All canines can — and will — bite humans or other dogs in certain circumstances. Here’s how to prevent a dog bite incident from occurring on your watch!
As pet parents, we have a responsibility to protect both our dogs and the people they encounter. Seems easy enough, right? Yet, according to a Globe and Mail article published in 2016 and updated in 2018, an estimated 500,000 dog bites occur each year in Canada. Most of these bites are inflicted by dogs belonging to the victim’s family and friends, and three-quarters of the victims are children under the age of ten. So what can we do to ensure our own dogs don’t become a statistic?
The answer is simple – maximize your dog’s training and socialization time, and minimize the opportunities for him to get into trouble. Even the sweetest pup may nip if he feels scared and threatened. At the same time, we need to educate children, since they represent the majority of bite victims.
What children need to know about dog safety
While most children are drawn to dogs, their natural behaviours — running, yelling, grabbing, hitting, moving sporadically, and maintaining eye contact — put them at particular risk for dog bite injuries. The close proximity of a child’s face to a dog’s level also increases the likelihood that facial injuries will occur. And think of how many kids want to “hug” a dog as soon as they see him.
Most dogs will exhibit warning signals to communicate their discomfort, but children often miss them. Fortunately, many programs now exist to educate children about dog safety.
Retired elementary school teacher and professional dog trainer, Jill Kolar, co-founder of the Champlain Dog Club in Petawawa, Ontario, often puts on dog safety presentations to show children the safest way to act around dogs.
One exercise focuses on teaching children how to “be a tree”, which means standing still if a strange dog approaches, or if any dog is acting in a threatening way or is too frisky. The children learn to “root” themselves with feet slightly apart for balance, look down, fold in their “branches” or arms, and stand very still as a way of defusing the situation. Running and squealing only arouses the dog’s chase instinct and leads to trouble.
The children also learn the proper way to greet a dog. With a parent’s permission, they should ask the owner, “May I pet your dog?” If the answer is yes, they should let the dog sniff a lowered hand that has been curled into a fist. They can then pet the dog gently on the side of the neck or on the chest, since patting the top of the head can seem intimidating to a dog.
Seniors and dogs
Dogs offer many benefits to senior citizens in the right circumstances. They provide companionship, and can help motivate them to exercise. But according to Jill, if a senior is becoming at all frail, it’s much safer for her to have a dog she can easily manage. Without foolproof training, a large breed dog can drag his “mom” over to check out any dog or human that catches his eye. It goes without saying that if a handler isn’t able to hold a dog back, the risk of a bite incident increases.
Dogs and delivery persons
Online shopping is great, and while booming sales keep the postal service and couriers busy, it also means your dog may come face-to-face with strangers in his territory. The U.S. Postal Service says its carriers are incurring more bites than ever, and has joined a National Dog Bite Prevention Week coalition to remind the public that “any dog can bite”. Likewise, Canada Post has long been calling for dog owners to take more care controlling their pets.
Fortunately, as a dog parent, you can easily manage this issue. Simply secure your dog in a separate room before opening the door to delivery people. Even friendly dogs may bite if they feel threatened by unknown intruders. If your dog spends a lot of time outdoors, never leave him unsupervised. If the mailman arrives when your dog is playing in the front yard, trouble could ensue.
A dog parent’s responsibilities
The Canada Safety Council offers a list of points to reduce the likelihood of your dog biting someone:
- Socialize and train your dog. While it’s best to start while he’s a puppy, most dogs can be socialized to not be aggressive. Make sure only positive training methods are used.
- Don’t let your dog run loose, unless he’s in a safe, enclosed area such as a dog park. If he’s not good with other dogs or people, avoid parks and give him some off-leash time in your own fenced backyard instead.
- Avoid letting young children walk dogs they can’t control, and teach your kids basic “dog etiquette”. In particular, teasing, chasing and yelling should be discouraged. A dog that is eating or sleeping should be left alone. When you meet children while out for a walk, be sure they approach your dog properly to ensure their safety.
- Choose your dog carefully. Select one that has been bred to be a non-aggressive family dog.
- Never leave babies or young children alone with a dog.
- Children should be taught to never hug a dog. Many dogs tolerate such behaviours but others don’t. While the internet abounds with pictures of young children hugging dogs, it’s usually easy to tell when the dogs aren’t comfortable with this type of affection. The next time you see one of these pictures, study the dog’s body language carefully. If the whites of his eyes are showing, for example, or his ears are pinned back, it means he’s not happy.
When it comes to dogs, the key word to remember is RESPECT. Showing respect for dogs (including yours) as well as other pet parents will go a long way toward preventing dog bites.
Colleen Rutherford Archer has been working with dogs for over half a century, including two utility level obedience dogs, a guide dog in training, a Therapeutic Paws of Canada therapy dog, and many demo dogs. Her specialty is equine trick training. Colleen has published hundreds of articles in magazines and newspapers, and is the author of seven young adult novels about horses and dogs.