Dog Bites: A Serious Medical and Legal Problem For Dog Owners
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.
The Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) says dog bites account for more than one-third of all homeowners’ insurance liability claims, costing $478.9 million in 2011, with the average cost of dog bite claims pegged at $29,396.
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, and 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.
To help prevent dog attacks, there are some basic rules to follow. The first is: never approach a strange dog. 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.
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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.
If you're approached by a strange dog, stand still and avoid direct eye contact (staring is a threat gesture). If you run or scream it could trigger an instinctive hunting 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."
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 a threat gesture to a dog. A smile, to us, is a friendly gesture. To a dog it could be interpreted as baring the teeth; another threat 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.