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Preventing dog bites


Thursday March 31st, 2011

by Carol Bryant of FIDO Friendly Magazine

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Dr. Pam Reid

In recognition of dog bite prevention week, FIDO Friendly had the opportunity to ask an expert to weigh in on the problem. Dr. Pam Reid is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (C.A.A.B.), and currently serves as Vice President of the Animal Behavior Center in ASPCA Animal Health Services. Dr. Reid is not only a well respected applied animal behaviorist, but a successful dog trainer as well. Dr. Reid lectures on animal behavior, learning theory, and agility training throughout the United States, Canada, England and Japan. Her new book, Dog InSight: a Collection of Essays on the Essence of the Dog, is in progress.

Just how prevalent are dog bites? The CDC estimates that about 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year. We asked Dr. Reid to weigh in on this very timely, hot, and necessary topic.

FIDO Friendly: What are the main things a person can do to avoid a dog bite in the first place?

Dr. Reid: Always ask the dog's guardian for permission before approaching and interacting with a dog. Never reach into a car window to touch a dog as some dogs will behave aggressively in small, enclosed spaces. Do not approach a dog that is behind a fence or tied up, whether in a yard or outside a shop. The dog may feel trapped and react defensively.

If you encounter an unowned dog on the street, call Animal Control. If the dog is not overtly friendly to you, be cautious in your approach. Speak to the dog in a friendly manner. If the dog comes up to you, hold your hand in the shape of a fist and extend it for the dog to sniff. Then stroke him on the neck, under the chin. Avoid reaching over his head or looming over him. If the dog does not come up to you, follow the dog at a comfortable pace. Do not chase or grab at the dog. Wait for Animal Control to arrive and care for the dog.

Children are the most likely victims of a dog bite. Teach your children how to behave around dogs. Children should not approach, touch or play with any dog who's sleeping, eating, chewing on a toy or bone, or caring for puppies. Animals are more likely to bite if they're startled, frightened or caring for young.

Learn about dog body language. Dogs are very expressive animals and they convey their feelings and intentions through their bodies. If you understand dog body language, you can better recognize when a dog is feeling frightened, defensive or angry. These are all emotions that can lead to aggressive behavior if the situation escalates. A great place to see examples of dog communication is by typing in "dog body language" at ASPCA BEHAVIOR.

FIDO Friendly: What things should a dog owner do to prevent their dog(s) from biting?

Dr. Reid: The best way to ensure you have a non-aggressive dog is to socialize him well as a puppy. Puppies go through a period of development, typically between 7-16 weeks of age, where they tend to be highly social and outgoing. If they experience all sorts of people (different ethnicities, children, elderly, men in beards, hats, veterinarians, etc.) and animals (other dogs, cats, horses, etc.), they are much more likely to be unfazed by any type of experience in later life. A comfortable dog is less likely to react aggressively toward someone. Attending puppy kindergarten classes is a great way to accomplish some aspects of socialization and receive guidance on how to continue the process on your own.

FIDO Friendly: What if the dog is not a puppy; then what - how to prevent biting?

Dr. Reid: If your dog is already an adult or if you've adopted a mature dog, it's still crucial to socialize him throughout his life. In addition to walking the dog and taking him places with you, continue with his obedience training so he learns good manners and knows how to behave when he's around people.

Most people are bitten by their own dog. If you suspect your dog may be showing signs of an aggressive behavior problem, seek professional help from a certified behaviorist, veterinary behaviorist or certified pet dog trainer with experience in aggression. These problems rarely go away on their own - typically things get worse unless you get help.

FIDO Friendly: Does dog bite law vary by state and if so, where can people learn what the laws are in their state?

Dr. Reid: Go to ANIMAL LAW INFO

FIDO Friendly: What should a person do if bitten by a dog?

Dr. Reid: The most important thing to do is remain calm. Do not flail your arms, scream or run away, as these actions could prompt the dog to escalate his attack. If you can, remain as still as possible or, if you have to move, do so slowly and calmly. If you stay still, many dogs will lose interest in you and leave. If the dog does not leave, confidently back away from him. Face him but keep your eyes slightly averted so you're not making direct eye contact with him. Try yelling at him in a firm voice to "go home!" or "go away!" If you are carrying a bag or knapsack, place it between you and the dog to serve as a shield.

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