Dog Bites: What to do?

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Facts About Dog Bites

A dog is after all an animal, and under some provocation, any dog may bite a person. One of the hazards of dog ownership is the possibility of the family pet inflicting injury on a person. Although the laws regarding the responsibility of the dog's owner for damages the animal may inflict vary slightly according to locality, the owner is generally liable for medical expenses and for compensa­tion for permanent disability or disfigurement.

Most houseowners are protected against damages their dog may inflict by the public liability policy on their property, which includes a clause covering a dog bite that may occur on the premises. However, any dog owner may obtain a fairly inexpensive personal liability policy to protect him against such claims up to the face amount of the policy.

Until very recently, little was known about the incidence of dog bites, but a study made by several veterinary colleges and medical schools indicates that dog bites are a real hazard. Each year, six hundred thousand to a million persons are bitten by dogs in the United States.

Study of the victims of dog bites shows that the great majority of them are preschool and school children, with boys and girls between five and nine years old having the highest bite rate, and boys between ten and nineteen next highest. The greatest number of the bites reported were suffered by children and youths less than twenty years of age. It is this group which is most inti­mately associated with dogs as pets; they are often abusive to pets, and in many instances they do not know how to care for pets properly. Also, persons under twenty years of age are more likely to be engaged in activities which excite dogs, such as playing ball, running, riding bicycles, and delivering newspapers.

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Who Gets Bitten?

Definite categories of persons run a high risk of being bitten by dogs. School children and preschool children are the most frequent victims, especially if they own a dog or live within three houses of a dog owner's home. Persons coming to the dog owner's home in the line of work are also frequent victims, as are also veterinarians and their assistants.

An unfortunate aspect of the dog-bite situation is that a high percentage of the bites (about 16 per cent) occur on the victim's head, face and neck. In about 10 per cent of all dog bites, there are injuries which physicians classify as "moderately severe" and "severe."

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Why Do Dogs Bite?

A study of the causes of dog bites indicates fairly clearly that, while some dog bites are unprovoked, the human factor plays a big part, and the activity of the person involved led to the biting in about 50 per cent of the cases studied.

On the basis of the studies of dog biting, a number of recommendations for the reduction of dog bites can be made:

Do not give a dog to children under six years of age. About 18 per cent of the bites may thus be eliminated.

Teach children how to care for their pets and not to tease or abuse dogs.

Discourage playing ball with a dog, riding bicycles and vehicles in the vicinity of excited dogs, and running while playing with a dog if it excites him. These suggestions might eliminate another 10 per cent of the bites.

Exercise caution while assisting injured and sick animals, avoid abruptly arousing sleeping dogs, and be careful in picking up pups so as not to offend the mother dog. These measures might prevent another 3 per cent of all bites.

Do not pet, startle, or take food away from a dog while feeding him and do not intercede in dog fights. These suggestions might eliminate another 10 per cent of the bites.

Avoid holding your face next to a dog's; thus you will avoid disfiguring facial injuries.

Admittedly, this is confining for dog owners, but the rules are suggested as preventive measures. If these could be followed, 40 to 50 per cent of dog bites might be avoided.

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Characteristics of Biting Dogs

A study of the types of dogs which are most prone to bite people produced some surprising results. Contrary to general belief, it was found that female dogs are almost twice as likely to bite a person as male dogs. Also contrary to popular notions, the sex difference in bite rates was not related to the females caring for newborn pups, as only a small percentage of the bites occurred while the victim was playing with a pup.

Another striking finding is that younger dogs are more likely to bite people than older dogs. This was most true for dogs between six and eleven months of age, while dogs over five years of age bite far less often than would be expected. Young dogs in intimate association with young people seem to invite frequent dog-bite incidents.

As to the breeds most guilty of inflicting bites, it was found that the working-dog group is much more likely to inflict bites than any other. This group includes the following breeds: boxers, collies, Eskimo dogs, German shepherds, great Danes, Saint Bernards and Doberman pinschers. This group inflicted almost twice as many bites as was expected statistically.

The sporting dogs, including the various breeds of pointers, setters, re­trievers and spaniels, also inflicted more bites than had been expected.

Hounds, on the other hand, bite fewer people than would be expected, in­dicating that they are relatively safe dogs to own.

No significant differences in the frequency of bites could be found for mixed breeds, terriers, toys, nonsporting dogs and unrecognized breeds, and it was not possible to single out any individual breed as being particularly vicious.

As had been expected, it was found that certain individual dogs are chronic biters. However, it was observed that dogs which are pugnacious toward other dogs do not carry this tendency over to people, and there was no relationship between dogs fighting among themselves and biting persons.

Dog Bites: What To Do

On the basis of the study of biting dogs, it is suggested that dog owners should:

  • Try to avoid the association of young dogs (less than a year old) with young children (less than five years old).
  • When obtaining pets for children, consider the fact that female dogs inflict more bites than males.
  • Restrain or dispose of dogs that are frequent biters.
  • Immunize dogs against rabies; consult a veterinarian for the proper schedule.
  • Attach an identification tag to each animal's collar listing the dog's name and the owner's name and address.
  • Don't permit dogs to roam at large in a well-populated area.

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Comments 2 comments

Simone Smith profile image

Simone Smith 5 years ago from San Francisco

Yikes! I've never been bitten by a dog before... but now I'm informed enough to know what to do if I am... and how to avoid the situation in the first place! Voted up and useful!


Longtail profile image

Longtail 5 years ago Author

Feel confident when you're out and about and getting mauled!

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