Approximately 4.7 million people are bitten by dogs in the United States every year, and about 20% of those bites required medical attention.
In 2017, nearly 350,000 people were treated in emergency rooms for non-fatal dog-related injuries. In 2018, nearly 27,000 people underwent reconstructive surgery as a result of being bitten by dogs. And, while rare, dog attacks can be fatal.
Most dog bites and injuries occur while interacting with familiar dogs, thus it is of the highest importance to educate people and their children on how to avoid dog bites.
In fact, children are much more likely to be severely injured by dog bites because they are smaller and unaware of how to behave around dogs.
Every dog has the capacity to bite, but almost all dog bites are preventable. Below, we’ve outlined some important tips to keep you and your family safe.
Why Do Dogs Bite?
While dogs have been domesticated by humans for thousands of years, they are still animals and will respond to certain stimuli much like their canine ancestors did. From this perspective, there are a number of scenarios which can lead a dog to bite.
Examples of Potential Dog Bite Scenarios:
- Dogs who are possessive of something or someone are likely to bite. If a dog believes something like a toy or its food is going to be taken away, or its territory is being violated, it is more likely to bite. Some dogs can become so protective of their owners or other household members that they may bite with little provocation.
- Fear is a common reason dogs bite. Dogs tend to fear strangers such as postal workers, veterinarians, or any individual when they’re in an unfamiliar situation. Dogs will also bite out of fear when they are startled, perhaps by a loud noise, even when at home. Dogs that are abused, abandoned, or stressed can also bite out of fear.
- A dog that is in pain from a condition like hip dysplasia or another chronic ailment, that has suffered an acute injury like a car accident, or that is simply feeling unwell can bite someone, even someone it usually trusts.
- A dog’s strong maternal instinct may prompt it to bite those who interfere with her or her puppies.
- Many dogs have a “prey drive” that impels them to chase things like small animals, cars, and, yes, people. A dog off its lead or out of its enclosure may chase people running or cycling past, which can lead to that person being knocked over and injured, if not bitten.
Approaching an Unfamiliar Dog
- Never approach an unfamiliar dog and teach your children to do likewise. The California Department of Public Health has a delightful free, printable coloring and activity book for children to teach them how to be careful around dogs called Don’t Let the Dog Bite.
- Even if you think you know the dog well, always supervise young children and babies around your dog or someone else’s dog. Check out the educational resources available for you and your children at Family Paws and the ASPCA for further information.
- Always let a dog approach you, not the other way around. Moving quickly toward a dog that’s not familiar with you can cause them to bite out of fear. Staying still will allow a dog to feel more comfortable. As long as the dog is not already being actively aggressive, making a dog come to you establishes your dominance in the situation.
- Don’t kneel down and put your face in front of the dog’s. Dogs may see this as an aggressive act.
- Never pet a dog through a car window or over/through a fence, as they may feel strongly protective of their territory.
- Always ask a dog’s owner or guardian if it is all right to pet the dog, even if the dog appears to be friendly.
- Let the animal sniff your hand and see you clearly before you pet it. Dog experts advise petting a dog on the shoulder or chest at first, as some dogs may feel that touching their face or head is “too personal” for a first meeting.
- If you see a dog that is injured, in trouble, or running loose, call animal control first and wait for them to handle the situation.
- Never try to break up dog fights.
Safe Interactions Between Children and Dogs