This week, April 11-17, is National Dog Bite Prevention Week, and a press release from Best Friends Animal Society said this year there are more reasons than ever to learn about preventing dog bites. From high-profile “nipping incidents” in the news, to the realization that there may be millions of dogs and puppies in new homes since the beginning of the pandemic. And let’s face it, over the past 13 months, increased household stress, isolation and lack of socialization have been hard on everyone, but they can have an especially detrimental effect on our dogs.
Each year, more than 4.5 million people in the U.S. are bitten by dogs and more than 800,000 Americans require medical attention; sadly at least half of these are children. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, dogs are more likely to become aggressive when they are unsupervised, unneutered, and not socially conditioned to live closely with people or other dogs. Appropriate socialization and training are critical parts of responsible pet ownership.
Best Friends offers the following resources and tips about preventing dog bites:
- Socialize your dog and make him a part of your family activities early on. Dogs also need to be socialized beyond your family and home; they need to be comfortable in the world. This is more difficult, currently, but no less important.
- Work with a certified trainer who can help you teach your dog appropriate behaviors in a humane, effective, and ethical way. Training is available in person and online in most places.
- Spay or neuter your dog. Over a six-year period, 92 percent of all fatal attacks by dogs were by intact (unneutered) dogs. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Association, intact (unneutered) male dogs are also involved in 70 to 76% of reported dog bite incidents.
- Read up on positive reinforcement training techniques and get your whole family involved. Make a game for the family of spotting and reinforcing desirable behavior in your dog.
- Know your dog’s body language so you can anticipate possible reactions. Each dog is an individual and will express fear, aggression, stress or joy slightly differently.
- Socialize your puppy or dog to children. Watch your puppy or dog as she plays with children; stop the play if the child or the dog gets too rough.
- Provide lots of exercise for your dog through constructive play like fetch and/or frequent walks. Walks or hikes provide great exercise for you and your canine companion. Regular activity not only gets rid of excess energy but reduces frustration levels in your pet
- Make sure that your dog has lots of human interaction every day. A happy dog is a good dog. As social animals, dogs thrive on social interaction and love to b
- e a part of the family.
- Avoid tethering (chaining or tying up) your dog. Tethering removes a dog’s ability to flee and makes him/her feel vulnerable. According to a study by the CDC, tethered dogs are 2.8 times more likely to bite.
- Never let your dog roam free. Besides the dangers to him, a roaming dog may become confused or frightened, leading to aggressive behavior.
- Use caution when introducing your dog to new people, new dogs or new situations. Your goal is to provide the dog with a succession of happy experiences to improve social skills. After the past year, many situations will either be entirely new or seem new.
- If your dog’s behavior changes (e.g., he becomes irritable), take him to your vet for a checkup. Behavior changes can sometimes be a symptom of a medical problem.
Marissa Sunny, CPDT-KA and senior dog lifesaving specialist at Best Friends Animal Society explains how the pandemic year has affected our canine companions and how we should help dogs overcome the effects, whether they were with us pre-pandemic, or they are newly adopted or acquired.
“Isolation may make some dogs more fearful of the outside world, and more likely to react badly in new or unfamiliar situations,” she said. “Dogs operate using simple metrics for the world: Is it safe or unsafe? … It is important that as you begin socializing (or re-socializing) your dog, you take it slow and make it a positive experience. Offer the dog treats, pets, and lots of reassurance to help make positive associations with new things. If your dog seems overwhelmed or anxious, stop, take a break and try again later.”
To keep children safe around dogs, Best Friends offers the following tips:
- Teach your children that they should never tease or throw things at a dog.
- Help children learn the proper ways to pet a dog and tell them not to pet strange dogs without asking permission.
- Tell your children not to run, jump or scream around an unfamiliar dog.
- Remind your children not to stare at a dog when interacting with the animal.
- Tell your children not to climb on any dog, even the family dog.
- Don’t allow children to play rough with your dog, as they can accidentally hurt the dog or encourage him to become mouthy.
- Tell your children not to take things out of a dog’s mouth and to leave an eating dog alone.