May 20-26th marks National Dog Bite Prevention Week, to help educate the public about the nearly 5 million dog bites that happen every year. The event is hosted by the American Veterinary Medical Association in conjunction with other groups that commonly deal with the consequences: postal service workers, pediatricians, plastic surgeons, and insurance carriers.
A few facts from the AVMA that you may or may not know:
- 800,000 Americans seek medical attention for dog bites every year
- Of those, about half are children
- The age most at risk are children age 5-9
- Senior citizens are the second most commonly affected group
The tragedies keep on coming: a one year old killed at his birthday party in Las Vegas, a three day old infant killed while left unattended in a swing. According to the AVMA, “most dog bites affecting young children occur during everyday activities and while interacting with familiar dogs.” Many if not most of these are preventable.
I encourage everyone to check out the AVMA bulletin about Dog Bite Prevention Week as it has great tips and resources for people. The script is nearly always the same: “He’s never shown aggression before!” the owner will say, but if you happened to be a fly on the wall before the incident I’m willing to bet that 99% of the time there were multiple warning signs and red flags that the owner just didn’t recognize, and that is where we are failing ourselves, our pets, and our children.
Here are my three top tips for preventing bites:
1. Learn to recognize canine body language.
This is so simple to do, but it’s amazing to me how many people think a dog who is showing anxious or frightened body language ‘just needs a hug’ as they loom over them trying to croon with their face two inches away from the dog. Ask your vet how many times they have been seriously bitten by a dog, despite all that we have to do to sick and frightened dogs. The answer is probably pretty low, because we are trained to recognize the warning signs and avoid the risk.
2. Never, never, never, ever leave a small child unattended with a dog.
Did I say never enough times? Babies have been killed by Pomeranians. I don’t care if you have an ancient toothless pug, the world’s sweetest Golden, or a dachshund in a wheelcart. Just don’t do it. While it is entirely possible and probably quite likely that your dog will not kill a baby while you go to the bathroom, just keep in mind that every one of those children who died had parents who said the exact same thing.
3. Teach kids proper respect for dogs.
Obviously this starts with your own kids. It’s something I have to remind my own kids of constantly, because they are very comfortable interacting with and handling our two large dogs. Young kids have short memories. We review the rules every time we meet a new dog.
- They must always ask owners, always always, before approaching a dog they don’t know.
- They must let the dog come to them.
- If the dog doesn’t seem interested, they must leave him alone. If he or she is ok with it, they pet the dog on the chest or back.
I LOVE these dog safety coloring sheets, by the way. I’ve given them out at the kids’ preschool and they are always a success.
And by the way, you have my permission as a veterinarian to correct children if they are not approaching your dog properly. I know people sometimes get sore about this stuff, but who cares. I stop kids who run up to Brody and grab him in a bear hug, and I get the occasional eye rolls and the “he seems fine with it”- which he is- but they don’t know that. Better that they learn from me and from Brody than from the next dog they come across who is not ok with the attention.
What are your most important tips to prevent dog bites?