As dog owners, we love our animals and enjoy their relentless affection so much that it can seem impossible that they would be aggressive, or even worse, bite another dog or person. However, with 4.5 million dog bites reported last year in the U.S., many pet owners felt the same way. As part of National Dog Bite Prevention Week, we want to help you understand the many steps you can take to minimize the chances you or your pooch are ever involved with a bite encounter.
It is important to understand that while any dog can bite, most bites are preventable. A dog may lash out unexpectedly for several reasons, usually in response to what they feel is a stressful situation. They may be scared or feel threatened, get startled, be protective of themselves or their owners, or simply want to be left alone. Dogs can also bite when they are very excited, so it’s a good idea when playing with a pooch to be cautious not to overexcite them.
What Can Dog Fans Do?
Be aware of common triggers and be careful never to put a dog in a situation that could cause an incident:
- Never corner a dog. An animal that feels scared or trapped is more likely to act out.
- Never leave young children alone with a dog unsupervised – even the family pet. Unfortunately, roughly 50% of bites each year involve children.
- Never approach an unfamiliar animal and never assume an animal is friendly.
- Always ask permission before petting a dog. First, ask the owner. Not everyone is comfortable with others touching their dogs. Second, ask the dog. You can do this by letting the dog approach you and smell you. If the dog does not seem interested in you, don’t force it. If the dog is comfortable with you, give her a scratch under the chin rather than on the head or behind the ears.
- Avoid disturbing a dog while they are eating, sleeping, or unaware of your presence. It’s not fair that they get to stare at us while eating and can take up half the bed if you let them, but we love them anyway.
- Always use a leash in public. Retractable leashes can be tempting because they offer your dog more room to roam. However, they can be dangerous to both you and your dog during an aggressive encounter and can lead to burns, cuts, or even amputation. A standard six-foot leash is a more reliable method to keeping your dog in control and safe.
If you are a parent, never leave your child unsupervised with an animal, even one you know well. It’s important to teach your child the above lessons about how to behave around dogs and how to recognize when a dog is uncomfortable. Teaching your child to ask permission before petting someone’s dog is not just polite manners but also a good safety precaution to make sure your child is not part of the 1 in 5 dog bites requiring medical attention.
What Can Dog Owners Do?
If you are a dog owner, it’s important to socialize and train your dog. Dedicate time to interact with your animal companion and learn about positive training techniques. Especially when they are younger, exposing your pet to other dogs and people is a helpful way to model good behavior. Start slow and introduce them to new situations in small amounts, making sure to shower them with praise and treats for good behavior. Be sure to include leash training and build up to doggie dates with friends before you head out to the dog park.
Being a responsible dog owner means always supervising your dog around other people or animals. You know how wonderful your pup can be, but you don’t know how they might respond if put in an uncomfortable situation.
If your dog is reactive or you notice your dog exhibiting aggressive tendencies, talk to your veterinarian about behavioral modification and training you can do to keep you and your beloved safe and bite-free. There are many steps you can take, such as using a muzzle safely or enrolling in professional training, that can help as your pet friend improves. Also, spaying or neutering your dog is standard veterinary-recommended advice to maintain pet populations, but it can also reduce aggressive tendencies in our animal friends.
Dogs bring so much joy and happiness to our lives that they deserve the same in return. Understanding how to recognize and manage your dog’s behavior as well as learning how to safely and respectfully operate around other’s beloved canines is something we can all do to prevent bites and ensure dogs continue to lead happy and healthy lives alongside us.