Editor’s note: Have you seen the Dogster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting room of your vet’s office? This article appeared in our February-March issue. Subscribe to Dogster and get the bimonthly magazine delivered to your home.
In my new book about helping troubled dogs, The Midnight Dog Walkers: Positive Training and Practical Advice for Living with a Reactive or Aggressive Dog, I devote an entire chapter to the “scope of the problem” facing dog owners today. I could have, however, written a very large book just on the subject of why some dogs are willing to use their teeth to communicate.
Dog bites are a serious problem. The American Veterinary Medical Association estimates that there are 4.5 million people bitten by dogs every year in this country.
Who is bitten most often? Children — usually young boys. One study showed that an adult was not present in the dog bite incident 69 percent of the time. Even when an adult stands inches away from a child and a dog, that’s no guarantee that a bite won’t occur.
It is vitally important that parents and all dog owners understand what they can do to prevent such a tragedy. When a dog bites — even if harassed by a child — there is a substantial chance that the bite leads to a swift death by euthanasia. It also can create lifelong fear and anxiety of dogs in children who suffer a bite. And let’s not forget the potentially large financial consequences should your dog bite someone.
How can you prevent dog bites?
A national study of 256 fatal dog bites that occurred between 2000 and 2009 noted these facts:
Based on that information, my knowledge of other studies, and as a professional dog trainer, here are eight things dog owners can do to reduce the risk of a dog bite:
If a bite does occur, after medical needs are met, step back and reassess your management and training plans. Reassess why and how the bite occurred:
Dogs don’t bite “all of a sudden.” They warn using their canine communication language. Warning signs include trying to escape or avoid the situation, lip licking, tail tucked, sudden sniffing or scratching out of context, whites showing in the eyes, shaking, barking, growling, lunging, body stiffness, giving a hard stare, etc.
Call in a true canine behavior expert for help. Do it sooner rather than later, as the dog’s life may depend on quality help. Dogs are masters of understanding us. Let’s return the favor, and spend more time and energy understanding their point of view and how they communicate.
Doing so can literally save a life, and that life may be that of your own dog — or your own child.