4.7 million people are bitten by a dog each year. In America, 400,000 of them are children, especially those between the ages of 5-9, who are bitten by familiar dogs during everyday activities. Senior citizens account for the second largest victim population, followed by US Postal Workers. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the majority of these bites are preventable, which is why they have joined with the US Postal Service and Center for Disease Control to raise awareness and prevent dog bites through National Dog Bite Prevention Week (May 19-25, 2013).
Here are some things you can do to help prevent dog bites from occurring:
• Never leave young children or babies alone with any dog. Remember that every dog, no matter how sweet they are, can bite.
• Properly train and socialize your dog from a young age, teaching it to respond to promptly to basic commands to sit, stay, and come. Talk to your vet for recommendations on trainers in your area.
• Keep your dog healthy with up-to-date on their vaccinations and recommended health checkups. When visiting your vet, allow the staff to take control of your dog during their examination. As trained professionals, they are better equipped to handle your pet during those visits; if they need your help, they will ask.
• Always use a leash when walking your dog or visiting public places.
• Pay attention to your pet’s behavior. If they are acting nervous, afraid, or uncomfortable, remove them from the environment or change whatever element is causing distress.
• Do not wrestle or play aggressively with your dog; this can unwittingly teach your dog that aggressive behavior is okay.
• If your pet begins to display destructive behavior, ask your vet for professional advice on how to respond.
• Spay or neuter your dog; this eliminates or reduces aggressive tendencies in many pets.
• Do not approach a dog you don’t know. If an unfamiliar dog approaches you, remain still and allow it to see and sniff you. Never run away from a dog or scream.
• Always ask the dog owner before you or your children pet a dog. If they give you permission, gently pet their mid-back, keeping your hands away from their tail, face, and head. If their owner says no, or if the dog is without their owner, slowly and quietly walk away.
• If a dog knocks you over, roll into a ball and lie completely still, covering your face completely.
• Remember the adage to let sleeping dogs lie? It’s good advice! Keep your distance from dogs that are eating, sleeping, or taking care of puppies.
• Teach your children to tell you if they see stray dogs or dogs behaving strangely. Contact the local animal authorities should such a situation arise.
• If you or your child is bitten by a dog, seek immediate medical attention and report the bite to the proper authorities.
You can learn more about National Dog Bite Prevention Week by following the AVMA’s Facebook page and joining the National Dog Bite Prevention Week Facebook event.