Dog Bite Prevention Week
May 20, 2015
May 17-23 is National Dog Bite Prevention Week 2015. As we get closer to warm summer weather, we are spending more time outdoors with our families. And since dogs are part of our families, it is a great time to review dog bite prevention.
Note that 77% of bites come from a known dog, and children are most commonly bitten. This is often due to a combination of dogs perceiving children’s normal everyday behavior as threatening or scary plus people not recognizing the body language dogs use when they are stressed or uncomfortable with a situation and need some space.
Step one, of course, is never leaving dogs and kids alone together.
Step two is to recognize that kids’ normal behavior can be scary for dogs. Kids are often loud, fast, and move unpredictably compared to adults. They are also closer to eye level with dogs and may be more likely to enter personal space or try to hug and kiss dogs than adults. Some dogs don’t mind, but this type of close physical contact makes many dogs intensely uncomfortable even if they tolerate it most of the time.
Step three is teaching children how to respect dogs’ space and interact appropriately. In general teach kids:
Always ask an unknown dog’s owner before petting. Tell a grown-up if the dog has something or is getting into something s/he shouldn’tLeave dogs alone when they are sleeping, eating, or chewing a boneGently pet dogs on their bodies
Put your face right up to dogs’ faces or stare into their eyes
Hug or kiss dogs or grab their ears, tails, or feet
Try to take away toys or chews
Run straight up to a dog
Reach over a dog’s head to pet him/her
Sit or stand on a dog
Step four is to learn dogs’ body language so you can intervene if necessary before a bite occurs. Even good dogs can have bad days where they get overtired, stressed, over-stimulated, or grumpy. Events like birthday parties, family reunions, or BBQs can become overwhelming for most dogs. Some dogs may simply become stressed by even small gatherings. In any of these circumstances, dogs may become intolerant of things they normally put up with just like we can become irritable when we are tired.
It is our job to keep everyone safe by hearing our dogs when they are having a bad day or ask for space. In general, signs of discomfort include tense, tight postures (pinned ears/ears back, tight lips, furrowed brow, closed mouth), turning the head away, licking lips, or wide eyes with the whites showing. As the situation escalates, you may see a dog freeze and stare intensely (sometimes called a “hard stare”), lift its lips (“snarl”), or growl. At this stage, if the dog is not given space the chances of escalating to a snap or bite are high. (Note: It is generally counterproductive to punish a growl in these situations. In this context, a growl is simply your dog communicating that s/he is uncomfortable and is NOT a defiant or dominant action. If punished, the dog may skip this communication next time and escalate directly to a snap or bite.)
There are a number of excellent online resources with additional information about dog bite prevention and keeping dogs and kids safe together, including visual tutorials about dog body language. The best include:
You can also follow the AVMA on Facebook for daily dog bite prevention tips during the remainder of this week.
Stay safe this summer! We all want to spend the summer enjoying the time with our families rather than dealing with the aftermath of a scary bite!