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Take a Bite Out of Biting

It’s National Dog Bite Prevention Week, hosted in this year’s dog bite capital of the nation: Houston, Texas. (The U.S. Postal Service says more of their employees were bitten in Houston than anywhere else in the country.)

Overall, last year, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)., nearly 5 million people were bitten by dogs. Half a million needed medical attention for them. Postal workers are well known for getting bitten by dogs. Last year, 5,669 of them were attacked.

Most dogs don’t bite people, but any dog can bite if provoked.

Joining the AVMA and the Postal Service at a press event in Houston was Victoria Stilwell, from Animal Planet’s It’s Me or the Dog, who spoke about the need for a positive, force-free approach to dog training. She said that studies from board-certified veterinary behaviorists are clear that forcing dogs into submission (e.g., leash yanking, rolling them on their backs) can have dangerous consequences since they create fear, which leads to aggression.

“Dogs need and want us to provide effective leadership, but the most effective leaders do not simply impose their will on their followers,” says Stilwell. “And I firmly believe the only way to truly ensure that we are successful in achieving the necessary balance with our dogs is by using positive reinforcement and treating them with the same respect that we ask of them.”

Stilwell firmly opposes banning certain breeds of dogs.”It’s not the breed of the dog that causes the bite,” she said, “but rather how well the dog is trained and controlled.”

No bad breeds

Injury rates are highest among children between the ages of 5 and 9 years old. The dogs biting these children are not strangers. In victims younger than 18 years old, the family dog inflicts 30 percent of all dog bites, and a neighbor’s dog is responsible for another 50 percent of these bites.

“The AVMA urges all families to start early in educating children about safety around dogs, even if you don’t own a dog,” Dr. Kornegay says. “We have numerous engaging educational programs for children starting as young as preschool to teach children the right and the wrong way to interact with dogs.”

How not to get bit

  • Never approach an unfamiliar dog, especially one who’s fenced in, tied up, or in a car
  • Never pet a dog until that dog has approached you and sniffed you
  • Never run away from a dog. (That just triggers their urge to chase.)
  • Never disturb or surprise a dog who’s eating, sleeping, caring for pups or playing with a toy.

If you think a dog may be threatening you:

  • Stay calm and motionless
  • Keep you arms by your sides
  • Don’t stare at the dog
  • When you think the dog is losing interest in you, slowly back away

If you’re attacked:

  • Give the dog something or yours to attack – like your jacket or a purse
  • If you trip, fall or are knocked down, curl into a ball, put your hands over your ears and stay as still as possible.

If you’re bitten:

  • Wash the wound with soap and water
  • Call your doctor
  • Report the attack to your animal care and control agency. Give them as many details about the dog and what happened as possible.

How not to have your dog bite someone else

  • Fix! All pets should be spayed or neutered. This reduces the urge to fight for dominance
  • Socialize! Introduce Fido to lots of different people
  • Train! All dogs should be properly trained. Include the whole family in this.

What do you say? Have you ever been bitten by a dog? What was your experience? How did it leave you feeling about dogs?

What you can do: Here’s a dog bite brochure from the AVMA on Dog Bite Prevention.