Preventing and Avoiding Dog Bites
An estimated 4.7 million people in the United States are bitten by dogs each year. While some 2,500 of these are letter carriers, children are the most common victims of severe dog bites. Dog-bite injuries are a serious problem in our country, but they’re a problem we can solve. Here’s how:
- Spay or neuter your dog. Dogs who have not been spayed or neutered are three times more likely to bite than are dogs who have been spayed or neutered.
- Train and socialize your dog so that she is comfortable being around people including friends, neighbors, and children.
- Never play “attack” games with your dog. He won’t always understand the difference between play and real-life situations.
- If you don’t know how your dog will react to a new situation, be cautious. When a letter carrier or other service person comes to your door, be sure your dog is safely restrained or confined in another room before opening the door. Don’t allow your dog to bark, jump against the door, or bite the mail as it comes through the mail slot; this will only teach your dog to attack the letter carrier.
- If your dog exhibits behavior such as growling, nipping, or biting—even on an occasional basis—seek professional advice from your veterinarian, an animal behaviorist, or a skilled dog trainer.
- Never approach a dog you don’t know or a dog who is alone without his owner, especially if the dog is confined behind a fence, within a car, or on a chain.
- Don’t disturb a dog who is sleeping, eating, or caring for puppies.
- Don’t pet a dog, even your own, without letting him see and sniff you first.
- When approached by a dog you don’t know, don’t run or scream. Instead, stand still with your hands at your sides and do not make direct eye contact with or speak to the dog. Teach children to “be a tree” until a dog goes away and to practice with a stuffed toy dog.
- If you are knocked to the ground, curl into a ball with your hands over your ears. Lie still and keep quiet until the dog goes away. Teach children to “lie like a log” until a dog goes away.
- If a dog attacks, you may be able to decrease injury by “feeding” him your jacket, purse, bicycle, or anything else that can serve as a barrier between you and the dog.
Common Questions & Answers About Preventing Dog Bites
Q: Is there any way I can “bite-proof” my dog?
A: There is no way to guarantee that your dog will never bite someone. But you can significantly reduce the risk. Here's how:
- Spay or neuter your dog – This important procedure will reduce your dog's desire to roam and fight with other dogs, making safe confinement an easier task. Spayed or neutered dogs are three times less likely to bite.
- Socialize your dog – Introduce your dog to many different types of people and situations so that he or she is not nervous or frightened under normal social circumstances.
- Train your dog – Accompanying your dog to a training class is an excellent way to socialize him and to learn proper training techniques. Training your dog is a family matter. Every member of your household should learn the training techniques and participate in your dog's education. Never send away your dog to be trained; only you can teach your dog how to behave in your home.
- Teach your dog appropriate behavior – Don't play aggressive games with your dog such as wrestling, tug-of-war, or “siccing” your dog on another person. Set appropriate limits for your dog's behavior. Don't wait for an accident. The first time he exhibits dangerous behavior toward any person, particularly toward children, seek professional help from your veterinarian, an animal behaviorist, or a qualified dog trainer. Your community animal care and control agency or humane society may also offer helpful services. Dangerous behavior toward other animals may eventually lead to dangerous behavior toward people, and is also a reason to seek professional help.
- Be a responsible dog owner – License your dog as required by law, and provide regular veterinary care, including rabies vaccinations. For everyone's safety, don't allow your dog to roam. Make your dog a member of your family: Dogs who spend a great deal of time alone in the backyard or tied out on a chain often become dangerous. Dogs who are well-socialized and supervised rarely bite.
- Err on the safe side – If you don't know how your dog will react to a new situation, be cautious. If your dog may panic in crowds, leave him at home. If your dog overreacts to visitors or delivery or service personnel, keep him in another room. Work with professionals to help your dog become accustomed to these and other situations. Until you are confident of his behavior, however, avoid stressful settings.
Q: What should I do if my dog bites someone?
A: If your dog bites someone, act responsibly by taking these steps:
- Confine your dog immediately and check on the victim's condition. If necessary, seek medical help.
- Provide the victim with important information, such as the date of your dog's last rabies vaccination.
- Cooperate with the animal control official responsible for acquiring information about your dog. If your dog must be quarantined for any length of time, ask whether he may be confined within your home or at your veterinarian's hospital. Strictly follow quarantine requirements for your dog.
- Seek professional help to prevent your dog from biting again. Consult with your veterinarian, who may refer you to an animal behaviorist or a dog trainer. Your community animal care and control agency or humane society may also offer helpful services.
- If your dog's dangerous behavior cannot be controlled, do not give him to someone else without carefully evaluating that person's ability to protect him and prevent him from biting. Because you know your dog is dangerous, you may be held liable for any damage he does even when he is given to someone else.
- Don't give your dog to someone who wants a dangerous dog: “Mean” dogs are often forced to live miserable, isolated lives, and become even more likely to attack someone in the future. If you must give up your dog due to dangerous behavior, consult with your veterinarian and with your local animal care and control agency or humane society about your options.
Common Questions & Answers About Avoiding Dog Bites
Q: How can I avoid being bitten by a dog?
A: Never approach a strange dog, especially one who's tied or confined behind a fence or in a car. Don't pet a dog—even your own—without letting him see and sniff you first. Never turn your back to a dog and run away. A dog's natural instinct will be to chase and catch you. Don't disturb a dog while she's sleeping, eating, chewing on a toy, or caring for puppies. Be cautious around strange dogs. Always assume that a dog who doesn't know you may see you as an intruder or as a threat.
