Something I did not know until last week… this is National Dog Bite Prevention Week. I received an email asking if I would blog about it and at first I thought "I’m not a dog trainer. What do I know about dog bite prevention?" Then I realized, it isn’t about training dogs so much as it is about training people and I do know a little about preventing dog bites!
First off, the statistics… according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention each year, 800,000 Americans seek medical attention for dog bites; half of these are children. Of those injured, 386,000 require treatment in an emergency department and about a dozen die. The rate of dog bite-related injuries is highest for children ages 5 to 9 years, and the rate decreases as children age. Almost two thirds of injuries among children ages four years and younger are to the head or neck region.
Educating Dogs to Prevent Biting
One thing I’ve learned for sure in this past year with NYC Shiba Rescue… most dogs bite because they were not raised, trained and socialized properly by the humans who were supposedly their caretakers. We’ve had a few tough cases that we’ve taken into NYCSR and we’ve rehabilitated each one of them.
Our first, and most serious, was Ella. Her name was Sheba when she arrived. She was less than a year old and had lived in the basement of her "home" for most of her short life after being purchased from a pet store as a Christmas gift for children. Ella had serious resource guarding issues and was also a fear biter. The worst part was that we couldn’t figure out her fear triggers, so training her was challenging. With the help of a great trainer and several amazing foster homes though, Ella learned SELF CONTROL and SELF CONFIDENCE and after about 8 months with NYCSR she was adopted out to a wonderful couple who have continued her training very successfully. You can read more about Ella here.
Our latest case, is my little foster dog Penny. She was surrendered to NYCSR because she was an ankle and foot biter, snapped at visitors in the home and pretty much tried to bite anyone if startled. Her owner was going to put her to sleep if we didn’t take her. When I met her, I saw PURE FEAR in her face… not aggression! She’s been living with Snick and me for about a month now. She learned very quickly that we will protect her from the scary world and she stopped trying to bite everyone. I’ve been introducing her slowly to the things she fears (really big dogs, men who move toward her quickly, things that roll on the sidewalk) and she makes HUGE improvements every day. Now there is one less biter in the world! You can read more about Penny here.
Educating Humans to Prevent Dog Bites
Of course, the flip side of socializing and training dogs correctly is socializing and training humans correctly. Kids need to learn
- to treat dogs humanely, so they don’t become fear biters, and
- to approach strange dogs with respect and caution.
A lot of kids are not raised around dogs or, even worse, are raised in neighborhoods where the only dogs they see have been trained to fight and/or protect. How can these children be raised with a respect for, and appreciation of, dogs? Is there a way to teach them that dogs are living beings who deserve to be treated with kindness? How can they know what wonderful companions well-trained dogs can be if they are never exposed to them? This is where a good humane education program can help.
Our school system, unfortunately, is asked to take up a lot of slack these days – teaching so many lessons that ideally would be taught by extended families and neighbors – and humane education is on the list. Snickers and I recently became a Delta Society Pet Partners team, specifically so we could get involved in humane education. When Snickers and I walk around midtown Manhattan, we get mixed reactions from children on the sidewalks. Most kids react appropriately – neutrally – and will ask if he is friendly if they want to pet him. Some are afraid of him and will freak out trying to avoid him. (This, of course, makes him notice them and try to check them out.) A few will simply reach out to touch him without any warning. I never let that slide. I immediately stop them, get on eye level with them, and explain that reaching for a strange dog can get them bitten. They usually jump back at that point and then I explain that SNICKERS is friendly and they can pet him if they approach him nicely, but that doesn’t mean ALL dogs are friendly. Then I ask "what if he weren’t so friendly and you reached out without asking and he BIT YOU?" That’s when their parents invariably chime in and agree with me. (Although, once, a woman got really upset with me when I started talking to her son, but it was only because she didn’t see that he had tried to grab Snickers as we walked by. When I told her why I stopped, she thanked me for being understanding and helped me talk to her son about asking permission and petting nice.)
As Pet Partners, Snick and I spend one morning per week visiting three separate classrooms. The students range in age from about 4 to 9 and they are following a curriculum created by the ASPCA. Last week was our second visit and their first lesson, entitled "May I Pet Your Dog." During our visit, the students took turns approaching us, asking politely if they could pet Snickers, and then approaching him gently. There were a few students who were especially afraid and Snickers laid down for them. When we go tomorrow, we’re going to review that lesson and then let the children interact more with him. As the lessons progress, they will get to groom him, feed him, walk him, and play with him. I think this kind of exposure to animals is incredibly important in avoiding both dog bites and animal abuse.
Dog Bite Prevention Tips
Susan Daffron, the founder of the National Association of Pet Rescue Professionals, has these
great tips to help children avoid dog bites.
- In many rural areas, animal control resources are limited, so it’s especially important that you gain an understanding why dogs bite and educate your children on dog safety. Statistically 50% of children will be bitten by a dog before their twelfth birthday. Don’t let your child become part of that statistic!
- Many dogs are friendly, so it’s not like you have to walk around fearing every canine you meet. But it pays to be cautious. The majority of bites are from a dog the person knows. Never assume a dog is friendly; always ask the owner first (if one is around).
- Dogs bite for three main reasons: to defend territory or to express fear or dominance. Often it’s a combination of all three, so pay attention to the behavior of any unfamiliar dog. If he seems edgy, afraid, or behaves oddly, he’s more likely to bite.
- Don’t look an unfamiliar dog straight in the eye. If a dog knocks you down, curl up into a ball and cover your face.
- Teach your kids not to approach any dog that looks tense or aggressive. If a strange dog approaches, they should stand still. Make sure your kids also know that they should not run or scream. Teach your children not to tease dogs or disturb a dog when he’s sleeping or eating. Also explain that they need to tell an adult whenever they see a stray dog or a dog that is acting “weird.” Never leave little kids alone with a dog unsupervised.
For More Information
- The CDC’s page about National Dog Bite Prevention Week
- The ASPCA’s humane education website (GREAT RESOURCE)
- The Delta Society Pet Partners program