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As the saying goes, “One bad apple can spoil the whole bunch.”
Dogs bring millions of human beings across the world an abundance of companionship, joy and utility every day. But the isolated occurrence of dog biting can ignite a stigma that transcends one single dog or even one dog breed, casting a dark shadow upon an entire population of canines and drawing reminders of their wolf ancestry.
A dog can be ideal in nearly every conceivable way – great companion, effective watchdog, fun personality, etc. – however, if that dog is prone to biting, and thereby putting human safety at risk, that dog will likely be labeled a menace to society. That reputation can result in many negative consequences, the most drastic of which is euthanasia.
How Widespread Is This Problem?
Just how prevalent is dog biting in our society? While it may sound hard to believe, dog bites comprise the second most common childhood injury requiring emergency-room care, behind only injuries occurring during baseball/softball games and ahead of injuries arising from playground accidents.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 60 percent of the 4.7 million people bitten by dogs in the U.S. each year are children. Moreover, about half of all children 12 and under have been bitten at some point. But children are hardly the only demographic category susceptible to dog bites – it can happen to anyone, with the elderly and delivery workers representing other frequent targets (yes, the dog-chasing-the-mail-carrier stereotype can hold true).
The increasing number of dog bites has led the CDC to label dog bites as an “epidemic” within our country. However, it’s important to keep the “bad apple” reference in mind, as there are approximately 75 million dogs within the U.S., but just a fraction of these canines contributing to this problem. Dog bites are inflicted upon roughly two percent of the U.S. population annually, but thankfully, the vast majority of these bites prove to be non-fatal.
Understanding Why Dogs Bite
The root causes of dog biting are as diverse as dog breeds, themselves. Among the many reasons why a dog may resort to biting are the following:
- A dog is afraid or threatened by an unknown situation
- A dog is attempting to protect his territory
- A dog is trying to establish dominance
- A dog owner mistakenly taught a dog that biting is an acceptable form of play behavior
Territorial Aggression by dogs can be fueled by dominance or by fear. Dominant dogs believe they have a responsibility to warn other pack members of a stranger’s approach, and they do this with confidence and authority. Fear-related territorial aggression takes the form of approach-avoid behavior with strangers and a failure to settle down while strangers are present within the home.
Ever wonder why a dog seemingly chews everything when you’re gone from the house? These reasons, too, are numerous and varied. A dog may opt to chew to relieve boredom, to satiate his curiosity, to reduce anxiety or separation anxiety, to explore “forbidden fruit” or simply because your household items carry your scent, which appeals to your dog.
Practicing Preventive Medicine
Teaching your family preventative medicine for interacting properly with “man and woman’s best friend” can help minimize the threat of dog biting. This consideration can begin even before your family obtains its furry new member.
What should you consider before getting a dog?
- Consult with a professional to learn which breeds of dogs are suitable for your household.
- Be sensitive to cues that a child is fearful or apprehensive about a dog and, if necessary, delay acquiring a dog.
- Spend time with a dog before buying or adopting it.
- Spay/neuter your dog, as this reduces aggressive tendencies.
- Never leave infants or young children alone with any dog.
- Do not play aggressive games with your dog.
- Socialize and train your dog, seeking professional advice if the dog develops undesirable behaviors.
Preventing the Occurrence of Dog Bites
Regardless of whether your family intends to own a dog, your children will be exposed to dogs in one form or another – whether through visiting friends and family with dogs or encountering them in public settings. Accordingly, you should teach children basic safety tips for interacting with dogs.
Sometimes you can anticipate when a dog intends to attack: The dog may stand very still, the hair on his back may be up and he may be barking, growling or displaying his teeth. Other times, though, a dog may not provide any indication of an imminent attack at all, thus you must mitigate the risk.
How can you minimize the risk of a dog bite occurring?
- Do not approach an unfamiliar dog.
- Do not run from an approaching dog, but rather remain motionless.
- Do not play with a dog unless supervised by an adult.
- Immediately report stray dogs or dogs displaying unusual behavior.
- Do not disturb a dog who is sleeping, eating or caring for puppies.
- Do not pet a dog without allowing it to see and sniff you first.
Minimizing the Danger of a Dog Attack
If encountered with a situation where a dog is making an aggressive advance, you should stop running, remain motionless and silent, avoid eye contact with the dog and keep your hands to yourself. “Feed” the dog an accessory – your jacket, purse, bicycle, etc. – so that you can place some item between yourself and the approaching dog.
In a worse-case scenario, you may find yourself knocked to the ground by a dog. When this occurs, 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 – so cover yourself accordingly.
If a Dog Bite Does Happen…
If you’re bitten, it’s very important to identify the dogs that bit you. Provided you don’t know anything about the culprit dog, you may have to be treated for rabies as a precaution. Seek proper medical attention immediately if necessary.
After biting a person, most dogs are required by local law to be quarantined. The site of quarantine and the length of time vary based on your dog’s vaccination status. Dogs not vaccinated for rabies may have to be euthanized. Whereas a dog with expired vaccinations may require quarantining for up to 45 days, a dog with updated vaccinations may either not require quarantining at all or may warrant a 10-day quarantine.
Humans are not the only potential victims of dog bites. Bite wounds can occur for dogs when they engage in fighting or aggressive play with another dog. Causes of such fighting, which most commonly occur when two adult canines meet for the first time, include dominance and hierarchy, as well as wrestling over food, owner attention and territory.
Bite wounds can result in significant trauma, including tearing, puncturing, lacerations of the skin and underlying issues, since the risk for infection is high. All bite wounds warrant veterinary attention, and most can be treated with antibiotics in order to reduce the risk of infection.
More Resources for Preventing Dog Attacks and Bites
Want more useful advice on how to keep your family safe from dog attacks? Check out these articles:
How to Keep Children Bite-Free from Dogs
Dog Breeds Most Likely to Bite
Dog Parks and Bites: What You Need to Know