the child step on or trip over the dog? Did the child pinch or poke or tug on the dog? Did the child hug the dog?
Your next step should be a vet visit. Dogs are adept at hiding pain, so as not to appear weak. But your or your child’s touch may hurt, and your dog communicates that with a growl.
If the vet determines the dog is not in pain, ask for bloodwork. Thyroid conditions can cause personality changes.
Don’t be afraid to reach out for help. I highly recommend consulting a behaviorist rather than a trainer.
Recommended reading:
http://nationalcanineresearchcouncil.com/dog-bites/
http://www.cdc.gov/HomeandRecreationalSafety/Dog-Bites/dogbite-factsheet.html
http://www.avma.org/public_health/dogbite/default.asp
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