Dog Bite Basics: Experts Share Prevention Tips

National Dog Bite Prevention Week has come and gone, but preventing dog bites is a year-round endeavor. Prevention as well as education are key. That was the theme of a recent Zoom press event featuring experts from various fields. Here’s what they had to say.

“Dog bite prevention may have more meaning this year than ever,” says Heather Paul, public affairs specialist for State Farm Insurance. Since most dog bites happen in the home, she expressed concern about a possible uptick in bites with family members spending more than usual amounts of time at home.

Dr. John Howe, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association added, “The recent rise in adoptions and fosters is great news for animals finding new loving homes. But we should all be aware that stress can lead to dog bites.”

Dog trainer Victoria Stilwell of positively.com and host of the upcoming TV show Dogs with Unusual Jobs, recommends the following safety protocols:

  • Never leave a dog with a baby, toddler, or young children without active adult supervision
  • Train dogs with positive reinforcement, not fear or intimidation, which can elicit an aggressive response
  • Avoid rough play
  • Give the dog a child-free zone where he can escape their attentions
  • Give the child a safe job to help care for the dog
  • Be your dog’s advocate so your dog can count on you

Stilwell notes that dogs who are anxious, suffering daily from fear, anxiety, and stress are more likely to be on edge, and therefore more likely to bite. She endorses a Fear Free approach.

Without education, Paul adds, the problem doesn’t go away. And she emphasizes that specific breeds are not the problem. “Breed may dictate what a dog looks like but not how a dog is going to react,” she says. State Farm backs that belief by not discriminating against certain dog breeds, unlike other insurance carriers, which may limit or refuse coverage to families who live with breeds that have a reputation, deserved or not, for aggression.

Dr. Howe stresses socialization for any breed or mix. “The process of preparing a dog to have appropriate interactions with people and other dogs without being fearful is very important,” he says.

There’s no centralized reporting system for dog bites, and the statistics for number of dog bites annually—usually stated at 4.7 million—are from 1994. No current national numbers are available.  What is known is that most bites happen within families, and to children.

Janet Ruiz, director of strategic communications at the Insurance Information Institute says that in 2019 dog bite and injury claims went up 2.9 percent compared to 2018. The average claim jumped nearly 15 percent in 2019 to nearly $44,000. The five states with the highest number of claims in 2019 were California, Florida, Texas, New York, and Illinois. Those are also the top five states in population so it makes actuarial sense that they would have a high number of claims.

You can watch the video of the event here.

An American Humane Association free booklet called Pet Meets Baby is free here as a PDF and offers lots of tips.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

Steve Dale, CABC (certified animal behavior consultant), hosts two national pet radio shows and is on WGN Radio, Chicago. He’s a regular contributor/columnist for many publications, including CATSTER, Veterinary Practice News, and the Journal of the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America. He’s appeared on dozens of TV shows, including Oprah, many Animal Planet Programs, and National Geographic Explorer. He has contributed to or authored many pet books and veterinary textbooks such as “The Cat: Clinical Medicine and Management” and co-edited Decoding Your Dog, by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. He speaks at conferences around the world. www.stevedale.tv.