Dog bite injuries have the potential to vary from minor to life threatening. Thankfully, the vast majority of dog bites can be prevented. The most important element is our (the human’s) ability to read the signals the dog is using to communicate with us. The challenge is for us to understand the dog’s non-verbal communication. This is especially difficult for children, many of whom expect all dogs to be friendly and responsive to their affection.
As a consequence, there are over 4 million dog bites each year in the US. About 800,000 are serious enough to require to require medical attention, and of these, half are children. The more serious injuries occur much more often in children
Most dogs that are close to biting are already sending messages that they are afraid or uncomfortable or feeling threatened. Some of these signs are obvious such as growling with hair raised, cowering or flattened ears. Others may be more subtle such as a furrowed brow, ears out to the side, hypervigilance, nervous yawning and licking of their lips.
Examples of these can be seen on this poster produced by veterinary behaviorist, Dr. Sophia Yin. Click here for poster.
As parents, there are many things we can do to try to reduce the risk of dog bites….
• It is advisable to be cautious around strange dogs and show respect towards your own and familiar dogs
• Be sensitive to the animal’s signals and avoid approaching or allowing your children to approach a fearful or anxious appearing dog. Do not let them approach a dog eating, sleeping, caring for puppies or guarding a toy or bone.
• Never leave and infant or small child alone with a dog.
• Teach children, including toddlers, that they should not approach strange pets or put their hands through a fence to pet a dog. Teach them to ask permission from you and the dog’s owner before
• approaching to pet the animal. Most owners will readily advise you if their dog is uncomfortable around children.
• Teach your child to “be a tree”. If approached by a strange or threatening dog, they should stand tall and still like a tree. No running away, waving of hands or screaming as these all may stimulate the dog to attack.
• Most dogs do not like hugs and kisses around the face and this is the most common reason for bites to the face.
• Children must be taught to never tease dogs. They will remember the teaser later.
As dog owners, there are many things we can do to try to reduce the risk of dog bites….
• Select new puppies with care and chose the breed according to your lifestyle and the typical personality type of that breed to provide the best marriage between dog and family.
• Socialize puppies from a young age so that they are at ease and comfortable with people of all ages (and other pets). Make sure they have many positive experiences with many different people in the first 4 months of life.
• Avoid games that can increase excitation & aggression such as tug of war and wrestling.
• Teach your dog basic commands such as Sit, Stay, Down, No and Come. Teaching them to respond to you helps strength your bond and helps them understand what you expect of them. It also improves your control over the pet should you encounter a difficult situation.
• Always use a regular 4′ to 6′ leash in public rather than a flexible length lead. Gentle Leader type head collars can provide much more control in large breed dogs or those that pull on a traditional
• collar or harness.
• Neuter your pet.
• Provide lots of healthy exercise and mental stimulation.
There are many great articles on dog bite prevention and dog safety.
Please see a selection of links below for further information on these subjects; just click on the logos to go to their pages.