While most of our dogs are sweet, well-behaved and very unlikely to bite, there is no dog who will NEVER bite under any circumstances. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, there are more than 800,000 dog bites reported annually with the primary victims being children, the elderly and home service providers (like mail carriers, meter readers, etc.)
Below are tips to help protect your dog from becoming a bite and to help prevent you and your family from being bitten (by your own dog or other dogs.)
Dog Bite Prevention for Dogs:
- Socialize your dog. One of the most common reasons pets bite is fear and one of the most common reasons they get fearful is unfamiliar situations. When your dog is young, gradually expose them to many different kinds of situations in a controlled, comfortable way. Let them meet people of all ages, take them to different kinds of places (after they are fully vaccinated, of course), let them meet different sizes, breeds and species of animals. Continue this exposure as they get older. Make sure these encounters are positive and that your pet does not feel threatened.
- Train your dog. Basic obedience training not only gives you basic control of your dog’s behavior, it also establishes a bond of trust and obedience between you and your pet. You might also learn some fun tricks together!
- Keep your dog healthy. Regular visits to the vet can help identify possible medical problems that can lead to bites. These include changes in metabolism that can lead to behavior changes, blindness leading to fear or painful conditions like arthritis or injuries.
- Be alert. Watch your dog for signs of stress that indicate he or she is uncomfortable in their current situation. Body language triggers to watch for include holding their ears back, avoiding eye contact/looking away, licking their lips and many others. If your dog is expressing discomfort, gently remove them from the situation.
Dog Bite Prevention for People:
- Always be careful with young children. Always supervise interactions between young children and dogs. Young children are unlikely to know “good manners” to use with dogs and may make dogs uncomfortable. Carefully manage the introduction of children and dogs. Also make sure to teach children- especially toddlers- to be gentle and respectful with pets.
- Do not approach strange dogs or reach through fences. This can make dogs very uncomfortable. Reaching through a fence towards a dog can be a very threatening gesture to a dog, leading to a higher likelihood of a bite occurring. Before petting a dog you meet at the park, ask the dog’s owner if and how the dog likes to be approached.
- Do not run away. Dogs instinctively chase things that run away. Running around a dog may turn on a prey drive or lead to an inadvertent bite in a play scenario.
- Never disturb a dog that is caring for puppies, eating or sleeping. This can be very threatening or startling, which can lead to bites.
- Understand dog body language. Below is a graphic generated by veterinary behaviorist Dr Sophia Yin demonstrating signs of fear in dogs.