Q: What should I do if I think a dog may attack?
A: If you are approached by a dog who may attack you, follow these steps:
- 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.
- If the dog does attack, “feed” him your jacket, purse, bicycle, or anything that you can put between yourself and the dog.
- If you fall or are knocked to the ground, curl into a ball with your hands over your ears and remain motionless. Try not to scream or roll around.
Q: What should I do if I am bitten by a dog?
A: If you are bitten or attacked by a dog, try not to panic.
- Immediately wash the wound thoroughly with soap and warm water.
- Contact your physician for additional care and advice.
- Report the bite to your local animal care and control agency. Tell the animal control official everything you know about the dog, including his owner's name and the address where he lives. If the dog is a stray, tell the animal control official what the dog looks like, where you saw him, whether you've seen him before, and in which direction he went.
Q: Can children be taught to avoid being bitten by a dog?
A: Yes, just as we teach our children to practice safety in other situations, we can teach them to be safe around dogs. The most important lessons for children to learn are not to chase or tease dogs they know and to avoid dogs they don't know.
Common Questions & Answers About the Dog Bite Epidemic
Q: How many dog bites occur every year in the United States?
A: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, estimates that nearly 2% of the U.S. population is bitten by a dog each year. This is more than 4.7 million people per year, most of whom are children.
Q: How many people die every year as a result of dog bites?
A: Ten to twenty people die every year as a result of dog bites in the U.S. By far, the majority of the victims are children. From January 1997 through December 1998, 27 people died after being bitten by a dog. Nineteen of those victims were children under twelve years of age. Of the eight adult victims, most were elderly.
Q: Why do some dogs bite?
A: There are many reasons why a dog may bite. Dogs may bite due to fear, to protect their 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 when they are bitten by dogs who see them as “prey.” Because dog bites occur for many reasons, many components of responsible dog ownership—including proper socialization, supervision, humane training, sterilization, and safe confinement—are necessary to prevent dogs from biting.
Q: Which dogs most commonly bite? Are some breeds more likely to bite than others?
A: The list of top breeds involved in both bite injuries and fatalities changes from year to year and from one area of the country to another, depending on the popularity of the breed. Although genetics do play some part in determining whether a dog will bite, factors such as whether the dog is spayed or neutered, properly socialized, supervised, humanely trained, and safely confined play significantly greater roles. Responsible dog ownership of all breeds is the key to dog bite prevention.
Q: How can local laws prevent dog bites?
A: The most effective dangerous dog laws are those that place the legal responsibility for a dog's actions on the dog's owner rather than on the dog. The best laws hold the owner of any breed of dog accountable for the bite victim's pain and suffering, and mandate certain corrective actions such as spay/neuter and proper confinement of the dog.
Dog Bite Quiz
Answer TRUE or FALSE to the following questions:
1. If a dog is sleeping in the side yard, you should quietly slip up to the front door and make your delivery so you don't disturb the dog.
2. Turning away and retreating quickly from a dog will probably prevent your being bitten.
3. Carrying dog biscuits with you will help you make friends with dogs.
4. Many bites occur because the dog is protective of its home territory.
5. To ensure that you have your repellent, it's a good idea to secure it to your vehicle dashboard.
6. Dogs only attack if you threaten or challenge them.
7. Dogs always make their intentions known by growling or barking before they attack.
8. A storm or screen door will keep the dog inside from attacking you at the door.
9. One way to protect yourself is to spray repellent on dogs at least once so they are afraid to challenge you.
10. Talking softly to a dog while petting it will reassure the dog that you mean no harm and will reduce your chances of being bitten.
Dogs have keen senses; under these conditions, you would probably startle the dog and increase the possibility of an attack. The right procedure? Make a soft noise, such as a low whistle, so the dog won't be surprised. Keep your eye on the dog, and if you must withdraw, back up slowly and carefully to avoid a fall.
Turning and running often increases the dog's excitement and provides an opportunity for it to bite while your back is turned. The proper procedure? Stand your ground initially; face the dog without looking directly in his eyes; use something as a shield; back away slowly and carefully to avoid a fall.
Too often the dog will readily accept the treat, but still not accept you. A proper procedure? You will be safer by attempting to reassure the dog by talking in a friendly manner and using its name if known. But do this from a safe distance.
Dogs instinctively recognize their owners' premises as territorial boundaries. Before entering a property, quickly assess places a dog may be hiding and be alert.
Most attacks occur away from vehicles. The correct procedure is to keep your repellant spray with you and carry it in a location that allows you to use it quickly if you are attacked.
Dogs attack under various circumstances. Properly protect yourself by being aware of the presence of even the friendliest dogs.
Many bites occur without warning. The best way to protect yourself is to stay alert and, if confronted, follow the withdrawal procedures described above.
Dogs have been known to break through screen and storm doors (including glass), and to escape when the owner opens the door. On outward opening doors, you might wish to place your foot against the bottom of the door. If the dog is in the room, ask the owner to move it before opening the door. In any case, be wary of these situations.
Repellent should be used only to thwart an attack. Spraying animals unnecessarily will serve to enrage them (and their owners).
Although well-intended, this approach continues to be a source of dog bites.