Bite Prevention

Apr 22, 2021   Tracey Aston   Behavior

The biggest mistake people make is thinking a pet won't bite. It's said over and over again at parks and family gatherings – ‘he won't bite', ‘I know my pet' or my parent's pet, or my neighbor's pet, etc. The truth is any pet can bite. According to the ASPCA, “The vast majority of dog bites are from a dog known to the person—his or her own pet, a neighbor's or a friend's.” 

While anyone can be bitten, and all need to understand bite prevention, 70% of dog bites are to children. The most important step that can be taken to reduce the chance of a dog bite is to actively supervise children at all times. Being in the same room with a child is not enough! Walking away to get a drink or use the restroom is enough time for something horrible to occur. A bite can happen in a fraction of a second. For the safety of the child and the pet, children need to be supervised around pets at all times.  

As soon as a toddler is able to walk, they can start being taught how to respect the family pet.  Young children don't always know their own strength and what they perceive as a pet, could be interpreted as a hit to a dog that is used to a lighter touch.  To show a child how to gently pet an animal, take their hand in your hand and slowly and gently pet the dog. Children must always realize dogs can feel pain too and will react negatively when they feel they are being threatened. Dogs aren't toys! Never allow a child to pull a dog's tail or ears or pretend to ride them. Children need to be taught that a dog should be respected while eating, sleeping or playing with a toy and they should never attempt to startle a pet awake or take their food or toy away while they're using it. Never allow a child to scream or yell at a dog or run up to them excitedly. What a child thinks is excitement a pet may take as a threat. A child should never grab and pull on a dog's collar, as this could startle or scare them and they could turn and bite.

As children grow, teach them basic canine communication, such as what it means when a dog is barking, growling or showing teeth. Freezing in place, wide eyed staring, lip licking and yawning are all signs of a stressed pet and a stressed or scared pet is more likely to bite.

For more information on preventing dog bites in children, please visit Doggone Safe's Be A Tree program.

Children aren't the only ones who can benefit from understanding dog body language. All adults should be well-versed in what body postures and signs a dog will give to show they are uncomfortable and don't feel safe.  If a dog is giving signs such as lip licking, tail tucking, yawning, or moving their head in the opposite direction of you, these are all signs a dog is feeling uncomfortable. A stressed or frightened dog is much more likely to bite.

Never approach a dog and always let the dog approach you.  Even if the human with the dog says that it's okay to pet the dog, the dog might not want touched.  Dogs have a right to choose if they want to engage. Even if you have interacted with this dog on previous occasions, the dog could be stressed, in pain or tired. Ask the dog and let the dog choose if it wants to interact with you.  Do this by patting your leg and asking the dog if they want interaction by saying “Here puppy, here puppy. If the dog comes to you they are open to interaction. 

When walking toward a dog slowly approach them, putting your side toward them, don't walk directly at them or reach out to the dog, as this could be seen as an aggressive or threatening move. Have your hand next to you and not reaching towards the dog. You want the dog to understand that you will do him no harm.  Make a fist and hold it down at your side and allow the dog to sniff it. You're less likely to be severely injured with a closed fist than an open hand.

Start by only petting the dog for 3 seconds. If the dog wants more they will lean in or move closer to the petting hand. This may seem like a very short time, but think of how long someone gives a handshake when first meeting another person. At this point, you're simply introducing yourself to the dog.

The same as children, an adult should never excitedly run up to a dog. Seeing a cute dog at the park or out on a walk can make some adults forget basic manners for approaching a canine. Timid or shy dogs will react out of fear and can become aggressive. Don't come up behind a dog or startle it – this could cause fearful aggression and the dog will attempt to defend itself.

Allow personal space! Never put your face in a dog's face! Don't try to hug a dog especially around the neck, or lean over a dog or attempt to pick up their feet to “shake” or manipulate the dog in any way.  Imagine how you would feel if someone you just met began to grab at you, hug you or lean on you. I'm guessing it would make you uncomfortable, and dogs are the same way. If you notice a dog is moving away from you, licking their lips, getting wide eyed or continually yawning these could be signs the dog is becoming stressed and it's time to end the interaction. If the dog becomes instantly stiff and freezes move away immediately – they are planning to lunge or bite.

Dogs add so much joy to our lives and are happy to live as man's best friend, cuddle partner, jogging partner or furry company.  Dogs will instinctively watch our body language and will react accordingly. We owe them the same respect. Knowing how to approach a dog and how to respect their space will go a long way in reducing the number of bite incidents each year.

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