May 15th kicked off National Dog Bite Prevention Week 2016. Every year we are inundated with a tsunami of information from hundreds of different sources regarding the best practices for avoiding bites. For most, it is not immediately obvious what information is useful and what is just fluff designed to draw in readers using the week’s message. Our goal is to wade through the muck and boil it down into 5 tools to prevent most, if not all, dog bites.
1. Knowledge is power
This old adage holds especially true in the cases of dogs. Being knowledgeable about dog body language, signs of distress, and how to manage fear and anxiety, will prevent 99.9% of dog bites. A study conducted in 2012 found that the general public is woefully uninformed about what constitutes fear in a dog. The participants were shown videos of dogs in various situations and, of the 2000+ people in the study, only 1/3 of those were able to identify fearful responses in the videos!
So how do we educate ourselves and become a part of the powerfully knowledgable? Using the tried and true, time-tested method of reading! The books below form a bedrock layer of knowledge that will equip the reader with nearly everything they need to be able to read their dog like a….book!(pun intended). These titles also form an outstanding cornerstone from which to build for anyone interested in pursuing a career in the dog training industry.
2. Teach children the right way to be around dogs.
The demographic that falls victim to the most annual biting incidents, by a very large margin, is children that are between 5-9 years of age. There is a simple reason behind this, children in this age group explore their environment with reckless abandon, relying heavily on their parents to teach them what is dangerous and what is not. Unfortunately, many parents tend to adhere to the idea that “Fido is too sweet/friendly/tolerant/loving/etc, to ever bite the child” and allow children to pinch, hit, hug, jump, pull, and otherwise assault Fido. That is, until Fido finally has enough and bites because the child was trying to rip his cheek from his face or using his head as a trampoline.
Once you become aware of the signals and the chain of behaviors Fido will display to try to get the distress’ source to stop before he bites, I recommend googling the term “kids and dogs pictures”. It will make your heart sink to see how many of these dogs are giving every signal under the sun to get the child to stop messing with them. Yet when we hear of a dog biting a child, we often hear the term “unprovoked” accompanying the report. This is almost never the case. I would be hard-pressed to think of a bite that couldn’t have been avoided if the parents would have recognized the gravity of the situation and intervened.
3. Management(our dogs)
This is probably the most overlooked facet of dog bite prevention. Whether dog owners are predisposed to optimism regarding their dogs or just oblivious to the inherent dangers involved in dog-human interactions is a matter up for debate. Whatever the reason, poor dog management is a daily occurrence in every part of the world. Dog’s being off leash in public is probably the #1 worst infraction of mismanagement. Some may feel a bit of anger rising from the pit of your stomach while reading that. I welcome it and invite a constructive conversation on the subject. That being said, there is no reason, ever, that a dog should be off leash in a public place. “My dog is well trained, there is no reason for a leash” . What happens if a car backfires near her, or there is an accident, a human-human fight, or some other unexpected, uncontrollable event occurs that sends your dog into an “over-threshold” state?
I trust my dogs implicitly. But I would never put that trust to the test, in public, with the possibility of any of the above scenarios playing out by having them off leash. It’s not worth the risk, and shouldn’t be for any dog owner. Feel free to comment on this particular issue, I feel very strongly about keeping a dog on leash public at all times and welcome the opportunity to discuss it further.
4.Management(other people’s dog)
What is the absolute easiest way to be bitten by an unfamiliar dog? What is the first thing most “dog people” do when they meet an unfamiliar dog? What if I told you that the answer to both of those questions is the same! I’m not sure where the myth of offering your hand for a dog to smell being the right way to approach an unfamiliar comes from, but it is very dangerous in practice. The reason stems from how a dog will translate this behavior into her language. Her space is being invaded, she can already smell you(from a good distance) and knows how she feels about it, you approach her in a straight line, you are towering over her, and you are way bigger than she is, all of these things, in dog language, are signs of overt aggression!
The best way to approach a strange dog isafter asking the owner if it’s ok, at an angle, avoid direct eye contact, watch for signals that the dog is uncomfortable with you(see books mentioned above), and, if all is well, to pet her under her head or on her chest while avoiding being over top of her and making yourself seem smaller than you actually are.
Any reactive dog owner will often lament about how people will approach their dog for these exact reasons, so many folks just cause the dog so much anxiety and fear that it is hardly worth taking the poor thing out in public!
5. Show respect and use manners
For some strange reason, otherwise normal, well-adjusted, socially capable individuals lose all sense of respect and personal space when interacting with a dog. In this hypothetical situation, think about how would you react:
A random stranger walking down the street stops you saying “hi, how are you” then, without waiting for you to respond, leans in, grabs your face, pinches your cheeks, and starts to kiss you.
Most people would probably throw a knee into the person’s nether regions and call the police, who would subsequently arrest the person for assault or worse! But this behavior is exhibited all the time when people interact with new, unfamiliar dogs. Why are we surprised when the dog in question responds aggressively? We shouldn’t be, yet so many dogs are blamed for biting when, in fact, the person being bitten is most often the responsible party.
A little respect and couth when dealing with dogs will serve to prevent an overwhelming majority of biting incidents!
In conclusion, during this year’s Dog Bite Prevention Week, I want to leave you with a mantra that you can pass along that sums up how to avoid dog bites.
“Seek first to understand, then to be understood”