Facts About Dog Bites
Here are some basic facts from the American Veterinary Medical Association:
- Each year, more than 4.5 million people in the United States are bit by dogs.
- One in 5 dog bites require medical attention.
- Children are the most-often bitten and are also the most likely to be severely injured.
- Seniors are the second-most-often bitten.
- Dog bites typically happen during everyday activities and with a dog you know.
The problem with children is that they are erratic with their movements which can set a dog off.
You can't judge a dog's friendliness by its cuteness or size. Instead, look for common warning signs. Dogs are generally really good about communicating discomfort and sending these signals; you just have to know how to read them.
Tips to Prevent Dog Bites
Avoid dogs you don't know if you see:
- A dog that is pulling on its leash and not walking easily.
- A dog that is really still and staring at you. A fixed gaze can mean the dog sees you as a threat.
- A dog that is licking its lips, yawning, or looks like it is smiling. These can all be signs of stress, not happiness.
- A dog that is wagging its tail could be really happy or overly excited and stressed out. You don't know which, so don't assume it's happiness.
- A dog that is moving away from you. It's practically screaming “Get away from me!”
- A dog that is growling is giving a huge warning sign.
- A dog that has a yellow bandanna on it or its leash. While this is for dogs that need space usually from other dogs, it could also mean that a dog needs space from people too.
Approaching the Dog
If you don't see any of the warning signs above, ask the owner if his dog is friendly. Don't ask, “Can I pet your dog?” because no one wants to say no. Asking whether the dog is friendly gives the owner the opportunity to tell you whether the dog is good with children and allowed to interact with people at that moment; a dog might be training. And listen to what the owner says; it doesn't matter if your kid has a great relationship with your dog at home.
Never put your hand out to the dog's face to smell your hand. That is like putting your fingers in his eyes. It's rude. Don't put your face in his face either. Would you like it if someone you were just meeting said “Hi” an inch from your nose?
- Do not look directly in a dog's eyes. Its threatening.
- Dogs approach other dogs from the side and more in a circular motion. You should do that, too.
- Pet a dog on its shoulders instead of its head. You are not invading his personal space by doing this.
- If a dog doesn't look relaxed at any point, move on. If the dog moves away from you, let it.
Your Own Dog
Look for the warning signs above and teach kids to leave dogs alone if they see those signs. Also:
- Never mess with a dog and its food.
- Never tease a dog with food or a toy.
- Never wake a sleeping dog.
Be aware of your dog's changing health. Dogs that are in pain or are getting older need to be handled primarily by an adult. Dogs that are having trouble hearing also get startled easily by kids and might bite.
Know your dog. If it's a new member of the family, you should have asked the breeder if it has interacted with kids before. Also be aware of the personality of that breed. If it's a dog you got in a shelter, ask the shelter staff what they have observed. How does the dog react when kids are around? What things trigger anxiety, in this dog? After you bring it home, give it space while it's adjusting to your family.
Dog and kid interaction needs to be parent-monitored, especially during the toddler years. That's when children try to ride dogs or pull on tails and ears. (Based on Facebook posts; it doesn't go without saying: Don't let kids ride dogs or sit on them.) The dog is also confused because that sleeping baby is now invading its space.
Even if a dog has never bitten, don't take it for granted. This might be the day that it has had enough. It's been trying to tell you that it is feeling frustrated or overwhelmed, but you haven't been listening.
What if You Are Bitten By a Dog
Call 3-1-1 to make a report or 9-1-1 in an emergency. Talk to the owners of the dog and get a current rabies vaccination certificate. Also find out if the dog owners own their home or rent, and if rent, get the landlord's contact information. Finally, contact an experienced dog bite attorney at our office by calling us as (512) 343-2572.