Some sobering facts:
- Each year 4.5 million people in the US are bitten by dogs and 1 in 5 of those bites require medical attention.
- Of the 800,000+ people bitten who need medical attention, at least half of them are children.
- Children are the most common victims of dog bites, and are more likely to be severely injured, and about 75% of them are bitten by dogs they are familiar with .
- As the number of dogs in the home increases, so does the likelihood of being bitten. Adults with two or more dogs in the household are five times more likely to be bitten than those living without dogs at home.
Dog bites are preventable. Set up your family and your dog for success by following these 7 tips.
Set your family up for success:
1. Adopt the right dog
Research dog breeds before select your new dog or puppy. Be realistic about the needs of the breed and breed traits – are you active enough to satisfy a border collies need for mental and physical stimulation? Would a senior dog be more your speed?
Do you have the time the dog will need to be adequately exercised & trained? If you don’t have the time to exercise your dog every day, is dog daycare something that will fit into your budget?
Sociability – is the dog you are considering friendly & politely soliciting attention? Does he seem reluctant to be petted? Is she bouncing off of you with excitement? Is a shy dog or an over-exuberant dog a good fit for you? (i.e. are you up to the task of lots of socialization time and effort to help the shy dog feel more confident and exuberant dog to learn how to be calm?)
What can you find out about the dog’s history? Things like multiple re-homings, abusive situations, or a dog with a bite history can all be a lot for a new dog owner to take own. If you aren’t sure what you are in for with dogs like these, ask a trainer to help you evaluate the dog before you sign on the adoption contract dotted line.
Considering bringing home 2 dogs at the same time? If so, be ready to take on three times the work for training, exercise. A better idea is to adopt one dog, train, and get used to one dog. Then, if you still want a 2nd dog, you are better positioned for success in bringing home #2.
2. Learn how to read dog body language. Understanding and being able to read dog body language is essential to preventing dog bites.
- Do you recognize the signs of fear and stress in dogs?
- Do you know that a wagging tail doesn’t always mean a dog is friendly?
- Doggonesafe has great resources on reading body language and keeping kids safe.
3. Teach your children how to safely and appropriately interact with dogs
- Hugging, ear pulling, tail pulling, climbing on the dog all put your child at risk for a dog bite.
- Even if your dog is tolerate of your kids doing these things, teach you kids they are not appropriate behavior – not all dogs will tolerate children behaving like this.
- Teach your children respect for strange dogs – ask before petting, appropriate petting, and knowing when they should get away and how to safely do it will all help keep your children safe around dogs.
- Always actively supervise kids and dogs – the ASPCA recommends that kids younger than 10 should never be left alone with a dog – even their own dog.
How to Set your dog up for success:
4. Socialization is key for puppies – take a puppy class that includes supervised off leash play & encourages kids to come to class
- Puppy classes can help prevent puppies from developing fear issues as adolescents and adults
- They teach puppies to be more comfortable with new dogs and people.
- Plan to do it – even if you adopt older dog. Dedicating 1 hour per week for 6 weeks (the length of a typical basic manners class) and doing the homework for class is a great way to get your new dog’s training career started with you – and the accountability of going to class will help ensure you do the work each week!
- Have kids take part in training once you know the basics (it’s easier to coach/teach kids to do something you already know rather than have them learn from you while you are learning – and supervise them while they train the dog.
- Use positive reinforcement training techniques– they can be safer for kids and less stress on dogs and people.
- Don’t punish growling – this just tells your dog it isn’t safe to growl when he feels afraid or threatened – and can him more likely to bite. Instead, work to understand why the dog is growling and solve the behavior issue at the root rather than just suppressing the expression of it.
6. Get to know your dog
- What does your dog like? Not like? Men? Loud noises? Children? By knowing what your dog doesn’t like, you can prevent him from feeling threatened, and with the help of a trainer, help him learn to more comfortable with previously scary things.
- If you don’t know if your dog likes other dogs don’t take him to a dog park to find out. Ask a trainer for help in determining how your dog feels about other dos.
- If your dog was in pain, would you recognize it? Vet check ups are important to maintain your dog’s health – and also reduce the risk of pain or injury related aggressive incidents.
- Use daycare, do walkers/you walking, play time to tire your dog out before high activity times in your home or times when you know you won’t be able to pay attention to your dog.
- Crate train your dog – and teach kids that crates are dogs safe places so no kids allowed in or on crates.
- Learn ways to occupy your dog – food puzzles, stuffed kongs, and safe chew toys can all be great ways to keep your dog busy.
7. When you think (or know) you have a problem with your dog, get help BEFORE your dog bites
- Trust your gut – if you think some of your dog’s behavior to be dangerous or threatening, you are probably right.
- Does your dog growl when you come near his toys or food bowl? Growl at strangers? Get help before he bites
- Is your dog fearful, skittish, or untrusting of strangers? A good trainer can help your dog learn to be more comfortable and teach you how to recognize when your dog needs help.
It is impossible to say that your dog will never bite someone. The better your understand canine body language, know your dog, and set your dog and your family up for success, the more you reduce your risk of dog bites.
Pepper’s Paws, LLC provides in home dog training in Chester County, PA. We also teach Basic to Advanced Manners classes and offer in house dog training at Dogtopia of Chester Springs.
Head trainer Deb Murray, CPDT-KA is certified by the Certification Council of Professional Dog Trainers, an AKC Evaluator, a Doggone Safe Be a Tree Presenter, and a Distinguished Graduate and Mentor Trainer for the Catch Canine Academy.