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Dog Bites: A Serious Medical and Legal Problem For Dog Owners

Updated on October 22, 2017
Bob Bamberg profile image

With 30 years in the pet supply industry, Bob's newspaper column deals with animal health, nutrition, behavior, regulation, and advocacy.

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They're The Number One Health Problem of Children

In the US each year, the third full week in May is designated as National Dog Bite Prevention Week to call attention to this serious and largely preventable problem.

But dog bite prevention efforts know no calendar, so let’s talk about the problem now.

According to the National Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), man and woman’s best friend (their politically correct term, not mine) bites about 4.7 million Americans a year with some 800,000 seeking medical care, and of those, about 386,000 requiring emergency room treatment.

The CDC says dog bites are the number one public health problem of children, and they cite some interesting statistics in support of that claim.

Injuries are highest for kids 5 to 9 years of age, two thirds of injuries to kids 4 years of age and younger occur above the shoulders, and more boys than girls get bitten. Adults over the age of 65 account for the next highest at-risk group.

According to the Insurance Information Institute and State Farm Insurance, dog bites and other dog-related injuries generally account for more than one-third of all homeowners insurance liability claims.

In 2016, insurance companies paid out more than $600 million as dog bite claims nationwide increased 18 percent to 18,123. The average cost paid out for dog bite claims was $33,230.

Because of increased medical costs and the size of settlements, judgments and jury awards given to plaintiffs, the average cost per claim nationally has risen more than 70 percent from 2003 to 2016,.

There can be criminal consequences if your dog attacks someone, too. In the late 90’s a Kansas woman was convicted of second degree murder when her dogs fatally mauled a youngster.

In 2002 a California lawyer was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 15 years to life in prison after her two Presa Canarios, each weighing about 100 pounds, killed a neighbor as she left her apartment.

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How To Avoid Dog Attacks

To help prevent dog attacks, there are some basic rules to follow. The first is: never approach a strange dog without asking the owner if it's alright to do so.

And before you pet any dog, ask the owner if it's OK. If permission is given, bend down so that you don't tower over the dog.

Let the dog sniff your hand, and don't move it away until the dog is satisfied. Once the dog stops sniffing, pet him under the chin, not on top of the head. Reaching for a dog's head can trigger a defensive response.

Bend down and greet a new dog with a chin scratch, not a head rub.
Bend down and greet a new dog with a chin scratch, not a head rub. | Source

Make sure children know how to pat, especially pre-schoolers, who can be rough. Their "pat" is often a slapping motion, which a dog may consider aggression.

They sometimes use just the fingertips and nails, in a scratching motion, and that could irritate a dog with dry skin. Teach them to pat with an open hand in a smooth, gentle, stroking motion that follows the grain of the fur.

Small children, especially, tend to rub the fur back and forth, which can cause the dog discomfort

If you're approached by a strange dog, stand still and avoid direct eye contact (staring can be interpreted as a threatening gesture). If you run or scream it could trigger an instinctive hunt response.

Always try to keep the dog to your side, so that he's less likely to view your posture as confrontational.

Your scent provides a great deal of information to a dog, and most will just sniff you and lose interest.

If they don't leave right away, and you must move on, back slowly away from the dog until he's out of sight.

And if you fall or get knocked down, roll into a ball, cover your face, head, and neck, and lie as still as possible. If you kick and lash out at the dog, he's likely to fight back.

A well-trained and socialized dog is less likely to bite or attack, so train your dog to obey basic commands such as "sit," "stay," "down,” "no," “drop it,” “leave it,” and "come," and socialize him so that he feels at ease around people and other animals.

Never disturb a dog that's attending to puppies, sleeping, or eating, and never leave a baby or small child alone with a dog (or any animal for that matter), no matter how friendly he is.

I couldn't find any statistics pertaining to how many owners' last words before the bite were, "That's OK, he's friendly," or "He won't bite."

TO US, A FRIENDLY FACE; BUT SUBJECT TO A DIFFERENT INTERPRETATION BY A DOG
TO US, A FRIENDLY FACE; BUT SUBJECT TO A DIFFERENT INTERPRETATION BY A DOG | Source

Regardless of size or breed, any dog can bite if provoked, and some pretty simple things can be provocative. I mentioned eye contact, a friendly gesture to us, but possibly a threatening gesture to a dog.

A smile, to us, is a friendly gesture. To a dog it could be interpreted as baring the teeth; another threatening gesture.

And finally, obey leash laws and do your best to maintain optimal health. That would include keeping him on a proper diet, making sure he's vaccinated, and controlling internal parasites such as worms and external parasites such as fleas.

Mention bite prevention to your veterinarian, who may be able to offer additional tips on the subject.

