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Pet Talk: Human behavior often a factor in dog bites

March 3, 2010

From College of Veterinary Medicine, Texas A&M University

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year. While this is an alarming statistic, most of these bites are preventable.

“Human behavior is a major factor in dog bites,” explains Dr. Mark Stickney, director of General Surgery Services at the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. “Children are commonly bit by dogs because of their fast, uncoordinated and unpredictable movements that can frighten dogs and make them feel threatened.”

Because of this, children younger than 5 may unknowingly antagonize a dog into biting them. Boys between the ages of 5 and 9 years old are actually the most likely to be bitten by a dog.

“These bites, which typically occur on the face, head and neck, are rarely fatal but they are obviously painful and can lead to infection if not properly cared for, and disfigurement in extreme cases,” says Stickney.

In addition to fear, other common causes of dog bites include aggressive play, territoriality over food or a special toy or perceived territorial boundary, an aggression behavioral problem and pain.

“A wagging tail does NOT equal a friendly dog,” warns Stickney. “Never approach a dog you do not know and always ask an owner’s permission to pet their dog.”

When you do approach an unfamiliar dog with the owner’s permission, move slowly and let the dog sniff your hand before touching it. You also want to avoid petting the dog’s face, head and tail.

“Never bother an eating or sleeping dog or one that is caring puppies,” states Stickney. “If you wake a dog abruptly you may scare them, and their territoriality over food and babies may also cause them to bite.”

While children are most likely to be bit by a neighbor’s or a friend’s dog, adults are most likely to be bitten by their own dog. Although the best way to prevent a bite is to alter your own behavior around dogs, there some precautions you can take with your own dog.

“Dogs that have properly socialized and received obedience training are less likely to bite people or other animals,” notes Stickney. “Also, neutered and spayed dogs are less likely to bite.”

If a dog does threaten you by growling, remain calm and stand still or slowly back away until it leaves.

“If a dog knocks you down to attack you, curl into a ball and protect your face with your arms and fists,” advises Stickney. “If the dog bites you, get treatment at a hospital and make sure the dog is current on its rabies vaccinations.”

While dog bites can be harmful to people, they can actually be just as harmful if not more harmful to other pets.

“Carefully monitor interactions between new dogs and cats,” states Stickney. “It is best if animals meet each other on neutral ground, not in the area one considers its territory.”

If your pet is bitten by another dog, you will want to take the pet to your veterinarian immediately.

“Bite wounds in animals are usually worse under the skin then they appear on the surface and commonly become infected,” warns Stickney. “As when an animal bites a person you will want to ascertain the rabies vaccination status of the biting animal. You will also need to know if the bitten animal is current on their rabies vaccinations as well.”

Dogs play an integral role in many people’s families. They are cute and cuddly and for the most part very sweet. However, it is important to remember that dogs are animals and will react with animal instincts when threatened or frightened. Taking these precautions when interacting with a dog or when your animal interacts with a dog will help keep it a positive experience.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at http://tamunews.tamu.edu. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

From the Mar. 3-9, 2010 issue

One Comment

  1. Jack Russell

    March 3, 2010 at 9:36 pm

    This really doesn’t surprise me at all. I’d say most dog bites result from fear-based aggression. The problem is that most people don’t understand how to read dog body language and tell when a dog is going to react aggressively. Being able to read your dog’s emotions through body language is a very important part of what I teach people about Jack Russell training.

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