Dog bites are usually preventable yet thousands of people are bitten by dogs every year, with children being the most likely victims.
Dog bites: what you should know
• Almost 1 in 5 people bitten by dogs require medical attention.
• Most dog bites affecting young children occur during everyday activities and while interacting with familiar dogs.
• Any dog can bite: big or small, male or female, young or old. Even the cuddliest, fuzziest, sweetest pet can bite if provoked. Remember, it is not a dog’s breed that determines whether it will bite, but rather the dog’s individual history and behaviour.
Why dogs bite
Dogs bite for a variety of reasons, but most commonly as a reaction to something. If the dog finds itself in a stressful situation, it may bite to defend itself or its territory. Dogs can bite because they are scared or have been startled. They can bite because they feel threatened. They can bite to protect something that is valuable to them, like their puppies, their food or a toy.
Dogs might bite because they aren’t feeling well. They could be sick or sore due to injury or illness and might want to be left alone. Dogs also might nip and bite during play. Even though nipping during play might be fun for the dog, it can be dangerous for people.
What you can do to prevent dog bites
Socialising your dog helps him feel at ease in different situations. By introducing your dog to people and other animals while it’s a puppy, it feels more comfortable in different situations as it gets older. It’s also important to use a leash in public to make sure that you are able to control your dog. Puppy training is an invaluable resource here to help both you and your dog.
Responsible pet ownership
This means building a solid foundation for dog bite prevention by carefully selecting the dog that’s right for your family, your lifestyle and the size of your property, proper training, regular exercise, and neutering or spaying your pet.
Create a safe zone
Even if your dog has lived with you for years and loves a nap on the sofa, he needs his own ‘safe space’. This could be his bed, a crate with the door open or even a room seldom used by humans. Offer food and meals in a safe space where the pet does not feel threatened by the presence of humans or other animals. This is especially important now as entire families are spending 24/7 in lockdown.
Educate yourself and your kids
It’s essential that you learn, and teach your children, how to approach a dog and when it is safe to do so.
When adopting a new pet, educate all family members on animal safety to ensure the pet is not overwhelmed with too much attention before it is ready. Prepare your home for a new pet so that the dog has privacy and time to rest. “Respect that a dog’s physical space is very important as it learns to trust you,” says rescue veterinarian Lesa Stabs.“The entire family needs to understand that the animal is capable of biting.”
Monitor all interactions between children and pets. They should never be left together unattended.
When out and about, avoid petting other dogs:
- If the dog is not with its owner
- If the dog is with its owner but the owner does not give permission to pet the dog
- If the dog is on the other side of a fence — don’t reach through or over a fence to pet a dog
- If a dog is sleeping or eating
- If a dog is sick or injured
- If a dog is resting with her puppies or seems very protective of her puppies and anxious about your presence
- If a dog is playing with a toy. Avoid rough play at all times.
- If a dog is growling or barking
- If a dog appears to be hiding or seeking time alone
Pay attention to body language
Reading a dog’s body language can be helpful. Just like people, dogs rely on body gestures, postures and vocalisations to express themselves and communicate. While we can’t always read a dog’s body language accurately, it can give us helpful clues as to whether a dog is feeling stressed, frightened, or threatened. Look out for ears back, shaking, growling, barking and urinating where he isn’t supposed to. High stress indicators include ears back, tail tucking, trembling, lunging and teeth showing.
What do I do if I’m bitten?
If you are bitten by a dog, here is a checklist of things you should do:
- If the dog’s owner is present, request proof of rabies vaccination, and get the owner’s name and contact information.
- Clean the bite wound with soap and water as soon as possible.
- Consult your doctor immediately or go to the emergency room if it’s after office hours.
- Contact the dog’s veterinarian to check vaccination records.
What do I do if my dog bites someone?
Dog bites are scary for everyone involved – the person who has been bitten, the dog owner and even the dog. If your dog happens to bite someone, remember that you are responsible to help the person who has been bitten and to remove your dog from the situation.
- Restrain your dog immediately.
- Separate your dog from the scene of the bite.
- Try to confine your dog in a safe place.
- Check on the bite victim’s condition.
- Make sure that the wounds are washed with soap and water.
- Encourage the bite victim to seek professional medical advice to check on the seriousness of the wound and the risk of rabies or other infections.
- Provide important information.
- Give the bite victim – or others who are with the person at the time of the incident – your name, address and phone number, as well as information about your dog’s most recent rabies vaccination.
- Talk to your veterinarian or an animal behaviourist for advice about dog behaviour that will help prevent similar incidents in the future.
Owning a dog can significantly enhance your life, and the life of your children but it comes with responsibility. How your dog behaves is up to you and your kids. Owning a dog is a privilege not a right; show your appreciation by learning how to take care of him and he’ll be your best friend for life.
Information supplied by DVM