Friday, May 24, 2013

Dog Bite Prevention Week

by Anna Geletka

The third full week in May is National Dog Bite Prevention Week! As an animal advocate, HSEC volunteer, dog owner, and dog attack survivor, this subject is very close to my heart. 4.7 million dog bites occur in the US each year. Most could be prevented. Please, read on and learn how to prevent you and your loved ones from becoming part of this statistic.

Any dog can bite, just like almost any human can be provoked to violence. Our dog, Nova, is an HSEC alum. When we first adopted her, she was extremely nervous and agitated around strangers. After three years of patient work, she is now much more relaxed, but she is still very uncomfortable around children. The problem is she's a chocolate lab (and darn cute, if I do say so myself). Note that since we have adopted her, Nova has never bitten anyone (we don't have information about her previous life). But because I am familiar with dog behavior, I know that in the right situation her discomfort could escalate to an attack.

Although I try hard to avoid situations where Nova is around strange children, sometimes it happens. Often kids will come running up to us, placing themselves in her personal space despite the many ways she tries to warn them away through her body language, growling, raising her hackles, or even showing her teeth. I will always put my own body between Nova and a child, but I also wish that all children had the knowledge to keep themselves from entering into potentially dangerous situations with dogs.

The best way to protect yourself and your family is to know how to read a dog's body language and
Nova is cute, but her nervousness could escalate to a bite.
how to respectfully approach strange animals. Step One is to ask the owner if it is ok to approach the dog, and don't be upset if the owner says no. For more information, check out our post on how to greet a strange dog.

Dog bites also happen in the home. Trust me on this - when I was just over a year, I was bitten in the face by my family's beloved Springer Spaniel. I was left alone in the room with the dog, who was (unbeknownst to my parents) most likely ill and in pain. Young children should never be left alone with a dog, even the family pet.

Ultimately, it is an owner's responsibility to keep their pet from harming others. Pet owners especially need to be well-versed in canine behavior, and to know their own animal well. It's not enough to say, "my dog doesn't bite!" Though we love them, dogs are animals. And biting is part of a suite of communication behaviors. Every dog should be viewed with the knowledge that it is capable of biting, and treated with the respect (not fear) that this viewpoint deserves.

While all dogs can bite, there are certain commonalities among dogs more likely to bite, and those whose attacks are most severe. Most fatal dog attacks involve male dogs (92%), most of whom are unneutered (94%). A quarter of fatal attacks involve chained dogs, and more than half involve unrestrained dogs on their owner's own property. 50% of all dog bites involve children under 12, and 70% of fatal dog attacks are against children under 10. (For my source, and more statistics, click here.)

Some have suggested that breed-specific legislation (BSL), which outlaws breeds like pit bulls and rottweilers, is the best way to decrease dog bites and attacks. HSEC, and other humane organizations including the American Humane Association, the Humane Society of the United States, and the ASPCA, do not support BSL. Such laws are costly, ineffective, and often result in a black market trade on targeted breeds which increases overpopulation and abuse. I would suggest that such laws also create a false sense of security and the false impression that other dog breeds will not bite.

As a responsible pet owner, these are the steps to take to decrease the chances your dog will bite:
  • Spay and neuter
  • Proper socialization and training
  • Restraint with a proper leash (24% of fatal attacks involve unrestrained dogs off an owner's property)
  • Spay and neuter
  • Supervision, especially when kids and dogs are together
  • Not chaining the dog - a chained dog is almost three times more likely to bite
  • Seriously, have I mentioned SPAY AND NEUTER?

By working together - as rescue organizations, as owners, as parents, as individuals - we can further reduce dog bites, attacks, and fatalities. This is a fixable problem. So let's fix it!

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