Repeat after me: Any dog can bite anyone at any time. Yes, even nice dogs, shy dogs, and scared dogs can and do bite people every day. The victims are not limited to mail carriers perceived or to children determined to deliver big hugs. About 4.5 million people of all ages from all states are bitten by dogs each year, according to the U.S Centers for Disease Control.
In recognition of National Dog Bite Prevention Week (April 8-14), here are some savvy strategies to avoid becoming the latest dog bite statistic.
Learn to read d-o-g.
Dogs are honest, consistent communicators. They don’t deceive or bluff. In new situations with new people, dogs of all ages and breeds have four options: flee, fight, freeze, or be friendly. Keep yourself safe by taking the time to look and listen at the cues a new dog delivers before deciding if it is safe to greet him. A string of low, repetitive barks means, “Stay away!” Growling with teeth exposed and body tense signifies, “I’m warning you – back off!” Growling with body crouched low means, “You’re making me nervous. I might snap or lunge at you if you come any closer.”
Recognize pre-bite warning signs in dogs who are afraid or anxious.
Understand that some dogs will bite when they are afraid or anxious, because they feel as if they have no escape and need to defend themselves. Resist rushing up to greet dogs who avert their gaze, yawn, lick their lips, cower, tuck their tails between their legs, flatten their ears, display a slight lifting of the lip, or suddenly assume a tense, frozen posture.
Make a good (and safe) first impression.
Avoid approaching a new dog head-on with an outstretched arm and a high-pitched, excited voice. These actions can force a frightened dog to feel as if he must defend himself. Instead, stand sideways, avert your gaze, and be still, letting the dog approach on his time and terms. Speak in a calm, confident tone. Dogs sense fear, so calm yourself by inhaling and exhaling deep breaths. Sweeten an introduction by tossing a couple of treats away from you to give the dog time to decide if he feels you are safe enough to meet.
Teach children and remind yourself to nix delivering bear hugs or interrupting chow time.
Even a friendly dog may bite when given an abrupt bear hug. Dogs view around-the-neck hugs as threats when delivered by a person the dog does not know or know well. Also teach children to never approach a dog who is eating or sleeping or gnawing on a favorite chew toy – these actions can trigger an attack.
Tune into your surroundings.
Resist talking or texting on your phone or listening to loud music with earbuds on walks in your neighborhood. Tap into all your senses and stay aware. Also, pack easy-to-toss dog treats. Should an unleashed dog head your way, try redirecting him by tossing treats far away from you. If dog displaying aggression approaches, look for parked cars and trash cans to serve as barriers between you and the dog. Consider carrying a small umbrella you can pop open as a visual barrier.
Brace yourself for a dog attack.
If a dog lunges at you, stand firm and still and place your hands around your neck to prevent injury to your carotid artery. If a dog clamps down on your arm, do not move. If you pull away and the dog has a good grip, he can tear and pull away your skin to cause more damage. Yes, you will have a puncture wound, but you can reduce the chance of incurring severe tearing injuries that require sutures.
If you think National Dog Bite Prevention Week seems to have arrived early, you’re correct. This event is usually held the third week of May, but the creators of National Dog Bite Prevention campaign – the U.S. Postal Service, American Veterinary Medical Association, and State Farm Insurance — opted to move it to early April starting this year.
This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.