In honor of National Dog Bite Prevention Week, we wanted to talk a little bit about how we, as dog owners, can make sure we’re doing our very best to prevent dog bites from happening. Many, many dog bites are preventable. However, prevention starts by having a thorough understanding of your dog, their behavior, and an understanding of what situations can lead a dog to bite.
So, how do you avoid getting bit by a dog? Respect the personal space of all dogs! Preventing dog bites is never, ever a dominance game, and usually leads to further injury. Never approach an unfamiliar dog, especially one who’s tied or confined behind a fence or in a car. Do not disturb a dog while they are sleeping, eating, chewing on a toy, or caring for their puppies. Be cautious around strange dogs. Always assume that a dog who doesn’t know you may see you as an intruder or a threat, and do not pet a dog without letting them see you and sniff you first.
With that in mind, here are some other ways that dog owners specifically can do to help prevent dog bites.
Before You Get A Dog
1. Educate yourself. Learn about dog care, raising a puppy, and humane, reward-based training methods. The more you know about caring for your dog, the more you’ll know about interacting with others’ and how to move forward past any challenges in a positive way.
2. Support legitimate rescues and breeders. Avoid purchasing your new dog at a pet store. Most pet store puppies come from puppy mills: large-scale commercial breeding kennels that often house dogs in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions, without adequate veterinary care, food, water, and human companionship or socialization. The dog you end up with may be poorly socialized to people and other animals, which can lead to aggressive behavior.
The same is true of backyard breeders. Avoid purchasing dogs through classified ads in newspapers, or through the internet. Many puppy mills and backyard breeders sell their dogs through these kinds of ads. A backyard breeder is an unlicensed pet owner who breeds the dogs they own, or who allows dogs to mate on their own. Backyard breeders usually have little to no knowledge about breed standards, genetics, or proper puppy-rearing, and socialization.
Instead, adopt a dog from a well-managed animal shelter or rescue group whose staff and volunteers can fill you in on the dog’s background, their personality, and their behavior in the shelter. Or, if you’re looking for a specific breed, find a small-scale, reputable breeder who sells only one breed, and allows you to visit his or her home and kennel. The breeder should show you the mother and relatives of the puppy and provide a clean, loving home environment for them, including lots of handling, play, and interaction with different people of all ages.
3. Make sure a dog is the right fit for your family. If you have young children, consider waiting until they are older. Many more dog bites happen to young children than any other age group, so waiting until they are at least ten years old is recommended. Regardless of age, before introducing a dog into the home, all children need to be taught how to treat the dog gently and with respect, giving them their own space, and plenty of opportunities to rest.
After Getting A Dog
4. Spay or neuter your dogs. A spayed or neutered dog is typically more laid back then intact dogs, and may be less likely to lash out or display territorial aggression.
5. Make sure your dog is well socialized. An ounce of prevention in the form of puppy socialization is worth a pound of cure—trying to fix behavior problems in adulthood can be extremely difficult. An under-socialized dog is a risk to their owners and to others because they can be easily frightened by everyday things.
Fearful dogs are more likely to aggress or bite. They tend to fight with other dogs. They have trouble adapting to new situations, and routine outings (like to the vet’s office) become difficult for them and everyone involved. Socializing is the opposite of isolating. It means to let puppies meet, greet, and enjoy a variety of people, animals, places and things. Done properly, socializing helps puppies feel comfortable and friendly in many situations and around all kinds of people and animals. The main rule for effective socializing is to let your dog progress at her own pace and never force her to be around someone or something when she’s clearly fearful or uncomfortable.
6. Invest in proper training. Take your dog to humane, reward-based training classes—the earlier the better. Early training opens a window of communication between you and your dog that will help you consistently and effectively teach them what you expect of them.
More importantly: don’t wait for a serious accident to happen. The first time your dog shows aggressive behavior toward anybody, even if no injury occurs, seek professional services and work to correct the behavior early. Err on the safe side.
7. Don’t isolate your dog. Your dog is a part of the family. Don’t chain or tie them outside, and don’t leave them unsupervised for long blocks of time—even in a fenced yard. A tied-out dog can quickly become frustrated, or feel defenseless in an open yard tied to the end of a lead, and they’re nearly three times more likely to bite than dogs that aren’t restrained this way.
8. Know your dog’s triggers. Be aware of the most common triggers of aggression: pain, injury or sickness, the approach of strangers or strange dogs, the approach of people in uniforms, costumes or unusual attire, unexpected touching, unfamiliar places, crowds, and loud noises like thunder, wind, construction, fireworks and appliances.
If possible, avoid exposing your dog to these triggers in an uncontrollable environment until you know they’re properly able to cope with more stressful situations. If they are stressed or panicked in crowds, leave them at home when you go to the market. If they overreacts to visitors or delivery personnel, keep them in another room when they come to your house. Work with a qualified behavior and training professional to help your dog become more comfortable with these situations.
9. Care for your dog. This sounds basic, but you’d be surprised how many dog owners can’t seem to follow even this simple rule. You should always be fulfilling all basic animal-care responsibilities. License your dog as required by the laws in your area, and provide regular veterinary care, including rabies vaccinations.
10. Make sure your dog is properly supervised. This is one of my biggest pet peeves: do not allow your dog to roam alone—it can pose a major danger to both you and your dog. You have no idea what triggers your dog may encounter while outside unsupervised, and even the most well trained dog may find cause to bite if they feel significantly threatened.
Always supervise children and dogs, as well. Never leave a baby or child younger than ten years old alone with a dog. It’s important to teach your children how to treat dogs well, but your supervision acts as a fallback—an adult who knows the dog will always be more observant of a dog’s behavior than a child.