Dog bites can cause pain and injury, but they can also spread germs that cause infection. Nearly 1 in 5 people bitten by a dog requires medical attention. Any dog can bite – know how to enjoy dogs without getting bitten.
Dogs can be our closest companions – in the United States, over 36 percent of households own at least one dog. Dogs have been proven to decrease stress, increase our exercise levels, and are playmates for children. But sometimes man’s best friend will bite. In addition to causing pain, injury, or nerve damage, dog bites can become infected, putting the bite victim at risk for illness or in rare cases death.
Although the idea of being bitten by a dog is scary, it doesn’t mean you need to avoid dogs completely. If you work or live around dogs, be aware of the risks and learn how to enjoy being around dogs without getting bitten.
Know the Risks
Children are more likely than adults to be bitten by a dog, and when they are, the injuries can be more severe. Over half of dog bite injuries occur at home with dogs that are familiar to us. Having a dog in the household is linked to a higher likelihood of being bitten than not having a dog. As the number of dogs in the home increases, so does the likelihood of being bitten. Adults with two or more dogs in the household are five times more likely to be bitten than those living without dogs at home. Among adults, men are more likely than women to be bitten by a dog.
12 tips for preventing dog bites
1. 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. Understand that a new environment and human interaction can cause stress and increase risk of dog bites; bringing a dog into your home is a transitional period that requires time and patience.
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 will wag its tail in a stiff manner (a telltale warning sign that it might bite). 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.
- Backing away or hiding – Whether the dog backs itself into a corner or tries to hide, this is a clear indication that the dog is uncomfortable and trying to escape. It is important to leave dogs that are exhibiting this behavior alone!
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. Never tie up your dog – Dogs that are chained-up in the backyard or any other area are more likely to bite because they can become protective of that particular territory.
9. 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.
10. Provide a safe space – Always provide a safe space for your dog to go (like a crate) where he/she won't be bothered. Pups can go retreat when they need a break, are nervous, tired, or when there is too much activity in the house.
11. Never force ANY interaction on a dog – Hugs in particular are common sources of anxiety that humans love to inflict upon their own dogs but aren't as well received by them.
12. Remove Fido from any stressful situations – If you note that your dog is stressed, nervous, or anxious, remove him from that situation: ask others to step away and relocate your dog to his/her safe place.