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Dogs Show These 3 Telltale Behaviors Just Before They Bite — Can You Spot Them?

dog bite

Story at-a-glance -

  • It’s National Dog Bite Prevention Week (April 8 to April 14), the purpose of which is to educate the public about preventing dog bites
  • Children, the elderly and postal carriers are the most frequent victims of dog bites
  • If a dog approaches and is about to bite, offer him anything you’re holding to try to distract him, and if you wind up on the ground, curl up in a ball with your hands over your ears and remain silent and still
  • There are many steps dog parents can take to prevent their pet from becoming a biter
  • Lifelong learning, socialization and mental stimulation are necessary to help dogs remain well-balanced and well-behaved

By Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

Today kicks off National Dog Bite Prevention Week for 2018, which is a week dedicated to raising awareness and educating people on how to prevent dog bites. There are almost 90 million dogs living with families across the U.S.1 and millions of people — primarily children — suffer dog bites each year, most of which are entirely preventable. From the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA):2

  • According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), dog bites were the 11th leading cause of nonfatal injury to children ages 1 to 4, 9th for ages 5 to 9 and 10th for ages 10 to 14 from 2003 to 2012.
  • The Insurance Information Institute estimates that in 2013, insurers across the country paid just under $500 million in dog bite claims.
  • According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, almost 27,000 reconstructive procedures were performed in 2013 to repair injuries caused by dog bites.
  • The U.S. Postal Service reports that over 5,500 postal employees were attacked by dogs in 2013. Children, elderly and postal carriers are the most frequent victims of dog bites.
  • The American Humane Association reports that 66 percent of bites among children occur to the head and neck.

It's important to note the above statistics haven't been updated since 2013, but the number of dogs living in U.S. households has risen by about 20 million since the stats were originally compiled. Therefore, it's reasonable to assume some of the dog bite picture may be even worse than these numbers indicate.

6 More Facts About Dog Bites

According to the AVMA:3

Each year, over 4.5 million people in the U.S. are bitten by dogs.

Almost 1 in 5 people bitten by dogs require medical attention.

More than 800,000 Americans receive medical attention for dog bites each year; at least half of them are children.

Children are, by far, the most common victims of dog bites and are far more likely to be severely injured.

Most dog bites affecting young children occur during everyday activities and while interacting with familiar dogs.

Senior citizens are the second most common dog bite victims.

Rules of the Road in Avoiding Dog Bites

Be careful when approaching a strange dog. Don't try to pet any dog before he sees you and sniffs you. Don't turn your back to an unfamiliar dog or try to run away. The natural instinct of many dogs will be to give chase. Don't attempt to interact with a dog who is sleeping, eating, playing with a toy or bone, or a mother who is with her puppies. Signs a dog is about to bite:

  • She suddenly freezes and holds her body rigid
  • She stands with her front legs splayed and her head low, looking at you
  • She curls her lip to show teeth

If you feel a dog is a threat:

  • Stand motionless with your hands at your sides
  • Avoid eye contact with the dog
  • If the dog loses interest, back away slowly
  • If the dog comes at you anyway, offer him anything you're holding — a purse or jacket, for example — or anything that may distract him
  • If you wind up on the ground, curl into a ball, put your hands over your ears and stay still — resist the urge to yell, scream or move around

10 Recommendations to Prevent Your Dog From Becoming a Biter

Research the type of dog that would be best suited to your family and lifestyle before selecting a pet, and address negative behaviors immediately. Impulse adoptions or purchases are very often a bad idea. If this is your first dog, also consider talking with a veterinarian, a well-informed shelter or rescue employee, a reputable breeder or other knowledgeable person.

If you see any signs of negative behavior, address them immediately with the help of a positive trainer or veterinary behaviorist.

Ensure your dog is well-socialized and trained to respond consistently to basic obedience commands like sit, stay, no and come. Early, proper and ongoing socialization is the most important thing you can do to reduce the risk of behavior problems down the road.

Dogs do best with lifelong socialization and consistent opportunities to interact with a variety of new people, animals and environments.

Provide your dog with plenty of opportunities to 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 over-stimulating to your dog or that pit him against you, such as wrestling or tug-of-war. And never put your dog in a situation where he feels taunted or threatened.

Always use a leash when you're out in public with your pet. And remember that it's not enough to simply put a leash or harness on a large dog with unpredictable behavior. You must be able to control him regardless of who or what he encounters.

If you can't, it's time for additional obedience training, and in the meantime, dog-walking duties should go to the person in your household who can successfully maintain control of 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 she's a jumper, your fence must be higher than she can jump. If she's a digger or chewer, you'll need to take whatever precautions are necessary to ensure she isn't able to tunnel her way out of your yard.

Take proactive care of your pet's health. Feed a nutritionally balanced, species-appropriate diet, make sure she's well-exercised, brush her teeth, bathe and groom her regularly, and take her for annual wellness visits with your veterinarian.

Proceed with caution when it comes to vaccinating your pet. Evidence is mounting that the rabies vaccine in particular is contributing to aggression in some dogs. Since rabies vaccines are required by law, insist on the three-year vaccine and avoid the one-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 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.

Additional Food for Thought for Dog Owners

Just as a child's behavior is different than an adult's, your puppy's behavior will change as he matures. As he develops physically and socially, his conduct will also transform in subtle and perhaps not-so-subtle ways. Don't assume, even if you've done an excellent job socializing and training him, that he is a "finished product."

Lifelong learning, socialization and mental stimulation are essential if your pet is to become and remain a balanced individual. Ongoing training and proactive behavior modification when a problem might be developing will prevent any budding issues of aggressiveness. Dogs often need a refresher obedience or socialization course between 2 and 3 years of age. If you aren't pleased with one or more of your dog's behaviors, stick with training until she gets there.

If you adopt a dog, especially a puppy, during the colder months of the year, he still needs to be socialized before warm weather arrives to all the sights, sounds and other stimuli of life. Waiting until the weather improves or you have more time in your schedule puts your puppy at risk of missing critical developmental periods that play into undesirable behaviors, fear responses and inappropriate reactions years down the road.

Dog bites are more common in hot weather. This is probably because more children are outdoors playing with their pets, coupled with dogs becoming irritable and aggressive in the heat.