April 9-15 is Dog Bite Prevention Week
We all love dogs and consider them to be members of the family. But it is important to recognize that any dog, put in the wrong situation, has the potential to bite.
In the United State there are over 70 million dogs living with families. Each year there are 4.5 million people bitten by a dog. Of these, 800,000 dog bites require medical attention, with over half of these cases being children.
Every dog owner has the responsibility to properly socialize their dog when they are a puppy to maximize their exposure to a variety of situations, people, other pets and environments. This is crucial to having a well-adjusted dog that is not likely to bite. The majority of a puppy’s learning of social skills is in the first 12 weeks of life; so starting young is key!
Most dog bites occur in the home and with a familiar dog. And many dog bites occur in children who are unable to recognize behavioral cues. Below are some simple things to keep in mind to help prevent dog bites, especially in young children.
• Do not approach unfamiliar dogs, and teach children that if approached by a dog they do not know, “be a tree.” This means plant your feet – running away from a dog may cause it to chase.
• Always use a gentle touch – do not hit or climb on a dog and do not pull on tails and ears.
• When greeting a dog, allow it to sniff a hand first. Avoid petting the dog on the top of the head, standing over the dog and approaching it from above can feel threatening.
• If a dog is sleeping or eating, give it space. A dog should not be disturbed during either of these activities.
• Make sure dogs (and all pets) have a safe, comfortable place to get away from the action and commotion of a family.
• Teach children that if a dog is trying to get away or displaying behaviors indicating that it may be either avoiding the attention or anxious from it (such as looking away, yawning, licking lips), they need to give it space.
• Do not punish a dog that gives a child a growl. A growl is a warning that a bite is next, so instead of punishing the growl, appreciate that the dog has given a fair warning and decide what you need to do to make a safe environment.
• Commit to socializing your dog and learning how to read the dog’s body language and behavioral cues.
For more information on dog bite prevention, visit the website of the American Veterinary Medical Association (avma.org) or the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (aspca.org).