The majority of canine companions deserve the reputation of “man’s best friend.” Yet, in the United States, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, more than 4.7 million dog bites occur annually, with approximately 60 percent of the victims being children. Two years ago, Barney, President George W. Bush’s dog, bit a reporter. If you saw the video, you can tell that Barney’s posture was tense and the reporter approached very quickly and from above. This maneuver is frightening to a smaller dog. I used to give classroom presentations to elementary schools teaching children how to greet dogs; but as was proven here, even some adults need educating.
In general, to avoid being bitten by a dog, you never want to approach an unfamiliar dog, especially one that is tied to its yard or behind a fence. Even if it’s your own dog, you never want to disturb a dog while she’s sleeping, eating, or caring for puppies.
How to greet a dog.
Before you reach out to pet a dog, always ask permission from the owner. Once you have permission, it’s best to squat down to the dog’s level, and then slowly bring your hand toward the dog from the side, not above. Keep your fist closed and let the dog sniff your hand first. Then pet the dog’s sides or back gently. The entire time you want to remain quiet and refrain from making any sudden movements.
What to do when a strange dog approaches you.
Common wisdom is to tell children to “stand like a tree” when a strange dog comes toward them. You don’t want to scream and run. Just remain motionless and avoid eye contact. Once the dog loses interest and moves away, slowly back away until the dog is out of sight. If you happen to be knocked to the ground, “be a log” by facing down, keeping your legs together and cover the back of your neck with closed fists. If the dog does attack, try to put anything you can between you and the dog—your jacket, purse, school bag, etc. This may seem easier said then done, but I have seen countless children get chased by dogs and had they stood still, the chase would not have likely occurred.
How to prevent your dog from biting.
You can’t guarantee that your dog will never bite, but there are certain things you can do to lessen the chances that your dog will bite.
• Spay or neuter your dog. Spayed and neutered dogs are less aggressive and less likely to bite.
• Socialize your dog. You should introduce your dog to many people and situations as you can, especially when your dog is young. However, it’s never too late to socialize your dog, but remember to go slowly.
• Train your dog. Take your dog to training classes. Make sure the entire household participates in utilizing the training techniques.
• Teach appropriate behavior. Never allow your dog to chase people, even in fun. Seek professional help if your dog ever displays aggressive behavior.
• Be safe. If you aren’t sure how your dog is going to react to a new situation, be cautious. You may want to leave him at home. If your dog overreacts to visitors, keep him locked up when company comes over. You can work with professionals to help your dog become accustomed to these situations.
What you should do if your dog bites someone.
• Restrain your dog immediately. Remove your dog from the scene and confine him to a cage or carrier.
• Check on the victim’s condition. Help the victim clean bite wounds with soap and water. Professional medical advice should be sought to evaluate bite wounds and the risk of rabies or other infections. Call 911 if a response by paramedics is required.
• Provide important information to the victim including your name, address, and information about your dog’s most recent rabies vaccination. If your dog does not have a current rabies vaccination, it may be necessary to quarantine your dog.
• Comply with local ordinances regarding reporting of dog bites.
• Consult your veterinarian for advice about dog behavior that will help prevent similar problems in the future.
What you should do if you are bitten.
• If your own dog bites you, confine it immediately and call your veterinarian to check your dog’s vaccination records. You may also want to consult with your veterinarian about your dog’s aggressive action. Your veterinarian can examine your dog to make sure he is healthy, and can help you with information or training that may prevent more bites.
• If someone else’s dog bites you, first seek medical treatment for your wound. Next, contact authorities and tell them everything you can about the dog: the owner’s name, if you know it; the color and size of the dog; where you encountered the dog; and if, where, and when you’ve seen it before. These details may help animal-control officers locate the dog.
In addition, consider asking your physician if post-exposure rabies prophylaxis is necessary. Rabies vaccinations aren’t always required if you are bit by a dog that can’t be quarantined. I was once badly bitten by a dog while out running and the dog took off, never to be found. Luckily, my doctor didn’t require that I receive the series of rabies vaccinations. However, if you own pets or are around animals, it’s best to have a current tetanus vaccination.
A word about dogs and young kids: think “Safety First” at all times!
Dog safety education begins with you. Young children do not understand that all dogs have the potential of biting someone. Even with your own family’s dog, small children should never be left alone with a dog or puppy without parental supervision. This is for the safety of both the child and the pet, to minimize the chance of either being injured.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, children are at the greatest risk for dog bite-related injuries, especially those ages five to nine. Luckily, recent research shows that the rate of dog bite related injures among children seems to be decreasing. However, I would recommend sharing this column with your children in order to help them be prepared. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
Adoptable Pet of the Week