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Using Management to Prevent Dog Bites
What Happens When a Dog Bites?
You may think that a dog bite is no big deal, until that one day your dog bites somebody and you realize how severe the issue is. According to the Centers for Disease Control each year about 800,000 Americans receive medical attention because of dog bites; and half of them are children. In particular, it appears that children between the ages of 5 and 9 are the most typical targets, with two thirds of bites affecting children four years and under who are victims of bites directed towards the head or neck region.
So what happens if your dog bites another person, or worst, a child? A whole lot. So much to make your head spin. For starters, the dog should be properly restrained so to keep the others safe, and attention should be tended to the victim. If the bite broke the skin, it's crucial for the victim to clean the wound with soap and water according to the AVMA. Don't underestimate the fact that dog bites may at times not bleed much; puncture wounds are often deep and get infected quite easily. Best to see a doctor or the emergency center to get the wound properly irrigated and disinfected.
Once the bite victim sees the doctor, the doctor is in most cases legally required to report the bite to the appropriate law agency. This entails notifying the local police, city or county animal control or the Sheriff's department which will document the bite and see if there were any other bite incidents from the same dog. The health department is also often notified and the dog's vaccination status will be verified. What they are looking for is proof of rabies vaccination. In some states, dogs who bite may be quarantined for 10 days and the owner often has to pay a hefty fine. If you are unable to provide records or they cannot be retrieved, the victim may then have to start a painful antirabies therapy. Also, if the person is not up-to-date, he/she may also need a tetanus shot.
What happens to the dog after a bite will depend on the severity of the bite, history of previous bites and the rules of each State. Some states have a one-bite rule. For a list of States with this rule visit the Nolo Law website. If the bite was severe or it's not the first time, your dog may be labeled dangerous, risk euthanasia and you may even face criminal charges.
Dog bites are always in most cases considered the dog owner's responsibility. While years ago, a little bite often resulted in an apology and a brief visit to a local medical clinic, nowadays, things are much different and complicated. The bite victim will ask for reimbursement of all medical costs. Here is where it gets ugly...These costs can be astounding. The medical bills can be reimbursed by the dog owner's homeowner insurance or renter insurance. In some cases they may be covered by the victims' own health insurance. But if these costs are not properly covered, the costs may be recuperated through the dog owner's personal assets. A bite to the face for instance may easily range anywhere between tens of thousands of dollars to even hundreds of thousands in the case of disfigurement requiring plastic surgery. This is where the saying "you could literally lose your home" comes into play.
*Note: these are general consequences only, if your dog bit somebody, what will happen will grossly depend on your local and State statutes. Check out the guidelines for your State.
Magical Management is Man's Best Friend
Bites are scary events, aren't they? All the above implications though act as a deterrent to encourage dog owners to better manage their dogs. This is ultimately a good thing, just as tickets deter people from speeding and this helps save lives. This means dog owners must place an emphasis on protecting others and doing all it takes to prevent their dogs from biting. Whether your dog has already bitten, just nips or you are concerned he may seriously bite one day, you will need to take necessary steps to prevent mishaps that can turn up being very costly. Following are some tips to help lower your chances for incurring in major problems.
Prevent Rehearsal of Behavior
Aggression and biting can become habitual behavior because they are reinforcing behaviors. In other words, when a dog bites, he is often rewarded by the victim's withdrawal. So let's say a dog is in a corner and is trying to avoid a child. Should the child keep on approaching despite the fact the dog is telling through body language not to approach, a bite will often happen. Because the child moves away right after the bite allowing the dog to no longer be cornered or because the child freezes and starts crying allowing a minute of distraction so the dog can slink away, the bite served its purpose of helping the dog get out of a situation he disliked.
On top of that, consider that aggressive behavior can be addicting. According to James O' Heare, author of " the Canine Aggression Workbook" when a dog aggresses, chemicals meant to get the dog ready into action flood the dog's mind. These chemicals may feel good to the dog so their presence may be self-rewarding regardless of whatever happens. Soon acting aggressively becomes a habit and old habits are hard to get rid of and practice makes perfect so the more the behavior is rehearsed, the more it will put roots.This further proves how important it is to prevent a dog from acting aggressively and why aggression tends to escalate when no action is taken.
Use Magical Management
So how do you prevent a dog from rehearsing the aggressive behavior? You use management. Management is not a cure, it's just a way to keep the dog stable until professional help is sought. So if let's say a dog is aggressive when food is around, you would feed him in a crate, if a dog is aggressive when around children playing rough, you would place your dog in a quiet room away from them with a stuffed Kong and avoid exposing your dog to children engaging in boisterous play. If your dog attacks other dogs, walk him always on a secure leash with a muzzle on and a head halter if this helps you gain better control and so forth. Do your best to minimize the chances for your dog to act aggressively, and then next,..seek professional help.
Get Professional Help
When your dog acts aggressively, it's best to seek out help. Unfortunately, things don't tend to get better on their own. As a dog gets more aroused, his bite can progress from an innocent nip to a bruise and then to a puncture that breaks skin. Correcting the dog for acting aggressively won't do any good and may actually exacerbate things. For instance, if you repeatedly punish a dog for growling at a child, the end result is likely a dog that will suppress the growl and now will go directly to a bite. If you correct a dog for acting aggressively, you risk the dog getting more and more defensive and stressed. Most aggressive behavior is triggered by fear, and when you punish, you only add more stress and fear which has a cumulative effect. It's best to get immediate professional help.
Who to ask for help? In this case you want to look for a board certified veterinary behaviorist or a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist. While it's true that there are many dog trainers well-versed in behavior modification for dog aggression, consider veterinary behaviorists and Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists(CAAB) the elite specialists in this area. You can look for a veterinary behaviorist by visiting the ACVB website which has a directory or you can look for a CAAB by visiting the Animal Behavior Society website which also has a Directory of Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists. These professionals have several effective behavior modification techniques up their sleeves which may turn out helpful.
Disclaimer: if you are concerned your dog may bite or has a bite history, play it safe and seek out immediate professional help.
Some tips from veterinarian/animal behaviorist Sophia Yin
For further reading
- Dog Behavior: The Body Language of Stress and Fear
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- Dog Behavior: Why a Dog Behaviorist is the Best Option When Dealing with Fighting Dogs
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