Dog bite
prevention
Dog Bite Prevention copyright (c) 2021 Frania Shelley-Grielen. All rights reserved.

How do we know when a dog is likely to bite? How often do dogs bite and whom?
And how can we not get bitten?  Dog bites can happen any day of the week in the
year and any dog can bite.  The second week of April is
National Dog Bite Prevention
Week
, dedicated to increasing our knowledge at being better at preventing dog
bites.  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

This article is an original work and is subject to copyright. You may create a link
to this article on another website or in a document back to this web page. You
may not copy this article in whole or in part onto another web page or document
without  permission of the author. Email inquiries to info@animalbehaviorist.us

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.
"most, if not all, dog
bites can be avoided.  Dog bite
prevention starts with education
for children and adults regard-
ing 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"
Copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen
Book an individual consultation
"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 reinforce-
ment 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.  "
Webhamster
Elizabeth Albert
"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."  
(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

Website copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen
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