Whether you are a dog owner, a dog lover, or you live in a neighborhood with plenty of dogs, learning how to prevent dog bites can come in very handy in unforeseen and risky situations.
Yes, dogs are man’s best friend and probably the most beloved pet around the world. But you must realize that even as a friendly companion, a dog is an animal who can bite … and bite hard. In fact, over 4.7 million Americans get bitten by dogs every year. Additionally, most of the victims are children and senior citizens.
According to some reports, almost a million of these people need some form of medical attention due to the severity of bites. Fifteen to 20 of such dog bite cases succumb to related injuries. The Center for Disease Control states that children are more prone to getting attacked by a canine than any other age group.
While one can expect a stray or a strange dog to launch an attack and bite, it might come as a shock to you that most people experience dog bites by a familiar dog. These include a friend’s dog or even a family dog.
Dogs are all around us. Generally, they are friendly as a pet, but they can bite if they are afraid, agitated, or injured. They may also bite if they feel threatened. All dogs can bite, irrespective of their breed, size, and training. Even the nicest ones may take a nip at your heels while caught up in the moment. So you have to be careful around them, no matter how long you have known them.
Why Do Dogs Bite?
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Before you learn how to prevent dog bites, it is wise to learn why dogs bite and if there are any telltale signs prior to an imminent attack. In most cases, dogs bite when they feel intimidated by a certain situation or person; this is an instinct for all dogs, stray or domesticated.
Following are some actions that can trigger aggressive behavior in a dog:
- Startling a dog by sneaking up unexpectedly or suddenly; approaching a dog from behind, when he cannot see you.
- Approaching an unknown dog. Dogs are very territorial and protect themselves, their habitat, and their owners. They also have a pack mentality, so if you are a stranger to a dog and approach it without precautions, the risk of a dog bite increases exponentially.
- Running away from a dog. Remember, animals act on instinct, so even if you are running away from a dog in a very playful manner, a dog’s instinct may tell him to chase you as prey.
- Encountering a fearful or abused dog. If a dog is fearful of its safety, approached or treated violently, abused, or abandoned, all such situations can instigate a dog bite.
- Dealing with a sick or injured dog. An injured or dog with a health condition is more likely to bite than a healthy one. Remember how we feel irritated when sick or in pain. Similarly, a dog may not like being touched or approached at these times, no matter how much it loves you.
Ways to Prevent Dog Bites
If you pay close attention to a dog’s behavior or take precautionary measures, you can help avoid a dog bite or prevent one during an imminent attack.
The Warning Signs
Dogs do communicate. If you learn to read their body language, it will be easier for you to pick up vibes on how the dog feels. Dogs are more likely to bite if tense or scared; they love their comfort zone and space, so do not approach a dog if you feel they are nervous around you.
Of course, there are some physical signs a dog displays if he is out of his comfort zone. If you approach or are approached by an unfamiliar canine, then look for these signs:
- An erect tail slowly wagging back and forth
- A stiff tail
- A tense body
- Baring teeth
- Flattened back ears
- A dog flicking its tongue
- Licking of lips
Introducing Yourself to a Strange Dog
Let’s be fair, canines love humans and will rarely show aggressive behavior if approached for patting. Still, it’s better safe than sorry. When you come across a new dog, always ask the owner’s permission before you introduce yourself. The owner will let you know if the dog is comfortable with other people or not. Once you get a go-ahead from the owner, be patient and allow the dog to investigate you. Dogs are curious by nature and will want to sniff your hand to get familiar with you; that is how they do it.
If you are interacting with a puppy or a smaller dog, holds your hand in a cup to introduce yourself. However, you’ll need to hold your hand in a relaxed way when saying hi to a larger dog. Do this by having your hand in a loose fist with the back of your hand exposed to the dog to smell.
Always make sure that you do not go straight to touch or pat them over their head. A dog might perceive that as a threat or attack, which can drive it to bite.
Do not be alarmed if the dog decides to sniff you around; it is not a threatening behavior. However, if you do not allow a dog to investigate you before you touch, it may bite you in self-defense. And under no circumstances ever surprise a dog, especially a strange or stray one.
Do Not Run
It is a wise thing to get away from a dog that is displaying aggressive behavior, but running away is a big NO. It is safe, and a good precautionary measure, to step away slowly if you encounter a dog acting tense. However, do not make eye contact or stare at the dog. An anxious dog will take eye contact as a threat.
Try to back off to a place of safety, ideally where you can have a sturdy barrier between yourself and the canine. Most importantly – for the love of your life, DO NOT RUN. I mentioned earlier that such an action might trigger their instinct to chase prey, which may result in dog bites.
