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How to Avoid a Dog Bite

Every year, the third week of May is National Dog Bite Prevention Week. There are an estimated 70 million dogs living in households in the United States. Any one of these dogs has the potential to bite if provoked. From 2003 to 2013, dog bites were the 11th leading cause of non-fatal injuries to children ages 1 to 4, and the 9th leading cause for children ages 5 to 9. Sixty-six percent of these bites occur to the head and neck. Children, the elderly, and postal carriers are the most frequent victims of dog bites. To reduce the number of injuries from dog bites, adults and children should be educated about bite prevention and dog owners should practice responsible dog ownership.

Reduce your risk :

Be aware of the fact that any dog has the potential to bite if provoked. Most bites occur from a dog that is known to the victim, such as a neighbor's dog or even their own pet.

  • Adults and children should not approach or touch any dog that is sleeping, eating, or caring for puppies. Dogs are more likely to bite if they are frightened or startled.

  • Always ask permission from the dog owner before petting or approaching an unfamiliar dog. If granted permission, let the dog sniff your open hand first. Bring your hand up under the dog's chin. Then pet the dog on the shoulder or chest. Avoid petting on the top of the head.

  • Do not pet a dog in an enclosed area such as a car or behind a fence. Dogs will often protect their home or space.

  • If a loose dog comes near you, do not run or scream. Stand still and avoid eye contact. Try to position yourself to the side of the dog, and not directly in front of it. Once the dog loses interest in you, slowly back away.

  • If you are knocked to the ground by a dog, curl up in a fetal position with your fingers interlocked behind your head protecting your ears and neck. Stay still and quiet, and the dog will most likely lose interest and walk away.

  • If you are attacked, put anything you can between you and the dog, such as a purse or jacket.

Understanding Body Language:

A key way to help avoid being bitten is to understand body language.

  • An aggressive dog may try to make itself look bigger. The ears may be up and forward, the fur on the back and tail may stand on end or puff up, and the tail may be straight up in the air. It may wag its tail. The dog may stare directly at what it thinks is a threat. Approaching any dog that is growling, baring its teeth, lunging or barking may result in a bite.

  • An anxious or scared dog may try to make itself look smaller. It may shrink to the ground, lower its head, or it may look away to avoid eye contact. The dog may try to back away or retreat. If the dog is not able to retreat, it may feel that there is no other option but to bite.

  • Many dogs will show a mixture of these body postures. The main idea is to remember to avoid any dog that is showing signs of fear, aggression, or anxiety. It is important to realize that a wagging tail does not always mean friendliness.

The Yellow Dog Project:

The Yellow Dog Project was started in Canada in 2012. If you see a dog that has a yellow ribbon or something yellow on its leash, it is an indicator that the dog needs some space. There are many different reasons why a dog would need space, such as a medical condition, recovering from surgery, fear or aggression issues, or if the dog is in training. Please do not approach these "Yellow Dogs". Maintain your distance and give these dogs and their owners time to move out of your way.

What to do if you are bitten:

If you are bitten or attacked by a dog, try not to panic. Immediately wash the wounds with soap and warm water. Contact your doctor for medical attention or advice. Report the bite to your local animal control agency. Tell the agency any information that you know about the dog, including the owner's name and address if known. If the dog is a stray, give the animal control official a description of the dog and which direction it was headed.

From responsible dog ownership, to understanding a dog's body language, to being respectful of The Yellow Dog Project, these are all ways to help reduce your risk of being bitten.


By Chrissie Hahn

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