By Dr. Becker
The American Veterinary Medical Association’s (AVMA) National Dog Bite Prevention Week takes place during the third full week of May each year. This year, it will be from May 18 to May 24, and the focus as always will be on educating people about dog bite prevention.
There are an estimated 70 million dogs living with U.S. families, and each year, millions of people – primarily children – suffer a dog bite. The majority of these bites, if not all, are preventable.
A Few Dog Bite Statistics
- Each year in the U.S., between 4.5 and 5 million people are bitten by dogs.
- About 20 percent of those who sustain a dog bite require medical attention, which means that every year over 800,000 Americans receive medical care for dog bites, and at least half of them are children.
- Children are by far the most frequent victims of dog bites, and are far more likely to be seriously injured. Most dog bites to children happen during normal daily activities and while interacting with familiar dogs.
- Senior citizens are the second most common dog bite victims.
10 Timely Tips for Preventing Dog Bites
- Use good judgment when selecting a family pet. Giving into an impulse when it comes to adopting or buying a dog is almost always a bad idea. Do your homework. And by all means if this is your first dog, or you don’t know what to look for in a dog, talk with a vet, a reputable breeder, or other knowledgeable person. Learn which dogs would be most likely to thrive in your family situation, and which would be a poor fit.
- Make sure your puppy is well-socialized, and train your dog to obey basic commands like Sit, Stay, No, and Come. Proper socialization is the single most important thing dog owners can do to reduce the risk of winding up with a pet with behavior problems. When your dog consistently obeys your commands, it is much easier to manage her in situations where she might be tempted to misbehave.
- Make sure your dog gets plenty of exercise. Not only is regular, heart-thumping aerobic exercise necessary for physical conditioning, it also provides the mental stimulation every dog needs to be well-balanced.
- Playtime is important, but you should avoid games that are overly exciting to your pup or that pit him against you, like wrestling or tug-of-war. And never put your dog in a situation where he feels teased or threatened.
- Always use a leash or similar restraint when you’re out in public with your pet. If your dog typically walks you rather than the reverse, you don’t have control of him. It’s not enough to simply put a leash or harness on a large dog with bad manners. You must be able to control him in public. If you can’t, it’s time for additional obedience training. In the meantime, dog walking duties should be the responsibility of a member of the family who can successfully control your pet in public.
- If you allow your dog out alone in a fenced yard, make sure gates are secure and there are no other escape routes available. If your pet is a jumper, your fence will need to be higher than she can jump. If she’s a digger or a chewer, you’ll need to take whatever precautions are necessary to insure she isn’t able to tunnel or gnaw her way to freedom.
- Take proactive care of your pet’s health. Feed a species-appropriate diet, make sure she is well-exercised, brush her teeth, bathe and groom her regularly, and take her for at least one, preferably two annual wellness visits with a holistic/integrative vet.
- Proceed with extreme caution when it comes to vaccinating your pet. Evidence is mounting that vaccines, in particular the rabies vaccine, are contributing to the problem of aggression in some dogs. Since rabies vaccines are required by law, insist on the 3-year vaccine and avoid the 1-year shot. I recommend you ask your holistic vet for the homeopathic rabies vaccine detox Lyssin after each rabies vaccine.
- Also discuss with your vet the best time to spay or neuter your dog. Beyond reproductive concerns, intact pets are sometimes more aggressive than animals that have been neutered. I do not recommend leaving a dog with aggressive tendencies intact, but I also don’t advocate a cookie cutter approach to neutering all puppies. Timing of this procedure is critical, and should be decided upon based on each dog’s health status and personality.
- Teach children – yours and any others who come around your dog – how to behave with an animal. Children are by far the most frequent victims of dog bites. They must learn to be both cautious and respectful in the presence of any dog, including their own. And never under any circumstances leave a baby or small child alone with a dog.