Do you feel like there’s always some sort of national awareness day or week? If only National Margarita Appreciation Week was every week. This week April 7th – April 14th is a week that highlights a topic a bit more serious than margaritas, National Dog Bite Prevention Week.
Over 4.5 million people, about half of which are children, are bit by dogs every year, with the states of Texas and California leading in those numbers of incidents. The good news is this number has gone down a bit year to year and the majority of these bites are preventable.
When out at the Cowboy on a rowdy Saturday night you may tell two different people to “Talk to the hand,” and get two very different reactions… this concept holds true with dogs. One particular dog may not mind you hovering over them telling them how they are the bestest boy in the whole wide world, but this action may scare and provoke another dog to fear bite.
It’s good to get kids started at a young age of respecting a dog’s space, body, and boundaries. Teach your kids to never approach a dog while its eating or a mom with puppies. Moms with puppies will act like any other mama lion with her cubs, protective. Kids should learn how to appropriately approach dogs and pet dogs – never pulling, poking, or using them as a coffee table.
We’ve all spent an evening or two falling into the abyss of cute online videos of dogs and babies, and while there are dogs who don’t mind being used as furniture, its always good to move slowly and know the signs that a dog is uncomfortable, and never allow kids to behave this way with an unknown dog. If the dog’s body is stiff, eyes are wide, they curl their lips or pant or yawn, and tails are curled or straight as an arrow, immediately stop and give them lots of space. Allow them to come to you and position themselves where they want to be. Most of the time if a dog snaps it’s because of an invasion of space and their bodies. How do you feel when someone is standing on your foot at a concert and doesn’t get the hint? If a dog growls, don’t reprimand or correct them, its basically their way of saying, “Step off, I’m not ok with what’s going on.” Always have kids ask for permission to approach a dog out in public and have them act like a tree (standing still with hands at their side) if a dog approaches them without supervision. Have kids approach dogs from the side and offer their flat hand for the dog to sniff. Once the dog has made contact with them, they can give the dog some light and slow-moving pets.
As adults we need the reminder that what we may find as a fun and social event, our dog may not think the same. Often bites occur at events like outdoor concerts and farmer’s markets. Food + zooming kids + loud music + other dogs + distracted dog owners is the perfect recipe for even the gentlest of dogs to snap a bite. Add fireworks to the mix and not only will you have a terrified dog, you may loose hold of them as well, and now have a missing and distressed dog that you need to find. Aside from stressful social events some dogs bite out of the blue due to medical reasons. Keep up on your dog’s check-ups, if a new area on their body is hurting them and someone touches it, they may bite protecting their new injury. Older dog’s who have hip problems will protect that sore part of their body from people and other approaching dogs. Think about it, when you have the flu, you may bite (with your words) those around you because they’re causing you more pain and annoyance… the same holds true for our canines.
To help dogs figure out the world and minimize the chances of biting, socialize them early using the proper techniques. Get them used to being held by new people, have them smell new smells, experience new noises, and introduce them to other dogs (once vaccinated) slowly that you know are good with pups. Never use fear or violence to reprimand them. If your toddler has a tantrum, removing them from the situation immediately is a common human mechanism for “training.” This exact removing from the fun or stressful environment works on pups too. You can’t handle the fun in an appropriate manner? The fun is taken away.
Not all dogs thrive at a dog park. If your dog cowers, curls their tail under, or is tiny and continuously gets trampled on, its time to leave the Dog Park, its not for them. This is a two-way street; some dogs can be the bullies. If your dog is constantly tackling dogs, humping the same dog, and biting at the faces of other dogs, you may have a “bully” on your hands. Again, take the fun away, and don’t bring a pup who is prone to this behavior to a dog park, have them play in smaller groups in a more controlled environment instead. To learn more about how to assist your canine kid to grow out of this behavior a local trainer is always someone that can bring some professional advice to learning the body language that is exhibited before an incident, and how to help them learn a different behavior.
If you’d like to learn more about Dog Bite Prevention there are some great free online webinars happening this week.