Dog bite
prevention
Dog Bite Prevention (c) 2016-2018 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 third week of May 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 perspect-
ive; 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.
"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 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
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 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.  Physic-
ally 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 communi-
cate 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

Entire website copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen
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