Pets offer affection and companionship to millions of Americans nationwide. However, according to the Center for Disease Control, nearly 4.5 million dog bites occur each year (50% involving children) which often occur during everyday activities and while interacting with familiar dogs due to unforeseen stress.
This week is Dog Bite Prevention Week, a perfect time to think about the various precautionary measures that pet owners and families can take to ensure the safety of their pets and the people around them. Heidi Ganahl, CEO and Founder of Camp Bow Wow, North America’s largest and fastest growing pet care franchise and Behavior Buddies, the training component of Camp Bow Wow, offers a series of tips to help educate individuals to take proactive measures to help reduce the risk of dog bites - as prevention starts with the person, not the dog.
Tips for Preventing Dog Bites
- Seek Proper Help to Ensure You Pick the Right Dog – Whether it is through a trainer, a shelter, or a local rescue organization, recruit an educated individual to help you find a dog that best suits your lifestyle. For example: If you have a child that is fearful of large dogs, get a smaller one.
2. Know How To Identify and Manage Key Warning Signs:
- Lip Licking, Yawning, Wide Eyes and Spiked Fur – All are indicators of a stressed dog. It is important to always asses the exact situation. If a dog is lying on the couch by itself and licks its lips, most likely it is not stressed. If a dog is being hugged, tugged on, etc., and begins to emit warning signs, this is a clear indicator that he/she is now stressed.
- Growling and Snapping – Never try to get a dog to stop growling; we WANT it to growl, as it lets us know that he/she is uncomfortable. If a dog gets in trouble for growling, it will stop and can immediately go to biting.
- A Stiff Wagging Tail – A dog that is experiencing stress (and may bite) will wag its tail in a stiff manner. Look out for a tail that is pointed high and moves even more quickly back and forth.
- Averting Their Gaze – Avoidance behavior indicates that the dog is not comfortable with the particular situation.
- Cowering or Tail Tucking – This behavior indicates that a dog is fearful. It doesn’t mean the dog will bite, but could if the dog’s fear continues to increase.
- Train Your Dog and Yourself – Enlist your entire family and dog into a reward-based training class. A reputable trainer will help educate you and your family on the proper ways to interact with your dog. They will also teach you how to notice signs that your dog may be experiencing stress and needs to be given space.
- Never Leave a Child Under Ten Years Old Alone With a Dog – This rule must be enforced at all times, no matter how much you trust your four-legged friend. Dogs tend to give off warning signs when they are uncomfortable and may bite in response. In most cases, children aren’t able to pick up on these signals and can easily get hurt.
- Always Ask “May I Pet Your Dog?” – If there is a dog you or your child wants to touch, ask the pet parent first, so that they can inform you as to whether or not their pet is comfortable interacting with kids or new people.
- Remember That All Dogs Can Bite – Even your family pet, if put in a bad situation, can bite. Educating others on the proper way to interact with your dog will help prevent dog bites. Inform individuals not to grab the dog’s fur, ears, tail or any other part of its body and to not play with your dog unless you are available to supervise.
- Properly Manage Strange Dogs – If you encounter a dog that is off leash, never scream or run. Stand still, ignore the dog and wait for him/her to leave.
- Never Chain Your Dog – Dogs that are chained-up in your back yard or any other area are more likely to bite because they can become protective of that particular territory.
- Supervision is Mandatory – Always supervise your dog around your family members, especially children 12 years old and younger. A dog can go from normal to stress to biting in seconds. Don’t be afraid to ask the parents of your children’s friends if their family dog will be around your child.