Last week, my 5-year-old son Chase participated in a week long camp called Safety Town. During his week at the camp, Chase learned about road safety, fire hazards, stranger danger, earthquake preparedness and many other valuable lessons. The kids learned these safety skills through art, songs and guest visits. I would highly recommend this camp to any 5-year-old who is just starting Kindergarten. Although Safety Town had visits from community professionals such as policemen, firefighters, forest rangers, paramedics and water safety professionals, there was one visitor who absent…an animal welfare professional.
Many years ago, I worked at the Humane Society as the education director. One of my jobs as director was to visit Safety Town with a shelter dog and talk to the kids about being safe around animals. Sadly, the Humane Society doesn’t participate in Safety Town anymore. But as parents, it’s our job to help keep our kids safe around animals. At the same time, pet owners need to make it their responsibility to always make sure their pets are under their control.
In my nine years of working at the Michigan Humane Society in Detroit, I helped remove vicious dogs from drug raids, I captured feral cats from dilapidated houses and even helped confiscate exotic cats, snakes and caimans from inappropriate dwellings. Surprisingly, the worst animal bite I ever experienced did not happen at work, but while out on a run. A few years ago, I was out for a run and I spotted a woman in front of me, walking her dog on her left. Her dog appeared uncooperative, but not viscous by any means. In retrospect, I should have moved way over to my left or passed on the right, but instead I followed the rules of running and passed on her left. As I passed, the dog leapt out, knocked me down to the ground and bit a chunk out of my thigh. The woman quickly ran off with her dog, most likely fearing a lawsuit after hearing all the expletives spewing from my mouth.
Luckily, in my twenty years of running, an encounter such as this one only happened once. My hope would be that a dog bite like this wouldn’t happen too often; however, statistics show that 4.7 million people in the United States are bitten annually. One out of every six of these bites is serious enough to require medical attention. The Center for Disease Control states that children are at the greatest risk for dog bite-related injuries, especially those ages 5-9. Thankfully, there are steps you can take to minimize getting bit by a dog, and you can teach these skills to your children as well. There are also precautions dog owners can take to prevent their dog from biting.
How to avoid getting bit by a dog:
Respect a dog’s personal space. Teach your kids to not disturb a dog (even your own) when it is eating, sleeping, hiding or caring for puppies.
Never approach an unfamiliar dog, especially one who’s tied or confined behind a fence.
Always ask the dog owner’s permission first before you pet their dog.
Don’t pet a dog without letting him see you and sniff you first.
Be aware that the majority of dog bite cases occur from the pet of family or friends; don’t assume that because you know a dog, it won’t bite you.
What to do when a strange dog approaches you:
Your instinct may be to scream and run, but experts say to “stand like a tree” when a strange dog comes towards you. Just remain motionless and avoid eye contact.
Once the dog loses interest and moves away, slowly back away until the dog is out of site.
If you happen to be knocked to the ground, experts say to “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.
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 as 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. Accompany 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. You should also never play “attack” games with your dog. He won’t understand the difference between play and real-life situations.
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.
Walk your dog on your right. If you walk your dog to your right and you both stay to the right side of the sidewalk, you will be between your dog and any pedestrians who can then pass safely on the left. This also prevents two dogs from passing each other when walking opposite ways. Had the woman I had my encounter with been walking her dog on her right, I wouldn’t have been bit.
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. Include 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 it 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.
Even though children are at the greatest risk for dog bite-related injuries, recent research shows that the rate of dog bite related injures among children is decreasing. If dog owners socialize their dogs, keep them under control and kids learn how to approach a dog properly, hopefully the rate of dog bites among children and adults will decrease even more.