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The Daily Vet by petMD

The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.

As it’s National Dog Bite Prevention Week, I feel obligated to share my top methods by which canine aficionados can avoid some of the personal, emotional, and financial trauma associated with incidents where our canine companions’ teeth penetrate another animal or person’s skin.

According to the AVMA Dog Bite Prevention webpage:

  • 4.7 million people the U.S. are bitten by dogs on an annual basis
  • 800,000 Americans receive medical attention for dog bites each year
  • Children are most commonly bitten, as 400,000 receive medical attention every year (senior citizens are in second place)
  • Dog bites to children most commonly occur with familiar dogs engaging in everyday activities

Dog bites can have tragic consequences, including severe injury or death. They can also be costly and lead to a dog’s banishment from its city of residence, as we all learned in the tragic tale involving celebrity DJ Samantha Ronson’s dog Cadillac (see Settlement Reached in Dog Death Lawsuit Brought Against DJ Samantha Ronson on Pet360).

When it comes down to it, dog bite awareness and prevention shouldn’t be merely a week-long endeavor, but a daily practice undertaken by all pet owners. Additionally, striving to prevent dog bites is a much better wellness practice for all parties involved than managing the post-bite trauma.

Here are my top five dog bite prevention tips:

Proper Socialization and Training

Get your dog used to being around others of his kind by promoting consistent and positive socialization with other animals. If you are training a puppy or acclimating a new adult rescue pooch to your household and lifestyle, focus on training from a positive perspective as soon as you become the primary care provider.

Teaching the basic commands “sit,” “stay,” “come,” and others can help strengthen the canine-human bond and increase the likelihood that your pooch will respond favorably to interactions with other people.

If you aren’t confident with your technique or if your message is coming across as less than authoritative, then seek guidance from a trainer, veterinarian, or veterinary behavior specialist via the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists website.

Leash Restraint

Always keep your dog on a short leash in public spaces. Avoid using an extendable lead, which doesn’t allow for the same degree of control as a non-extending leash does, which keeps your dog’s movement to the limited area that you allow.

Know Your Friends and Be Wary of Potential Foes

Do not permit your dog to approach another dog with whom you are not familiar. Besides the concern for a bite, scratch, or other trauma, the owners of canine companions need to be aware that other diseases (ocular, oral, respiratory tract and other viruses, bacteria, etc.) can potentially transmit from nose to nose or mouth to anus (i.e., “fecal-oral transmission”) contact.

Avoid Potentially Stressful and Harmful Situations

If your dog is socially-challenged, consider skipping the dog park all together. Any place where dogs congregate is a location where canine stress levels are high and normal behaviors are cast aside for more primordial patterns of aggression, anxiety, and a seemingly reduced capacity to pay attention to an owner's commands.

A brief and seemingly safe interaction between two dogs can go quickly awry. What once appeared as a friendly meeting can escalate into a blood-shedding fight at a moment’s notice.

Consider the Costs of Bite Wound Treatment

You may be thinking “the first four recommendations sound great, but my dog is perfect and would never get into a fight with another animal.” On more occasions than I can recall, I’ve heard my clients say such things while sitting in the examination room and seeking treatment for a bite wound their dog received or inflicted.

The average cost associated with treating a dog bite on an emergency basis can vary from hundreds to thousands of dollars and is typically relative to the amount of damage received (or inflicted). That is, the more serious the dog bite, the more expensive the veterinary bill.

The degree of damage incurred is never fully visible to the naked eye at the surface of the skin. Therefore, it is often necessary to sedate or anesthetize an animal, open up the bite wound, assess and repair the damage underneath the skin's surface, then surgically close the site with a drain (a rubber penrose drain provides an exit for bodily fluids that collect as a result of the crushing injury associated with a bite-related trauma).

Always take preventative measures to ensure that your pooch will not be the instigator or the recipient of a dog bite. What do you do to help prevent dog bite trauma to or by your companion canine?

Dr. Patrick Mahaney

Image: dogboxstudio / via Shutterstock

Comments  10

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  • Consistency
    05/21/2013 05:40pm

    Working with a dog appears to be something that should go on forever. Just because Fido knows "sit", "stay" and all the other commands, doesn't mean the human shouldn't reinforce the learning on an ongoing basis.

    Too, if one has a dog that tends to be nippy although its trained, segregate it from visitors because because some people just can't resist interacting with a pet.

