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How Common Are Dog Bites to People?
It sounds hard to believe, but dog bites comprise the second most common childhood injury requiring emergency-room care. This is because 60 percent of the 4.7 million people bitten each year are children, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In fact, about half of all children 12 and under have been bitten. This places dog bites ahead of playground accidents, which rank third according to the American Medical Association. (The most common cause of emergency room visits is injury occurring during baseball or softball games).
Other categories of people who are frequently attacked include elderly folk and delivery people, such as mail carriers. The image of a dog chasing the mailman is not a just a stereotype. Most attacks occur at the dog’s home or in a familiar place. The attacking dog usually belongs to the family or a friend of the family.
The increasing number of dog bites has led the CDC to label dog bites as “epidemic” (dog bites are addressed toward 2 percent of the U.S. population annually) Fortunately, most bites are not fatal. About 10 to 20 people die each year as a result of dog bites.
Why Do Dogs Bite?
There are many reasons why a dog may bite: fear, to protect territory, or to establish their dominance over the person being bitten. Some dog owners mistakenly teach their dogs that biting is an acceptable form of play behavior. Sadly, every year a number of newborn infants die because dogs seem to regard them as “prey.” Because dog bites occur for several different reasons, various aspects of responsible dog ownership – including proper socialization, supervision, humane training, neutering, and safe confinement – are necessary to prevent dogs from biting. To learn more about aggressive dogs, see Aggressive Dogs and Society.
If you’re bitten, it is very important to identify the dog that bites you. If you don’t know anything about the dog, you may have to be treated for rabies as a precaution. Also, you will want some action taken to prevent future attacks. Whether your doctor recommends rabies vaccination for you after you have been bitten will depend on how prevalent rabies is in your area (i.e. the circumstances).
Tips on How to Avoid Dog Bites
- Never approach a strange dog, especially one who’s tied or confined behind a fence or in a car.
- Don’t pet a dog without letting him see and sniff you first.
- Never turn your back on a dog and run away. A dog’s natural instinct in this situation is to chase and catch you.
- Don’t disturb a dog while it’s sleeping, eating, chewing on a toy, or caring for puppies.
- Be cautious around strange dogs. Always assume that a dog sees you as an intruder or potential threat.
- If a dog approaches to sniff you – remain still. In most cases, the dog will go away when it determines that you’re not a threat.
- If you encounter a potentially aggressive dog, never scream and run.
- Remain motionless, hands at your sides, and avoid eye contact with the dog. Once the dog loses interest in you, slowly back away until he is out of sight.
- Be cautious around strange dogs and treat your own pet with respect. Because children are the most frequent victims of dog bites, parents and caregivers should:
1. Never leave a baby or small child alone with a dog.
2. Be on the lookout for potentially dangerous situations.
3. Teach young children, including toddlers, to be careful around pets.
4. Teach children not to approach strange dogs and to ask permission from a dog’s owner before petting it.
What to Do if Attacked By a Dog
- If the dog does attack, “feed” him your jacket, purse, bicycle, or anything that you can put between yourself and it.
- If you fall or are knocked to the ground, curl into a ball with your hands over your ears and remain motionless. Do not scream or roll around. The face is the most common area for attack, particularly the lips, nose, and cheeks.
- Some people, such as mail carriers, carry protective devices, such as pepper spray, to ward off attacks. One deterrent product that does not physically harm the dog is called the “Dazer.” It produces ultrasound that can ward off a dog within a 20 foot radius.
Why It’s Best to Remain Still During an Dog Attack?
Dogs attack for one of three basic reasons:
- Dominance and territoriality – the will to control and protect resources
- Through fear – for reasons of self-protection
- Fear predatory reasons – when the so-called “prey drive” is activated
Dominance aggression is usually directed toward the face or hands of a person when their face looms too close or their hands somehow threaten or interfere with the dog or its possessions. Standing motionless and looking away will often defuse this type of aggression.
Fear aggression often takes the form of a “cheap shot” directed toward a person’s calf or thigh as they turn to exit the scene. Standing still can deactivate this type of aggression by halting the perceived challenge while simultaneously holding one’s ground.
Predatory aggression is stimulated by motion and commotion, running away and by yelling. It is best to stand still and be quiet to defuse such attacks.
In summary, if a dog is making an aggressive advance – stop running, remain motionless and silent, do not look into the dog’s eyes, and keep your hands to yourself. Or, in an extreme situation, drop to the ground, curl in a ball, and protect the nape of your neck with your hands.