If you've spent any amount of time around dogs, you have probably been bitten. As Karen Delise of the National Canine Research Council put so clearly years ago, "all dogs have teeth. All dogs bite. They bite other animals, they bite each other and they bite humans." This is Dog Bite Prevention Week. It is an annual event promoted by the American Veterinary Medical Association in concert with the US Post Office and the American Academy of Pediatrics. As we mark this week, it is worth taking a few minutes to consider the differences between actual dog attacks and dog bites, almost all of which are entirely preventable.
The reasons for actual dog attacks (as opposed to incidents of simple and avoidable injuries) are often complex, but the answer to preventing dog attacks is relatively simple: humane care and control of dogs is often all that is needed to prevent most dog attacks. The National Canine Research Council's investigations into dog bite-related fatalities reveals the majority of these tragic cases involved circumstances where owners failed to provide necessary care and human control of their dogs: 1) failure by dog owners to spay or neuter dogs not involved in a responsible breeding program; 2) maintaining dogs in semi-isolation on chains or in pens; 3) allowing dogs to run loose; 4) neglecting or abusing dogs; 5) maintaining dogs not as household pets, but as guard dogs, fighting dogs, intimidation dogs, breeding dogs or yard dogs; and 6) allowing children to interact with unfamiliar dogs.
The AVMA reports that there is an estimated population of 70 million dogs living in U.S. households. Millions of people - most of them children - are bitten by dogs every year. As much as we love dogs, the reality in our society is that a lot of people don't know much about dog psychology and behavior and even those people who claim to be dog lovers engage in behavior which can lead to dog bites simply by treating dogs too much like people and not enough like the animals they are. Each year, more than 4.5 million people in the U.S. are bitten by dogs. Children are, by far, the most common victims of dogs bites and are far more likely to be severely injured. Senior citizens are the second most common dog bite victims.
How do you avoid being bitten by a dog? The Humane Society of the United States provides the following tips:
-be polite and respect the dog's personal space. Never approach an unfamiliar dog, especially one who's tied or confined behind a fence or in a car. Don't pet a dog-even your own-without letting him see and sniff you first.
-don't disturb a dog while she's sleeping, eating, chewing on a toy or caring for puppies. Be cautious around strange dogs. Always assume that a dog who doesn't know you may see you as an intruder or a threat.
-pay attention to the dog's body language. Put a safe amount of space between yourself and a dog if you see the following signals indicating that the dog is uncomfortable and might feel the need to bite: tensed body, stiff tail, pulled back head and/or ears, furrowed brow, eyes rolled so the whites are visible, yawning, flicking tongue, intense stare or backing away. Any of these signs mean the dog is trying to tell you something.
For comprehensive coverage about dog body language, I encourage you to take a few minutes to read this information from Labrador Training HQ. It is incredibly detailed and can help you to be truly informed on this subject.
Dogs enrich our lives in countless ways. It is well worth the effort to educate ourselves on how to prevent both attacks and bites so that we keep our families safe, avoid tragedies and keep good dogs from being destroyed in our animal shelters due to something we either did - or failed to do - which led to a dog bite.
I am an animal welfare advocate. My goal is to help people understand some basic issues related to companion animals in America. Awareness leads to education leads to action leads to change.
image courtesy of Terrah Johnson