  • 05/27/2013 09:25pm

    Great suggestions.
    As we pet owners have to step in and lead the pack (so to speak) so that our canine or feline companions best assimilate into the social and environmental constructs we create for them, it's always best that we are calling the shots and thinking ahead to prevent bite wound (and other trauma) to other people and pets.
    Dr. PM

  • Body Language
    05/22/2013 05:28pm

    Body language is a way of communication for dogs. Most people don't know how to read a dog's body language and that could result in a bite as well. I think better educating people about body language would prevent bites because people would know when a dog is acting scared or aggressive.

  • 05/27/2013 09:27pm

    Great suggestion to take into consideration the body language that animals exhibit. On more than one occasion, I have observed people who don't properly understand a dog or cat's body language still strive to make some form of physical connection and end up being scratched bitten.
    Dr. PM

  • "But my dog is perfect"
    05/23/2013 12:51pm

    "But my dog is perfect and would never get into a fight with another animal." I see people with this attitude all the time, letting their dog run loose at the park. What they fail to realize is, MY dog is not perfect, and when their friendly pooch runs over to say hi, I have all I can do to keep my dog from killing it.

    Please, owners of perfect dogs, USE A LEASH!

  • 05/27/2013 09:29pm

    Great suggestions!
    We canine and feline owners must always recognize that we hold our pets in the utmost of pristine perception to a fault. Often, as a result of our lack of proper planning or intervention in questionable pet interactions, disaster ensures.
    Dr. PM

  • Positive positioning
    05/23/2013 02:22pm

    One of the first things I learned from a top trainer was to never put my dog in a position to fail. (This is a good thing to remember with all you love - be it your child, your friends, your employees, etc.)

    Know your dog and put him in the best place for success and avoid those situations which you are unsure of.

  • 05/27/2013 09:31pm

    Thank you for your comments.
    Not putting your canine companion in a position when they can fail is certainly a great place for which dog owners should all strive. Unfortunately, we are not often around to observe all interactions, especially if our dog goes with a walker or sitter or other person responsible for their care in our absence.
    So, educating all those involved in the caretaking process is essential to promoting positive interactions with other pooches.
    Dr. PM

  • 05/27/2013 10:46pm

    Not putting your canine companion in a position when they can fail is certainly a great place for which dog owners should all strive. Unfortunately, we are not often around to observe all interactions, especially if our dog goes with a walker or sitter or other person responsible for their care in our absence.
    So, educating all those involved in the caretaking process is essential to promoting positive interactions with other pooches.

    I understand what you are saying but I am not certain I conveyed my thoughts to you. Maybe I assumed to much in my effort to avoid writing an essay. When you state: "educating all those involved in the caretaking process is essential to promoting positive interactions with other pooches." I say if I believe in not putting my dog in a position to fail why would I put him in an unknown situation with people whose knowledge level regarding the care/interaction of my dog are unknowns to me? As far as I am concerned, putting my dog in the situation you refer to is putting my dog in a potential position to fail.

    I am also a strong believer in being consistent with my dog and being aware of how my dog reacts to various situations. I put them in a variety of situations so they will learn. Well socialized dogs are, in my experience, better able to handle new and strange environments/people/experiences. Too many bite situations are either a dog put in a situation where they are afraid and lack confidence. Another big area of concern is the uneducated public who are far too clueless as to how to approach and deal with an animal who is unknown to them. I have Great Danes. Danes tend to roll with the punches and take the lead of their master. I have used my Danes to teach others - especially children what to do and what not to do. This is a win/win for both the person and my dog.

    If I had to put my dog with another person, I would advise them of what to look out for, what to avoid, etc. I would avoid putting my dog with someone who I did not feel could handle him. In other words, I would do all in my power to put my dog in the position to succeed. If I am thinking of that, then I am aware and observant. I am far, far from perfect but learning my dog and how he reacts, treating him consistently, being aware, socializing him, educating other people how to best interact with him, etc. are all things which help me put my dog in the position to succeed.

  • Old story
    07/30/2013 01:03am

    I heard this story a long time ago but always thought there was a ton of truth in it. One day while standing @ a bus stop a small dog wandered up & sat down next to me, kind of a scruffy looking little cus but he seemed ok so I paid him no mind. A few minutes later a guy walked up & as it always seems to happen he started to strike up a conversation, after a bit he looked down @ the little guy next to me & he asked" does your dog bite? I replied, no, & with that he reached down to pat the little cur on his head & the dog latched on to his arm like it was a T-bone steak. He looked up @ me & screamed "I thought you said your dog doesen't bite? I shrugged my shoulders & said "Not my dog"

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