Dog bite
prevention
Dog Bite Prevention (c) 2016-2017 Frania Shelley-Grielen all rights reserved

The third week of May is National Dog Bite Prevention Week, dedicated to increasing our
knowledge at being better at preventing dog bites.  Dog bites can happen any day of the
week in the year and any dog can bite.  There are over 43 million households owning
at least one dog in the United States and over 66% of those households consider those
dogs members of the family according to the
Humane Society.  In our dog loving
society approximately 4.5 million dog bites happen each year according to The Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention (“
CDC”) with children between the ages of 5 to 9
being the most at risk.  Two thirds of the children bitten are boys and men are more
likely to be bitten than are women.

The numbers are impressive and as the
ASPCA reminds us, need to be put in
perspective; children are twelve times more likely to be hurt by a car than be bitten by
a dog or seven times more likely to be hurt by a sharp object than be bitten by a dog or
one and half times more likely to be hurt by a bicycle than be bitten by a dog.  Further,
with 75 million pet dogs in the United States in 2007-2008 and 400,000 bite injuries
to children the overall bite rate is extremely low.

A popular misconception is that stray dogs are doing the biting.  The fact is, children
are more likely to be bitten by a dog they know, in their own home.  The CDC notes
that the likelihood increases with the greater number of dogs in the home.  What is
most important to note is that most, if not all, dog bites can be avoided.  Dog bite
prevention starts with education for children and adults regarding appropriate
handling, training and how dogs communicate with humans along with adequate and
appropriate supervision of children around dogs.  Understanding why dogs bite, canine
body language and the appropriate human responses can benefit our health and our
dogs’ welfare as well.

Learning canine body language begins with learning that dog body language is not
human body language. Dog body language has its own unique vocabulary to
communicate emotions and intent.  While humans may value eye contact, hand
shaking or hugging as greeting behavior for dogs a sidelong glance, lowered head and a
good butt sniff are a more appropriate way to say hello.  A jubilant dog greeting
consists of jumping, definitely not a welcome human behavior and a fearful or
aggressive dog warns off another with a whole set of behaviors that communicate
discomfort.  Identifying what a dog is saying is what keeps everyone comfortable and
safe.  So how are we doing?  A 2010 study in the
Journal of Nursing, Social Studies and
Public Health
found that children correctly identify a dog’s emotions on average 17% of
the time.  Recognizing fearfulness in dogs was accurately reported by 41% of girls and
29% of boys studied.  Adults may not be doing a much better job at reading their dogs
than children.  Dog expert, Stanley Coren’s recent viral post on
not hugging your dog
looked at a random sample of 250 photos posted on the internet of people hugging dogs.  
Researchers found that in 81.6% of the photos dogs displayed at least one sign of
discomfort such as turning the head away, lip licking, yawning, lowered ears or
“whale eye”-where the white of the eye is visible at the corners or rim.  Coren points
out that the posters of the photos are most probably posting proof of their happy and
close relationships with their dogs but how close and how happy?

Dogs, like many other animals, manage conflict with highly ritualized display signals
that demonstrate or promote deference.   Minor signs of stress such as lip licking or
yawning out of the context of being hungry or tired and or looking away are strong
indicators that what is happening to the dog is not what they would like to be
happening.  Signs of increasing stress such as whale eye or round eye, creeping, trying
to leave, tucked tail, weight back, rigid body tension and raised hackles are definite
calls for more space.   Because fighting is costly for animals biologically, and can result
in injury there is a progression of responses to promote distance and deference in
response to stress with many animals.  Getting away from an antagonistic individual
is always a safer and healthier strategy for both parties.  Pressing the dog increases the
signs given, for example, alarm barking, growling, a rigid and tense body with the
weight carried forward, stiff and wagging tail.  These are more severe warnings.

A dog may raise the hair around the shoulder blades which we know signals arousal
and lean forward into a "ready-to-go" stance and bark repeatedly.  This kind of behavior
is more of a threat than a promise.  Standing squared off like this indicates the dog is
ready to move forward and the barking is attention getting and warning intent.  But
the dog is mostly looking for more space from the other.  Typically a dog displaying this
kind of behavior does not feel retreat is an option and is asking for the other individual
to “go away.”

Know what a stressed or happy dog looks like and how to describe one.  Developing our
consistent use of an objective language to describe what a dog is doing enables us to
observe the dog’s behavior without infusing it with human goals and emotions that
might not apply and color our responses; “mean,” “nasty,” “guilty,” etc.  To help
shelter professional assess behavior, the ASPCA’s SAFER assessment tools included
being versed in a visual glossary for what terms like “whale eye,” “open mouth” look
like and in what contexts.  (It is important to note that breed differences have an
impact here, “ears back” on a cocker spaniel look quite different than “ears back” on a
pit bull but both dogs will move the base of the ear back.  Good practice in paying
attention.)

While describing what stress can look like is helpful, seeing it is even more helpful in
learning to recognize it.  Videos are an invaluable tool in demonstrating stress signals
and canine body language.  Elemental Media’s “
In the Company of Dogs” , Maddie’s
Institute “
Canine Body Language” and AnimalBehaviorist.Us “Stress Signals in Dogs
are good ones to begin with.  Interactive web sites designed specifically for children that
incorporate teaching canine body language with games, videos and photos such as
doggonesafe.com are excellent for parents and children.  The more comfortable we are
with understanding what our dogs are saying the more likely we can respond to it.

