Preventing Dog Bites - What to Tell the Kids
Children under the age of 6 are the highest number of dog bite victims reported in the United States. Many of these bites can be avoided if children and parents are taught how to approach and behave themselves around dogs. Here are a few facts about dog bites that may surprise you:
The majority of dog bites are from your own dog or a friend or neighbors dog.
Most dog bites happen around the dog's food, toys, or bed when the dog is not looking at, barking or moving around these items. In other words the dog is eating or playing and the human reaches in and touches or takes the item away.
Many bites happen when the dog is sleeping and a person pets or hugs the sleeping dog startling it awake.
Reaching to a dog that is hiding, crouched or cowering avoiding being grabbed by the collar or body.
Almost all dog bites to children happen where there is not an adult in the room or area with the child.
Stray dogs do cause injury but at a far less rate (less than 25% of all bites) than known dogs.
Dogs on leash or behind a fence account for the lowest amount of bites - 5% or less.
So, what does all this mean? It means we humans do not understand when the dog is telling us that they are stressed, threatened, or unsure of what to do. When we do not listen to the warning of cowering, growling, snarling, snapping the dog is left to use the highest form of aggressing - a bite to make us understand STAY AWAY!!!!! We think it came out of the blue but there was warning. We just did not understand it. And we think what we were doing was not a problem but the dog does. What matters is what the dog understands. If the dog feels it is a threat or is stressed the dog is going to act aggressively.
What we miss is that there may be other factors going on at that moment making the situation difficult for the dog - is there a lot of noise, people, other dogs, is this dog in pain from arthritis, sick, or did you just harshly scold the dog and now you want to give a big hug? All of that makes a dog scared and scared dogs need to have some time to evaluate if things are good or bad. If they don't get that time, they will use their tools - growling, snarling, or snapping to say STOP.
Recognizing signs of fear before the dog starts to aggress is important to prevent bites. When you see a dog's tail go down, cower, ears back, start barking in a bossy tone, or growl stop whatever you are doing. Take note what is going on. Are you reaching for the dog, are you pulling on a collar, are you staring at your dog? I cannot cover all the solutions but the best thing is to first avoid these triggers or circumstances. If you have to get your dog to move, teach the dog come. If you are having a bunch of people over, put the dog in another area. Use a drag line on the collar to move your dog safely.
Now, about those stray dogs. At a recent school presentation about 90% of the kids had seen dogs roaming off leash and all of those kids were scared of those dogs. Even when it was a dog they knew the kids were leery as they should be. A dog acts very differently off leash than on. So, if you just let your dog out the door please stop. It is very frightening to the children as well as other walkers and people in your area.
What to do when you see a dog off leash? Be a tree - stop - stand straight with your arms at your sides and look down at your feet (your roots). Wait until the dog is at least 40 feet away before you move. Then call the police or animal control and report the loose dog. We have leash laws that protect our pets from getting hit by a car and protect us from being chased or lunged at by a dog.
- written by Dr. Sally J. Foote