Understanding dog behavior is key to preventing bites | TahoeDailyTribune.com
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Understanding dog behavior is key to preventing bites

Dawn Armstrong
Special to the Tribune

Dog Bite Prevention Week is May 20-26. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 4.7 million Americans are bitten by dogs each year. Almost half are children under 12 years old and those between the ages of 5 and 9 are at greatest risk. Most dog bites happen in the home with a familiar dog. Dogs may bite out of fear, because they are in pain, are protecting something or someone, or are aggressive, but most interactions resulting in a bite are initiated by the child. To protect both the dog and the child, it is critical to educate children about how to properly communicate with pets, especially dogs.

Why dogs bite

The American Veterinary Medical Association Task Force on Canine Aggression and Humane-Canine Interactions points out that children’s natural behaviors – including running, yelling, grabbing, hitting, quick and darting movements, and maintaining eye contact – put them at risk for dog-bite injuries. Proximity of a child’s face to the dog also increases the likelihood that facial injuries will occur.

In addition, the AVMA authored a public policy safety recommendation, including that “Owners and future owners must be educated about their unique set of responsibilities, which include appropriate pet selection, providing quality nutrition, housing, and medical care, compliance with confinement and licensing requirements, appropriate behavioral training, and supervision of interactions between dogs and children. Citizens must understand that pet ownership is an ongoing responsibility, not a passive activity.”

Which dogs bite

As mentioned above, most bites are by dogs familiar to the victim. CDC dog-bite statistics provide no accurate way to identify the number of dogs of a particular breed involved in an incident, and consequently no measure to determine which breeds are more likely to bite. In addition, the prevalence of particular dog breeds changes over time with peaks of popularity followed by increases in bite reports for specific breeds. A CDC study concluded that the dogs most likely to attack are male, unneutered and chained. California and Nevada are two of the growing number of states with laws banning and/or limiting the chaining or tethering of dogs.

How to stay safe

During National Dog Bite Prevention Week, the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Veterinary Medical Association and the US Postal Service team up to educate Americans about dog safety. Here are some tips to help parents protect children – and themselves – from injury:

• Pick a good breed or mix match. Discuss your lifestyle with a shelter adoption counselor and research breeds with rescue groups or kennel clubs, as well as your veterinarian. Make sure the family is committed to time for the dog.

• Socialize your pet. Gradually expose your puppy to a variety of people and other animals so it feels at ease and continue this exposure as your dog ages.

• Train your dog. Build a bond of communication and trust. 

• Vaccinate your dog against rabies (it’s the law) and other diseases to prevent unnecessary medical procedures if your dog should bite and to prevent pet illness or pain which might cause a bite.

• Neuter your dog. Neutered dogs are less likely to bite.

• Never leave a baby or small child alone with a dog. Never ever, not for a second.

• Teach your child not to approach a dog unless you are present and permission is given by its owner. If permitted, let the dog sniff you and your child first, then touch the dog gently on the side of the neck or back, avoiding the face, head and tail.

• Teach your child not to bother a dog if it is sleeping, eating or caring for puppies. Teach the difference between child toys and dog toys.

• Teach your child not to run past a dog.

• If threatened by a dog, remain calm. Stand sideways to the dog. Avoid eye contact. Remain still like a tree until the dog leaves, or back away slowly. If knocked down, curl into a ball and protect your face with your hands. If a dog bites, clean small wounds with soap and water. Get medical attention for larger wounds. Contact the dog’s owner and veterinarian to check rabies vaccination records.

To help keep your neighborhood safe, you can set up a Neighborhood Animal Watch to keep track of animals which do or do not belong in your neighborhood. For support, call the Lake Tahoe Humane Society and S.P.C.A. at 530-542-2857.

– Provided by the Lake Tahoe Humane Society and S.P.C.A. to help “Keep Tahoe Kind.” Dawn Armstrong is the executive director.


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