According to the AVMA Dog Bite Prevention webpage:
- 4.7 million people the U.S. are bitten by dogs on an annual basis
- 800,000 Americans receive medical attention for dog bites each year
- Children are most commonly bitten, as 400,000 receive medical attention every year (senior citizens are in second place)
- Dog bites to children most commonly occur with familiar dogs engaging in everyday activities
Dog bites can have tragic consequences, including severe injury or death. They can also be costly and lead to a dog’s banishment from its city of residence, as we all learned in the tragic tale involving celebrity DJ Samantha Ronson’s dog Cadillac.
When it comes down to it, dog bite awareness and prevention shouldn’t be merely a week-long endeavor, but a daily practice undertaken by all pet owners. Additionally, striving to prevent dog bites is a much better wellness practice for all parties involved than managing the post-bite trauma.
Here are my top five dog bite prevention tips:
Proper Socialization and Training
Get your dog used to being around others of his kind by promoting consistent and positive socialization with other animals. If you are training a puppy or acclimating a new adult rescue pooch to your household and lifestyle, focus on training from a positive perspective as soon as you become the primary care provider.
Teaching the basic commands “sit,” “stay,” “come,” and others can help strengthen the canine-human bond and increase the likelihood that your pooch will respond favorably to interactions with other people.
If you aren’t confident with your technique or if your message is coming across as less than authoritative, then seek guidance from a trainer, veterinarian, or veterinary behavior specialist via the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists website.
Always keep your dog on a short leash in public spaces. Avoid using an extendable lead, which doesn’t allow for the same degree of control as a non-extending leash does, which keeps your dog’s movement to the limited area that you allow.
Know Your Friends and Be Wary of Potential Foes
Do not permit your dog to approach another dog with whom you are not familiar. Besides the concern for a bite, scratch, or other trauma, the owners of canine companions need to be aware that other diseases (ocular, oral, respiratory tract and other viruses, bacteria, etc.) can potentially transmit from nose to nose or mouth to anus (i.e., “fecal-oral transmission”) contact.
Avoid Potentially Stressful and Harmful Situations
If your dog is socially-challenged, consider skipping the dog park all together. Any place where dogs congregate is a location where canine stress levels are high and normal behaviors are cast aside for more primordial patterns of aggression, anxiety, and a seemingly reduced capacity to pay attention to an owner's commands.
A brief and seemingly safe interaction between two dogs can go quickly awry. What once appeared as a friendly meeting can escalate into a blood-shedding fight at a moment’s notice.
Consider the Costs of Bite Wound Treatment
You may be thinking “the first four recommendations sound great, but my dog is perfect and would never get into a fight with another animal.” On more occasions than I can recall, I’ve heard my clients say such things while sitting in the examination room and seeking treatment for a bite wound their dog received or inflicted.
The average cost associated with treating a dog bite on an emergency basis can vary from hundreds to thousands of dollars and is typically relative to the amount of damage received (or inflicted). That is, the more serious the dog bite, the more expensive the veterinary bill.
The degree of damage incurred is never fully visible to the naked eye at the surface of the skin. Therefore, it is often necessary to sedate or anesthetize an animal, open up the bite wound, assess and repair the damage underneath the skin's surface, then surgically close the site with a drain (a rubber penrose drain provides an exit for bodily fluids that collect as a result of the crushing injury associated with a bite-related trauma).
Always take preventative measures to ensure that your pooch will not be the instigator or the recipient of a dog bite. What do you do to help prevent dog bite trauma to or by your companion canine?
Dr. Patrick Mahaney