According to the CDC, every year nearly 4.7 million dog bites occur. 800,000 of these bites require medical care and attention. That’s nearly 1 in 69 Americans!
Dog bites can occur for plenty of reasons. Dogs may bite out of fear or anxiety. They might bite because they’re stressed or because they’re trying to protect themselves or their owners. Dogs also might bite because you’re encroaching on their territory or because you’re trying to take away a prized possession. Finally dog bites might occur while your dog is playing.
Dog bites can occur as a result of miscommunication between humans and owners. Because dogs cannot speak like human do, they can’t let us know with words that they’re scared, stressed, uncomfortable, and angry.
Instead, dogs communicate with us in other ways. Some warning signs that your dog might be about to bite include:
- Yawning or lick licking
- Showing teeth
- The dog is trying to get away from you
- The dog is intensely staring or stalking you.
- Rigid body
- Fur standing up
This is why many dog behavioral experts recommend that you never scold your dog for barking or growling. By teaching your dog that it’s not okay to display these warning signs, it’s more likely that they’ll jump straight to biting.
While it’s highly unlikely that a bite from a dog will be fatal, dog bites are dangerous because they can lead to bacterial infections, nerve or muscle damage, rabies or tetanus, or scarring. Dog bites are painful and can be very traumatic.
In order to protect yourself and prevent the likelihood that you’ll ever be bitten by another dog or have your dog bite another dog or human, here are some ways you can prevent dog bites.
Learn the classic warning signs
One the simplest ways you can prevent dog bites is by learning as much as you can about dog behavior and the classic warning signs. That way you’ll be better equipped to spot a dog that’s about to be pushed over the edge. If you notice a dog is exhibiting the warning signs listed above you can then modify your behavior, create distance, or leave all together.
Teach children how to properly interact with your pets.
Most dogs bites are inflicted on humans by dogs they know. Chances are if you’re ever bitten it’ll be by your own dog, a friend’s dog, or a neighbor’s. Children are especially vulnerable to dog bites because many of them have never been properly educated on how to interact with dogs (more than 50% of dog bites involve children, 26% of which will require medical attention).
In order to protect children, let them know that it’s never okay to climb or play on top of their pets. They should also be instructed never to punch, hit, pinch, or yank on their dogs tail, paw, or ears.
Children also should never reach for toys or bones that dogs are chewing on and should be taught to keep their distance when the dog is eating or drinking. Teach children to always, always, always ask for permission before approaching or petting a dog they don’t know and remember that as an adult you should always use the same precaution.
Furthermore, you should always supervisor children when they’re playing or petting pets so that you can intervene in dangerous situations.
Finally, teach children the classic warning signs for aggressive behavior in dogs and make sure they never approach a dog that is barking, growling, lunging, or snapping.
Know when it’s acceptable to pet a dog
Always ask the owner of a new dog if you can him or her beforehand. If they say yes, go ahead! But if they say no, please respect their wishes. They’re only trying to protect you and their dog. They may say no because their dog is fearful or reactive. They also just might not want to take that risk at all even if they have never displayed any aggressive behaviors, reactivity, or fear.
Additionally, don’t try to pet dogs that are in cars, behind fences, or tied up in their yard as they may exhibit territorial aggression. If you find a strange or lost dog in your yard, exhibit caution before you approach them. If they seem sacred or aggressive call your local animal control or humane rescue.
Be responsible with your own pets
Always adopt or purchase your pets from a reputable breeder or animal shelter. If you’re adopting from a shelter, try to find shelters that work with animals using enrichment and behavior modifications. Try to get as much information on your potential dogs history and behavior before bringing them home as well.
If you’re purchasing from a breeder, ask for medical papers that can prove your dog was bred responsibility.
Finally, always spay or neuter your pets and socialize them, especially when they’re young and impressionable pups. Well socialized dogs are less likely to bite as they’ve been exposed to a variety of people, places, dogs, and other stimuli and don’t view them as frightening or threatening.
Work with your pets
Take them to training classs early and often. You can start with puppy preschools and work all the way up to earning canine good citizenship. Many dog trainers also offer one on ones in your own home. When it comes to quality obedience training, it’s always best to consult the experts.
Protect your own dog
Protect your dog from potential bites and make sure they’re always up to date on their yearly rabies shots. If you’re out and about in places like dog parks, keep an air horn on hand. It might help to break up any dog fights.
It’s better to be safe than sorry
Always err on the side of caution. If you’re not sure if a dog is friendly just don’t approach it.
Additionally, be aware of your dogs limitations
If you know they’re fearful or anxious, avoid putting them in situations that might trigger these behaviors. Avoid crowded and noisy places and always let strangers know that it’s not safe to pet or approach your dog. At first, you might be embarrassed to have to admit it, but remember you’re trying to keep your dog safe too. Your dog isn’t giving you a hard time, they’re having a hard time and that’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Finally, if you’re struggling with fearful, anxious, or reactive behaviors consult with a local behaviorist or dog trainer.