And dogs do bite.  Dogs bite for any number of reasons; fear, pain, protectiveness, lack
of control over an aversive situation, lack of socialization, lack of or inappropriate
training or handling and of desperation when the warning signals they are giving are
not being acknowledged.  While there may be times when biting happens without
warning such as when a dog bites out of protection when surprised by an unexpected
hug or kiss on the face or where a dog has a history where warning signals are
continually ignored.  To lessen a dog’s resorting to biting we need to read all aspects of a
dog’s body language and include the environment.  We also need to know the
environment includes our presence and actions in it
.
Dog bite prevention is most effective if we pay attention to the dogs we are interacting
with.  Look first:  Dogs that display fear, who are growling or barking should not be
approached or stared at directly as they are asking for more distance, listening to this
request takes the pressure off the dog, not listening will most likely result in biting.  
Dogs that are eating, chewing on toys, sleeping and caring for puppies should not be
approached as biting can happen in these scenarios.  Tethered dogs are more likely to
bite when approached.  And dogs that are behind a fence or in a car may bite to protect
territory.

Proper adult supervision around children and dogs cannot be stressed enough.  
Children need to learn how to treat dogs humanely and adults who know how to do that
need to be doing the teaching.  Knowing our children is also significant, a 2012 study
found that less shy children were more likely to take greater risks around a dog they
did not know, even with a handler present.  While most bite prevention material is
aimed at children the message remains just as relevant for adults.

What is the appropriate human response to an aggressive dog?  Remember, the first
rule with all stressed or scared dogs is to stop what we are doing that is stressing them.  
A good strategy with any stressed dog including an aggressive dog is the “stop, drop
and roll” technique.  Stop all movement, this decreases any perceived threatening
behavior.  Drop our eyes, eye contact can also be perceived as threatening.  Roll our
bodies to the side, turning sideways to the dog as opposed to facing a dog frontally is
perceived as less aggressive for dogs and many other animals.  Back away slowly once
the dog quiets.  Never run.  Any number of variations exist on this method with all
approaching the same goal; from wrapping arms around the body (stops movement),
reciting nursery rhymes (lessens fearful behavior from humans) and dropping to the
ground turtle fashion to protect the face and mid section in the case of an actual
physical attack.

When can we approach dogs?  There is so much wisdom in the old saying: “let them
come to you.”  Friendly dogs that approach us in a relaxed manner- wiggly and soft
body tension, open, “smiling” mouth, ears and muzzle relaxed, tail neutral or wagging
are looking for interaction.  The best response is putting ourselves sideways to the dog
so we are not towering over them or lowering our face into theirs.  Petting on the chest
or behind the neck is best.  Never kiss or hug dogs.  Not your dog?  Always, always ask
first if you may pet someone else’s dog.  Follow by asking how the dog likes to be petted
and remember your body position in relation to the dog.  With smaller dogs it is best to
lower ourselves sideways to the dog and then interact.  At all times and with all dogs,
be kind and remember dogs have dog behavior and not people behavior.  A dog that is
pulling on a leash is pulling to get somewhere fast and not because they are trying to be
in charge of anyone.  Teaching our dogs what we want them to do with positive
reinforcement lets our dogs know how we would like them to act.  Never, ever hit or be
rough with a dog for any reason. They do not understand why they are being hurt no
matter how much appeasement behavior they display.  Physically punishing our dogs
creates fearful dogs, increases stress and can lead to greater aggression

References
Chlopčíková, M. & Mojžíšová, A. (2010). Risk factors in the mutual relationship between children and
dogs.
Journal of Nursing, Social Studies and Public Health, 1(1), 102–109

Davis, A. L., Schwebel, D. C., Morrongiello, B. A., Stewart, J., & Bell, M. (2012). Dog Bite Risk: An
Assessment of Child Temperament and Child-Dog Interactions.
International Journal of Environmental
Research and Public Health
, 9(12), 3002–3013.
"What is most important to note is
that most, if not all, dog bites can be
avoided.  Dog bite prevention starts
with education for children and
adults regarding appropriate
handling, training and how dogs
communicate with humans including
adequate supervision of children
around dogs.  Understanding why
dogs bite, canine body language and
the appropriate human responses can
benefit our health and our dogs’
welfare as well".
Copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen
Request an individual consultation
"At all times and with all dogs, be
kind and remember dogs have dog
behavior and not people behavior.  A
dog that is pulling on a leash is
pulling to get somewhere fast and not
because they are trying to be in
charge of anyone.  Teaching our dogs
what we want them to do with
positive reinforcement lets our dogs
know how we would like them to act.  
Never, ever hit or be rough with a
dog for any reason. They do not
understand why they are being hurt
no matter how much appeasement
behavior they display.  Physically
punishing our dogs creates fearful
dogs, increases stress and can lead to
greater aggression."
Webhamster
Elizabeth Albert
"Dog body language has its own
unique vocabulary to communicate
emotions and intent.  While humans
may value eye contact, hand shaking
or hugging as greeting behavior for
dogs a sidelong glance, lowered head
and a good butt sniff are a more
appropriate way to say hello.  A
jubilant dog greeting consists of
jumping, definitely not a welcome
human behavior and a fearful or
aggressive dog warns off another
with a whole set of behaviors that
communicate discomfort.  
Identifying what a dog is saying is
what keeps everyone comfortable
and safe."
(Copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen) teaching how to best interact with
our dogs is the best prevention there is
info@animalbehaviorist.us
212-722-2509 / 646-228-7813


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