Reducing the Risk of a Dog Bite: Setting You and Your Dog Up for Success

Owning a pet is a big responsibility. Dog owners are responsible for not only the health and safety of their pet but also protecting people from injury. Most dogs will never bite, but it’s important to remember that any dog, regardless of breed or type, can bite under certain circumstances.

It’s Not the Breed

Just like humans, dogs are individuals. Every dog has a unique personality. Although a dog’s breed may dictate what the dog looks like, it’s doesn’t guarantee how a dog will react to people or situations. While one dog may curl up in a ball when scared, another may try to bite because she has chosen “fight” rather than “flight.” There are many factors that may result in a dog biting a person, including heredity, health, pain, training, fear, and aggression. Instead of focusing on how a dog may or may not react based on what the dog looks like in appearance, focus on what can be controlled. Educating pet owners and children about dog body language, responsible pet ownership, and safely interacting with all dogs is critical to reducing the risk of dog bites.

Babies and Small Children

In 2017, there were 96,526 children between 0-14 years old who were treated in emergency rooms because of dog bite injuries. Although education about safely interacting with dogs has resulted in a reduction in the overall number of children seen in ERs, one age group has actually increased. According to the CDC, newborns and toddlers (age 0-1 years) are the only age group to have experienced an increase in visits to the ER because of dog bites.

  • In 2001, there were 1,794 children age 0-1 years of age admitted to emergency rooms as a result of dog bites.
  • In 2017, there were 3,125 children age 0-1 years of age admitted to emergency rooms as a result of dog bites.

Infants and toddlers often have food or toys around them, make loud noises like crying or squealing, and make sudden movements with their feet and arms. A startled dog, even a family pet, may react negatively by biting. Children should never be left unattended with a dog, not even for a moment. The decision to leave a child alone with a dog could result in serious injury to the child and the dog being put down. As a responsible pet owner and parent, is it worth it?

Always Walk Your Dog on a Leash

Pet ownership is a privilege. We are responsible for the health and safety of our pets. Most pet owners wouldn’t dream of intentionally putting their pet in harm’s way, but it happens every single day. You may have a well-behaved, socialized, and trained dog, but unless you have superhuman abilities, you can’t see into the future. Your dog could get startled by a loud noise or meet a dog or person they aren’t comfortable with. Having control of your dog at all times is the only way to reduce the risk of your dog being injured or injuring someone else. The decision to walk your dog off-leash, even if it is just for a moment, could result in injury to a person, resulting in your dog being put down. As a responsible pet owner, is it worth it?

Learn to Speak Dog

Dogs don’t just bite “out of the blue.” Most bites are a perfect storm of situation and circumstance, but because dogs’ physical and vocal language is misinterpreted or missed, people often put themselves or others at risk and dogs are blamed. Dogs tell us how they feel through in their body language and vocalization. Dog owners need to recognize and respond to changes in your dogs’ body language. Changes in your dog’s eyes, ears, tail, and posture can tell you if your dog is happy, fearful, or angry.

Avoid putting your dog into situations that could result in a fearful, anxious, or aggressive response. If you aren’t sure how your dog will react to a new situation or environment, take it slow. Recognizing body language changes can also give you advance warning to a dog bite.

Actively Supervise Your Dog

A loving, responsible pet owner would never want their dog to hurt another person, let alone risk having their dog put down because of a dog bite injury. Dogs should be supervised at all times, just like a toddler. That is why we call them fur kids! Active supervision doesn’t mean putting your dog out in the yard alone or on a chain. It means actually going out into the yard with your dog. Supervising your dog at all times is the safest and most responsible way to keep everyone safe. Do I know how my dog will react to every person or situation? As a responsible pet owner, is it worth it not to supervise my dog around children or other dogs?

National Dog Bite Prevention Week is April 7-13, 2019

The National Dog Bite Prevention Week Coalition consists of organizations committed to reducing the number dog bites through education. Members include State Farm, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.), and American Humane.

  • State Farm believes that educating dog owners about being responsible will help reduce dog bite injuries. It is also one of the few insurance companies that does not have a breed restriction list and does not exclude homeowner or renter insurance coverage because of the breed of dog owned. The company focuses on educating people and pet professionals about dog body language and safely interacting with dogs by working with two of the most prominent experts in the field of dog training and veterinary medicine: celebrity dog trainer Victoria Stilwell and Fear Free founder Dr. Marty Becker.
  • The AVMA estimates there are approximately 78 million dogs in U.S. homes, and each year 4.5 million people are bitten or injured by dogs. “Even the gentlest dog can bite if they are in pain, feel threatened, or are competing for resources such as food or space,” said Dr. John de Jong, AVMA President. “Not only is it important to understand how dogs behave, it is important to understand how a dog may interpret our behavior.” AVMA’s “Jimmy the Dog” video series lets preschoolers look at how a dog might interpret different scenarios.
  • American Humane says that dog bites are a double tragedy affecting both people and animals. “A dog bite can have a devastating effect not only on the victim but also on the dog, who may be euthanized,” said Robin Ganzert, PhD, president and CEO of American Humane. Because of the high risk involving dogs, babies, and children, American Humane offers a free online booklet called Pet Meets Baby that provides families with valuable information on introducing a new child to a home with a dog.
  • The I.I.I. reports that insurance companies across the country paid nearly $675 million for dog-related injury and bite claims in 2018. The average amount paid per dog bite claim was $39,017.