Preventing Dog Bites
Next week (May 17–23, 2015) is National Dog Bite Prevention Week. It may seem dramatic to dedicate an entire week to this issue. But the Insurance Information Institute estimates that in 2013, insurers across the country paid over $483 million in dog bite claims. And according to the Centers for Disease Control, dog bites are among the top ten leading causes of nonfatal childhood injuries.
With numbers like that, it’s important to turn an eye to prevention. Educating yourself and your children about how to approach dogs and how to train your own pets is the best way to keep everyone safer.
Why do dogs bite?
Any dog can bite if provoked. But the provocation doesn’t have to come from an intentionally aggressive source: children, elderly, and postal carriers are the most frequent victims of dog bites. In fact, The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) points out that most dog bites affecting kids occur during everyday activities and while interacting with familiar dogs.
Why would a dog turn on its friends? Regardless of size, age, or cuteness, any dog can bite if it feels startled, scared, or sick. A dog might bite if rough play like wrestling or tug-of-war gets out of control. Dogs don’t always understand how their strength and nips can harm their human playmates, so it’s important to teach them firm boundaries and to avoid situations that might tempt them into excessive excitement and aggression.
Avoiding risky situations with dogs
The American Kennel Club and the Humane Society of the United States offer advice to avoid being bitten by dogs. Teach children to always ask for permission to pet a dog. Make sure never to pet a dog before allowing it to see and sniff you first. Never approach a dog you don’t know if its owner isn’t present, especially if the dog is tied up or kept behind a fence. And never disturb a dog that is eating, sleeping, chewing on a toy, or caring for puppies.
If an aggressive dog approaches, don’t scream and run. Running triggers a dog’s instinct to chase you. Instead, stay still, keep your hands at your sides or on your shoulders, and avoid eye contact. Toss any object you have away from you and the dog, so it will go there to investigate. Slowly back away. If a dog knocks you down, curl into a ball and cover your ears. Remain silent and motionless.
Responsible dog ownership
The state of Ohio holds dog owners and caretakers legally responsible for their dogs’ behavior. So how can you make sure your dog is a trustworthy companion to your family and neighbors?
It starts with training and socializing your dog as a young puppy. Teach basic commands to show your dog (and other people) that you’re in control. Bring your dog into many public situations to make sure it feels at ease around other people and dogs. When your dog is comfortable, and doesn’t feel threatened or teased, it won’t feel the need to protect itself with aggression.
You can help your dog stay calm and friendly by taking regular walks and playing games together. Visit the vet regularly for vaccines and parasite control. It’s also best to neuter or spay your dog. A healthy, happy, well-exercised dog is less likely to store pent-up energy that can turn into aggression.
Addressing dangerous dogs
If a dog has acted aggressively toward you or your kids—even if it hasn’t bitten anyone yet—it’s time to take action. Your actions could prevent future attacks and future victims. Depending on the severity of the problem and who owns the dog, your actions could range from putting the dog in formal behavioral training to removing the dog from the home, or even reporting the dog to the appropriate authorities (here’s how to report dangerous dogs in Cleveland).