Dog Bite Prevention

In Her Own Words: Victoria on Dog Bite Prevention:

As a mother and a dog trainer, I am dedicated to raising awareness about responsible pet ownership and preventing dog bites. My public platform helps put a spotlight on the issue and my Dog Bite Prevention Task Force, comprised of veterinarians, lawyers, canine bite investigators and pediatric surgeons, are each doing what they can to educate the public about being safe around dogs. As well as working on much needed national campaigns with the Task Force, my free time is spent teaching bite prevention to children.
--Victoria Stilwell

Military Working Dogs

As the canine population continues to grow, so has the number of dog bites both in Britain and the United States.

  • Over the last ten years the number of reported dog bites requiring medical treatment has increased by 50% in England and 150% in Scotland.
  • According to a report by the U. S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, over a sixteen-year period, the number of hospital admissions caused by dog bites in the U.S. nearly doubled, increasing from 5,100 in 1993 to 9,500 in 2008.
  • According to 2011 statistics, there were approximately 4.5 million reported dog bites in the US, 800,000 of which were serious enough to require medical attention.

Why have bite incidences increased so much?

  • This dramatic increase over the last ten years is alarming but not surprising considering how popular dogs have become. Census data indicates that approximately 31% of British households own a dog and that dogs now outnumber children in American households (43 million households have dogs compared to 38 million with kids under the age of 18).
  • Most of these dogs are valued members of the family with nothing more to do than lie on the couch all day. Fewer dogs with jobs means more bored animals who suffer stress and anxiety as a result.
  • Most dogs receive no formal training, but of those that are taken to class and are trained using punitive, out-dated methods, an increase in negative behavior is often the result. Meghan Herron, DVM, lead author of a veterinary study published in The Journal of Applied Animal Behavior (2009), says that confrontational training methods practiced by many trainers and handlers in the United States and Britain are a contributing factor to dog bites. Dr. Herron states that, "Our study demonstrated that many confrontational training methods, whether staring down dogs, striking them, or intimidating them with physical manipulation such as alpha rolls [holding dogs on their back], do little to correct improper behavior and can elicit aggressive responses."
  • Poor breeding practices are utilized by the puppy mill industry and backyard breeders. Puppy farmers care little for the dogs they breed as long as they make money, churning out puppies with no attempt to breed for good temperament or to socialize them with humans and other animals. Lack of socialization causes fear and insecurity, which is a leading cause of aggressive behavior.
  • Irresponsible people who use their large breed dogs for protection and intimidation without adequately socializing them, are responsible for the greatest number of incidences.

Is there any correlation between serious maulings and human deaths from dogs?
While investigating many of the more serious maulings and fatalities over the last ten years, Victoria and her team noticed a common theme.

  • Many of the attacks, particularly on children, are from dogs that are known to the children, but do not live with them full time. The child is either visiting a friend or family member, or the dog is staying with the family while the owners were away at the time of the attack.
  • Most attacks on infants occur within a couple of months of birth and many of these attacks happen while the parent or guardian has left their infants in a valued area such as the parents’ bed, that is also shared by the dog.
  • Many of the dogs that kill have a history of aggressive response and high prey drive.
  • After the attacks occur almost all the dogs are quickly euthanized before being properly assessed by professionals. The need to get rid of the pet that has mauled or killed a family member surpasses any desire for an evaluation, which might otherwise provide valuable insight as to why the attack occurred.

Children and Dog Bites
The Humane Society of the United States reports that 50% of children will be bitten by a dog before their 12th birthday.

  • Children under the age of five are most likely to be bitten and most of these bites come from a dog that the child knows; the family dog or that of a relative or friend.
  • Children are most likely to be bitten in the face as they are closer to a dog’s eye level making it easier for a dog to feel threatened by eye to eye contact.
  • Children love to kiss and hug dogs, even though these expressions of affection do not translate well in the dog world.
  • Fast movements can stimulate a dog’s prey drive and/or chase instinct.
  • Higher pitched voices can sometimes startle a dog and make it fearful.
  • A dog can be frustrated through rough play or by teasing and a child can inadvertently inflict pain with the pull of a tail or a poke in the eye.
  • It is hard for a child to read and understand a dog’s body language, therefore missing vital signals that can put them in harm’s way. Parents and guardians also miss these signals, but even in cases where dogs are known to respond aggressively in certain situations, little is done by their owners to curb the dog’s behavior. Most people believe that such tragedies will never happen to them.

How to Keep Children Safe Around Dogs
Education for parents and children is essential and it amazes me that parents seem to be more ignorant than their children about how a dog should be greeted. The only way to keep young children safe around dogs is for parents and guardians to be responsible for their dogs at all times and to teach their children not just how to behave around the family dog, but with other dogs that they might come into contact with too.

  • A young child should never be left unsupervised with any dog at any time and all interactions need to be actively supervised between them.
  • If active supervision cannot take place, the child and dog need to be safely separated so that no interaction can occur between them.
  • A dog should not be allowed to sleep with a child at any time according to many pediatric surgeons that I have interviewed, as some of the worst bites have happened when a sleeping dog has been awakened suddenly, either by a child knowingly waking it up, or accidently rolling into the dog while they are sleeping.
  • All dogs need to receive a humane canine education to help them live successfully in a domestic situation and if a dog is showing worrying behavior, help should be sought from a qualified professional. Dogs with big mouths can inflict the most devastating and potentially fatal injuries, but a well-placed bite from even a small breed of dog can cause major damage.

Read the Positively Child/Dog Safety Guide Here.


Observing Body Language = Important for Bite Prevention
Body language signals are easy to miss because they are either misunderstood or so subtle that a person doesn’t see them. However it is vital to learn when a dog is uncomfortable because these are all warning signs that communicate what a dog is feeling. These signals can happen by themselves or in combination with other signals so it’s important to look at the whole body to get a clearer picture of what the dog is feeling.

Read Victoria's Canine Body Language Descriptions Here


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