Last week was National Dog Bite Prevention week. I missed it. Oops. But I did read a BabyCenter post about it, which I’m not going to link to because it’s full of misinformation, and frankly, inflammatory. But it really pissed me off. So I am going to write an accurate post about dog bite prevention. I am a veterinarian, after all.
According to the CDC, approximately 4.5 million dog bites occur each year. One in five requires medical attention. (Note, that does not mean a mauling, it includes relatively minor bites requiring some antibiotics with or without stitches, like Ella’s bite.) Most of the bites occur by family pets to people in their own family. A large percentage of those bites occur to children under the age of nine.
Another important fact to note: All Dogs Will Bite. Even your cute little fluffy white dog will bite if provoked. Different dogs have different tolerance levels, but biting is a natural defensive instinct for dogs and they will bite if they feel threatened.
Children are at greater risk for receiving a bite because the way they interact with dogs is often not appropriate or safe. Even as a veterinarian, my own children do things that could (and have) resulted in a bite. These include taking food away from a dog, petting a dog while its eating, adding food to the bowl while the dog is eating, stepping on the dog or part of the dog, and pulling the dog’s fur or ears or penis (male dogs do not appreciate that).
I firmly believe having pets enriches a child’s life and helps them develop empathy and care giving skills. So, if you have a dog, there a things you can do to help minimize dog bites.
The easiest thing to do. If the dog and children are interacting, watch them to make sure everyone’s playing nicely and your dog isn’t getting stressed or nervous by the interaction. If you think your dog isn’t enjoying the playing, give him a break in another room.
2. Teach Children the Rules
We do not play/touch/or anything with the dog when he’s eating. Meal time is alone time for the dog.
Only gentle touching, no pulling, tugging, etc.
Let sleeping dog’s lie. It’s true. Leave a sleeping dog alone. A dog startled from sleep may instinctively bite (like mine did).
3. Do Not Approach Strange Dogs
Not all dogs like children and it is not okay to run up to a dog and pet them without asking.
4. Always let a dog smell you the first time you meet
It’s non-threatening to the dog. Then pet on the shoulders/back/under the chin. Putting your hand over a dog’s head is a threatening move to a dog. Some dogs won’t appreciate that.
5. Keep Your Dog on Leash
For the love of God, people, seriously. When walking it is the law everywhere to have your dog on leash. Your dog is not special. It needs to be on leash. It’s for everyone’s safety, including your dog’s. If you see a dog off leash you can call animal control and report it. I do sometimes.
A note on dog breeds:
Here’s my bias, in case you were wondering. I do not believe in breed specific legislation. I believe that “aggressive” breeds are aggressive due to poor training and human involvement rather than an innate tendency to bite/attack people. I believe
I adore Pitt Bulls, which is actually a large group of similar breeds. Pitts and other breeds have strong prey drives. Doxies (weiner dogs) were also bred for that reason and have strong prey drives, too. That means they will chase/hunt smaller animals. It may mean they aren’t super safe to have if you have cats, for example. In larger, prey driven breeds, like Pitt Bulls, that quality along with their fierce loyalty and strong desire to please, can be exploited to make them aggressive towards people. A well raised Pitt is a sweet dog and will defend your family. A hundred years ago, they were known as the “babysitter” dog and were one of the most common house pets for their loyalty and willingness to protect the children in the family. (Click over to the link to see some adorable turn of the century pictures of kids and pitties).
That said, I don’t like Chows. However, that is likely because that is the only breed of dog that ever bit me. It was my first week as a kennel attendant in a veterinary hospital and it was an aggressive dog and I was not properly trained to handle it. So in my attempt to get it out of the run I backed it into a corner and put my hand over it’s head to slip the leash on. Clearly aggressive behavior to him on my part. He got me in the webbing of my fingers and I got out of the run. And Chihuahuas are my least favorite breed to work on because far too many of them try to bite while mommy or daddy reinforce the behavior by coddling them.
My point being, when reading anything on the internet, make sure you know the bias that exists, there almost always is one. Don’t believe everything you read and read links in articles to make sure they say what they’re supposed to say. Then make up your own mind.