It’s National Dog Bite Prevention Week! Do You Know Where YOUR Dog’s Mouth Has Been?
It’s National Dog Bite Prevention Week! Which can only mean one thing: A post on how to prevent dog bites. Seeing as almost 5 million people get bitten by dogs every year in the U.S. — resulting in about 1,000 ER visits every day — it’s no idle issue. And when you consider that a disproportionate percentage of those bitten are children, it’s no wonder our dogs’ ignominy merits a whole week of contemplation.
All glib titles aside, it’s a serious issue, which is why I thought I’d bring smart dog bite prevention info to a blog near you. But I’m no expert. So I’m unapologetically glomming onto the seven tips offered by Dr. Sophia Yin in her Huffington Post article from a couple years back.
Unlike other lists you’ll find scattered all over the web this time of year, this one’s for the serious dog crowd. It originates from Dr. Yin’s veterinary hospital-geared textbook and DVD, Low Stress Handling, Restraint and Behavior Modification of Dogs and Cats; making it even more apropos blog fodder for Fully Vetted (I think).
Seven Tips for Preventing Dog Bites
1. Since most dog aggression is actually due to fear or anxiety, it's essential for animal healthcare professionals to recognize the signs of fear and anxiety. The more blatant signs of fear are that the dog backs away from you, cowers, or puts its tail between its legs. But dogs exhibit more subtle signs too, such as averting their gaze, yawning, licking their lips, moving in slow motion, or acting sleepy when they should be wide awake. Animal care workers should also be on alert for a slight lifting of the lip or a sudden tense, frozen posture. When a dog exhibiting these warning signs is pressured it is likely to result in a bite.
2. Set up a safe, comfortable environment. Many dogs are afraid of unfamiliar dogs and people and are uncomfortable in new environments. As a result it's essential to make the environment as calm and comfortable as possible. For instance, veterinary hospital waiting rooms should have enough space or room dividers so that dogs aren't face-to-face with people or other dogs they may fear. Once their fear and arousal levels rise, they'll be more likely to bite as the visit progresses.
3. Make a good first impression by approaching the dog correctly. A head-on approach and an outstretched arm can force a fearful dog to feel like it has to defend itself. A more appropriate approach is to stand or crouch sideways, avert your gaze, and let the dog make first contact. Speaking in a happy voice and tossing multiple small treats can also change the dog's perception of what you're up to.
4. Avoid hugging or placing your face into the face of an unfamiliar dog. While some dogs may tolerate being hugged, few dogs actually enjoy it. Even a friendly dog may bite when an unfamiliar person invades its personal space in this frightening manner.
5. When possible, avoid holding animals down for handling procedures they dislike. Instead, take the time to train the pet to enjoy it. Forcibly restraining dogs for procedures such as a toenail trim can make the dog more fearful or reactive each time you try, and the dog can become more fearful or aggressive towards unfamiliar people. Dogs can be trained to enjoy regular handling procedures such as pilling, grooming, toenail trims, and often in a very short amount of time — such as 5 minutes. The more skilled the handler's technique at pairing positive experiences with the previously unsavory handling, and the fewer bad experiences the dog has had, the quicker the good behavior can be trained. See an example of training a dog to enjoy a toenail trim.
6. When restraining or repositioning an animal, make sure you're supporting the animal well so it feels secure. If you're placing pressure in the wrong areas or the animal does not feel secure, your handling can actually make the animal struggle and become aggressive.
7. Control the dog's movement. Avoid chasing the dog or letting it pace as these will cause the dog to become more anxious, excited, or aroused and consequently more likely to bite. Instead calmly control movement by keeping an appropriate and consistent leash length. The leash should be long enough so there's no pressure on the dog when it's stationary, but short enough to keep the dog from pacing.
Some of these may seem very obvious to you. But they’re indispensable tools for anyone who works in shelters, rescues, hospitals or anywhere dogs are likely to get fearful.
(#7 is especially helpful if, like me, you’re the kind of person who lives with a leash, a towel and a can of dog food in the back of her car, ready to stop by the side of the road for a stray at a moment’s notice.)
Now it’s your turn: In observance of National Dog Bite Prevention Week, offer up your best dog bite prevention tips below…
Dr. Patty Khuly