May is a big month for pet public awareness campaigns. This week is National Pet Week (cue the “every week is pet week” jokes), and Dog Bite Prevention Week runs May 19 – 25. I love to extoll the virtues of our pets on a daily basis, but I also think it is important to discuss the problems that can arise when you have a pet. When it comes to dogs, the most serious problem imaginable is that your dog harms someone, so I applaud the American Veterinary Medical Association and other groups for bringing this issue center stage.
According to the AVMA, each year dogs bite approximately 4.7 million people. Nearly one million of those people require medical attention and about half of those are children. Thankfully, there are steps everyone with a dog can take to prevent bites before they happen. Are many of these steps common sense? Yes, but they are all worth repeating.
Like Ceci, all children should have to worry about dog kisses, not dog bites. With some basic steps we can all make that possible
1. Teach bite-control – When Eko was a puppy he would accidentally chomp my finger when trying to devour a treat. He would also occasionally nip my leg and run away to goad me into playing with him. In both situations the bite felt more like a small pinch, but I would purposely yelp and cry loudly to signal that I was injured. I would also immediately remove the object of Eko’s desire and correct him verbally with a deep, booming “NO!” He quickly learned that ANY type of bite – intentional or otherwise – is entirely unacceptable.
2. Socialize often – Dog bites are frequently reactionary behavior as a result of the dog being frightened or nervous. A well socialized pup will be comfortable with all types of people and environments.
3. Never leave young children unattended with a dog- This is easily the most common sense recommendation, but the one most often unheeded. I don’t think Eko would ever bite a child – he was amazing with Emily’s niece Ceci – but why senselessly risk it? Children are often bitten by familiar dogs (think of a child pulling a dog’s tail/ear or accidentally startling a dog) so it is always best to err on the side of caution.
4. Common sense, common sense, common sense – Keep your pet healthy/up to date on all vaccinations, give your dog plenty of physical/mental exercise, make sure the gate to your yard is closed (The AVMA has a longer list here)
Ceci is still a bit young to take Eko for a walk – actually, she can’t even walk herself yet – but the AVMA also has recommendations for what you can teach children about meeting new dogs
No system is perfect, but a healthy, socialized, trained and well-exercised pup is a happy pup (and happy person!) and is infinitely less likely to ever bite someone. As responsible pet owners it is up to us to help spread the word about bite-prevention. If you are looking for additional resources you can find helpful links at the bottom of the AVMA’s page. If you have any of your own bite-prevention tips or resources, be sure to share! The more we share this information the more we can help reduce the incidence of preventable dog-bites.