If it feels like an attack is inevitable, do the following to avoid a dog bite.
- Stand straight and still and tell the dog “No” or “Go Home” in a firm tone of voice; however, do not shout or scream as that may be perceived as aggressive behavior or make the dog tenser.
- Stand like a tree, straight with folded hands in front of you, head lowered, looking at your feet. This stance is boring and uninteresting for a dog. Stay still in this posture until the dog loses interest and leaves, or help arrives.
- If the dog does launch an attack, even after trying the above-mentioned steps, try to block his attempt to bite with a bag, purse, or anything you may have.
- If you are dragged down, curl up in a ball and use your hands to cover your head, neck, and ears. This is to avoid any life-threatening dog bites to sensitive areas.
Educate Your Children
Children are the most common victims of dog bites and attacks, both at home by a family pet or outdoors by a strange canine. It is of utmost importance that you educate your kids with the basics of interacting with a dog. Additionally, teach them how to avoid dog bites. Ask your children to always report a loose dog on the street and tell them never to approach a strange dog. Also, teach your children to ask the owner first if the dog is safe to interact with.
Children must learn that dogs are territorial animals; therefore, they must avoid dogs on a leash, in a backyard, or behind a fence. Dogs will fiercely defend their territories. A child must never hug a strange dog; the closeness of a hug brings a child’s face dangerously close to a dog’s mouth. If a dog decides to snap, he might go for the face.
Ask the children to play gently with a dog, no matter the size. Even with the most playful dog, rough playing may instigate overexcitement on the dog’s part, and he may forget his manners and training.
Children must be instructed never to hit or tease a dog. This kind of violent behavior may result in dog bites. Children love to jump around; they may think it is adorable, but the dog won’t. Teach your kids never to startle a dog, especially when it is sleeping and eating. They should never corner a dog, not even in a playful fashion, as the dog may leap on them to escape.
Most importantly, tell your children to be careful around a mother dog. Even a family dog will be aggressively protective of her pups, and any rough behavior may trigger retaliation in the form of a dog bite.
Train Your Dog
Socialize your dog as early as four to 12 weeks of age. At first, introduce them to other people and pets within a familiar environment like home or backyard; then gradually start expanding their interaction by taking them for walks, etc. This will help ease your canine’s fears and anxiety around strangers and other pets.
Do you know most dog bites occur when people try to pet a dog that is eating? Therefore, train your puppy at a young age to get accustomed to petting during their meal. It will become a habit and prevent any future mishaps.
Basic commands are very important. Discipline your dog to stand, follow you, look, sit, and drop their toy. Teach your dog key commands like “Sit,” “Come,” “Stop,” “No,” etc. When the dog obeys a command, offer a treat for encouragement. This action and reward exercise will program your dog’s memory to associate a command with a behavior. In case of a circumstance in which you find your dog about to get aggressive, these commands will come in handy to distract him and avoid any unfortunate incidents resulting in dog bites.
Teach your puppies that bites are bad behavior. If a puppy ever nips at you, make a squealing or sharp noise; this will make them back off. In case the puppy persists, gently grab the loose skin on the back of their neck and tell them “NO.” Then walk away. The little munchkin will get the idea that they have done something they should not and will eventually stop acting this way.
Before training, here’s a piece of important advice for the new pet owners; always adopt from shelters with good feedback about their pet training. This will save you a lot of hard work.
Vaccinate on Time
Whatever the breed, size, and age of your dog, always keep your puppies and dogs vaccinated. It is vital to avoid any serious medical emergency in case of dog bites. Up to 18 percent of dog bites become infected with bacteria. Dog bites can cause some serious diseases such as rabies, Capnocytophaga bacteria, Pasteurella, MRSA, and tetanus.
In Case a Dog Bites
If a dog bites, even after all the precautions, then you must do the following as first aid.
For Minor Wounds
Wash your hands, apply an antibiotic cream, and use a clean bandage. See a doctor if you experience pain, soreness, swelling, or if you develop a fever.
For Deep Wounds
Use a clean, dry cloth to apply pressure to stop the bleeding and call 911 or your local emergency services.
Whether you are dealing with a major dog bite or a superficial one, if you believe that the dog that bit you was acting strangely, immediately contact the local emergency service or visit an urgent care facility. It is also important that you report that dog to the local animal control agency because it is a potential risk to others as well.
Handle with Care
Above all, remember that dogs are known for being man’s best friend since time began. Like any relationship, it requires some give and take. If you respect them, they will respect you back. Once you know the causes of dog bites and how you can prevent yourself from such a situation, you reduce the likelihood of ever experiencing this kind of trauma.