It’s National Dog Bite Prevention Week
This week, May 20-26, is National Dog Bite Prevention week, an event hosted by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) to help educate the public about the nearly 5 million dog bites that occur every year and how they can be prevented.
According to the AVMA 4.7 million people in the US are bitten by dogs each year, and over 800,000 Americans seek medical attention for those bites. Of those, about half are children, with the most at-risk age group being 5-9. Most of these bites occur during every day activities while these children are interacting with familiar dogs. Senior citizens are the second most commonly affected group.
The thing about dog bites is that many, if not most, are preventable. The AVMA has created a great public health bulletin with great tips and resources for people.
Because children are most at risk for bites you should never (ever, ever, ever!) leave a small child alone with a dog. Even if your dog is the world’s biggest softy, it’s never a good idea to leave him unattended with a child. Most dog bites happen while dogs and children are left alone together, even if it’s only for a few minutes.
It is always important to remember that any dog can bite; even the most friendly and well-trained – especially if they are injured or fearful. Proper training and socialization of puppies and dogs is crucial to avoiding dog bites.
According to veterinary behaviorist Sophia Yin DVM MS, “The consensus among animal behavior professionals is that the major cause of dog bites to humans is related to failure of owners and dog bite victims to recognize when dogs are fearful and know how to approach and greet dogs appropriately.”
When approaching a dog, children (and adults) should use the acronym “WAIT” to remind themselves of proper doggie etiquette:
- W – Wait to see if the dog looks friendly. If the dog looks afraid or angry, STOP and walk away slowly.
- A – Ask the owner for permission to pet the dog. If the owner says no or there is no owner present, STOP and walk away slowly.
- I – Invite the dog to come to you to sniff you. Put your hand to your side with your fingers curled in. Stand slightly sideways and dip your head down so you are not looking directly at the dog. If the dog does not come over to sniff you, STOP and do not touch him.
- T – Touch the dog gently, petting him along his back while staying away from his head and tail.
It’s also extremely important to learn to recognize a dog’s body language. Dogs who are growling or baring their teeth are obvious dangers, but dogs who are nervous or frightened are just as likely to bite, if not more. Here are some great slides from the ASPCA to help you learn how to interpret a dog’s body language to better be able to identify dog’s who may pose a biting risk.
The goal is not to be afraid of meeting new dogs, but of being respectful of the dog’s personal space. If we all follow these tips maybe we can all stay a little safer around our furry friends.