© 2012 Bob Bamberg

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    • Bob Bamberg profile image
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      Bob Bamberg 5 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Couldn't agree more and couldn't have said it better! I think that was in Denver, but wherever it was, animal control officers, veterinarians and the state department of animal health should have jumped at the opportunity for some public education by lobbying the TV station to do a special report on the matter and offering to be their resources. Who knows, maybe they did and we just aren't aware of it.

    • vegaswriter profile image

      vegaswriter 5 years ago from Las Vegas

      Do you remember when the newscaster got bit in the face? I didn't even need to look it up to know that it was most likely NOT the dogs fault since it was a bite in the face and only the face was mentioned. The still shot told me more and pretty much cleared it up. It was a predictable reaction on the dogs part given what led up to it.

      Problem 1, high stress levels from both a recent experience and the environment the dog was in right then (a busy news studio)

      Problem 2, it was a Dogo Mastiff, a breed that requires more knowledgeable handling (not for novices) under the best of circumstances. You never want to do what she did....... but a Dogo???????

      Problem3, the dog was sitting against his owner and again making it an even worse idea to behave in a manner that the dog might even consider a threat, a Dogo.

      Problem 4, She gets down, leans OVER the dog while reaching for his face and puts her face right up in his.

      That could lead any dog to bite, even the 5 year old family Golden Retriever who has never even growled. The dog reacted in the way that should have been expected given all of that and her actions towards the dog but somehow that wasn't the focus and I didn't read much of that in the major news stories.

      Only far too much blame put on the dog and a missed opportunity to provide some real education. Sad.

    • Bob Bamberg profile image
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      Bob Bamberg 5 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Hi Vegaswriter, nice to be on the same page as you. I agree 100%. Kids most often violate "doggy etiquette" either innocently or cruelly (and they can be cruel) and are bitten as a result.

      As a volunteer educator at a local AZA accredited zoo I did scores of educational programs that ended with the opportunity for guests to pet an animal, and I was disheartened to see so many children poke at an eye or growl loudly right into the animal's face.

      I don't believe it's their intention to be cruel, probably more to just get a reaction out of the animal. But, when they do that to a dog, even their own dog, the probability of a bite is substantial.

      In my years in retail I've seen an increase in pet owners' scientific knowledge, however anthropomorphism continues to predominate as most pet owners take a fairly superficial interest in the science.

      I've seen the biggest improvement in the area of nutrition. As people have become more proactive regarding their own diet, they're taking a similar interest in the pet's nutrition. But, behavior still seems to be a matter of "this would make me happy, so it should make my dog happy." Thanks for dropping by.

      Warmest regards,

      Bob

    • vegaswriter profile image

      vegaswriter 5 years ago from Las Vegas

      Awesome. I have a similar message on the backburner. I use 'Be a Tree' / 'Be a Dog Detective' as a reference often. Even though it is geared towards teaching children how to behave and what a dog may actually be 'saying' for dog safety many adults can learn from it as well.

      Most dog bites are not the fault of the dog. The people most often bitten are children. The 'Biter' is usually the long time family pet after the child did something that to dogs may be very poor manners or that could be perceived as a threat or startles them. Or a dog may simply be communicating in a way that is natural to them.

      People too often assign human reaction, thoughts, feelings and reasonings to our dogs and forget that they are dogs.

    • Bob Bamberg profile image
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      Bob Bamberg 5 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Thanks, Jaye, for visiting. I, too, got my first pet late...not quite as late as you though. I was 48.

      I think that, sometimes, people get a little anthropomorphic and put a little too much faith in their dogs, believing that their dogs "understand" our rules and policies. As wonderful as they are, they never really get educated...they get conditioned.

      Isn't it wonderful to grow old with a companion who isn't aware of one's sags, bulges, wrinkles and noises?! Humans should take a page out of the dog's book of unconditional love.

      Warmest regards,

      Bob

    • JayeWisdom profile image

      Jaye Denman 5 years ago from Deep South, USA

      Bob....If you read my other hubs that refer to my dog, you'll find I waited until the "advanced age" of 61 to get my first pet!

      Consequently, I did everything wrong, and I'm still learning how to "un-do" my early mistakes. One even led to an unexpected bite, but I learned very quickly from that one! It hasn't happened again, and I don't expect it to, but--as you said--some simple things can provoke a bite.

      Humans have a responsibility to ensure they don't provoke such a response or let anyone else do so. It's especially important when children come to visit. Some of my great-grandchildren love my dog (and she loves them in return), but one of the younger ones is apt to grab at her face, so I shut her up in my bedroom when he visits to ensure safety.

      In spite of being a slow-on-the-uptake pet parent, my dog and I have a fairly good routine going now. It might be that we're getting to be "old ladies" together, so we understand how each other is "set in our ways."

      : ) JAYE