As a volunteer with the Guilford County Pet Responsibility Program, I am in 4th grade classrooms speaking with children frequently about responsible pet ownership. One of the topics we cover is safety around animals. More often than not, when we talk about dog bites, the majority of the kids in the class indicate they have been bitten at least once in their lives! It truly is startling to think of how often animal bites occur. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than 4.5 million Americans are bitten each year by dogs – and at least half of those bitten are children.
Do you want to hear the good news? Most dog bites are preventable – which means we can actually do something about this problem! The first step in making an impact is for everyone to realize that any dog can bite. Yes, even the “sweetest dog in the world” can still bite if provoked. Thankfully, taking some basic (and intuitive) steps can go along way in helping to prevent dog bites from happening.
- Socialize your dog: The sooner you start (as a puppy) the better. Getting puppies comfortable around people and other animals will help them feel comfortable in a variety of situations as they mature. What if you have an adult dog that has anxiety or aggression in certain situations? Then we encourage you to schedule an appointment with one of our doctors. There is a lot we can do to help dogs who may have behavior struggles. The sooner we start working on the behavioral concern, the better!
- Make responsible decisions: If you are considering adopting a dog, take the time to select one that best fits with your family. Make dog training a priority so that your dog will obey commands. Use a leash in public so that you have control over your dog. Have your pet spayed or neutered. Be sure to devote time each day to exercise your dog and interact with him or her.
- Understand when and how to approach a dog, and share this information with children: Dogs who are sleeping can be startled when approached. Dogs playing with toys or eating may be more likely to bite because they don’t want you to try and take something away from them. Be wary of barking and growling dogs. Unknown dogs who are not with an owner should not be approached. Furthermore, always ask permission from the owner before approaching or petting a dog. A number of helpful (and fun!) videos are available to teach children about safety around dogs, so be sure to check out the AVMA’s Jimmy the Dog videos listed in the resources below!
- Read a dog’s body language: Dogs give a lot of clues about their feelings through body language. Listen to vocalizations (is the dog growling or barking?), observe body postures (e.g., is the dog cowering or sending territorial signals?), and take note of what the tail, eyes, ears, and mouth are doing. Does the dog look relaxed and happy, or is it sending different cues of fear or aggression? It is also important to note that a wagging tail does not always indicate the dog is friendly. If you are getting any clues that the dog is feeling threatened, afraid, or angry, give the dog space.
This week is National Dog Bite Prevention Week. Let’s all take steps in the direction of working to prevent dog bites – for ourselves, our families, and others who interact with dogs. Visit the AVMA website for more information about this important week, and contact us today if you have any behavioral questions about your dog!
Author: Dr. Clarissa Noureddine, DVM, MS, MS