We were recently interviewed about dog bite prevention for a news report after an infant was killed in a tragic dog attack.
Often there's so much focus on the breed of dog involved that there's nothing done to help educate the public about more legitimate dog bite prevention factors, and that education is what could prevent future tragedies like this from occurring. Fortunately, in this case the reporter (the wonderful Kaitlyn Ross!) was incredibly proactive about sharing preventative information.
Dog aggression doesn't occur in a vacuum, and dog bites don't happen out of the blue.
What complicates aggression is that there can be multiple causes, all of which require different layers of management and/or behavior modification.
In the vast majority of cases, dog bites and attacks are preventable.
General dog bite prevention tips
- Do not, under any circumstances, leave any dog alone with a young child or infant. Even if you need to go to the bathroom, the dog and child should be separated.
- Any breed of dog can and will bite under the right set of circumstances, so don't ignore these warnings because you have a breed traditionally thought of as being friendly.
- Put dogs away when infants are rolling around or squealing on the floor or in a swing.
- If your dog has shown any signs of aggression towards children, it's up to you to safely manage your dog (muzzle, baby gate, crate, and a leash are all management options) when children are in your home.
- Do not use harsh training techniques that can suppress behavior. Physical punishment and shock are inappropriate in training, and can exacerbate an aggressive response in the future.
- Safely socialize your puppy between 8-16 weeks of age with people of all ages and other animals. Do not wait until after 16 weeks; later is too late!
Potentially Preventable Dog Bite Factors:
A 2013 study analyzed factors that spanned across the majority of dog bite-related fatalities. They include:
- Absence of an able-bodied person to intervene: 87.1% of cases
- Incidental or no familiar relationship of victims with dogs: 85.2%
- Owner failure to neuter dogs: 84.4%
- Compromised ability of victims to interact appropriately with dogs: 77.4%
- Dogs kept isolated from regular positive human interactions versus family dogs: 76.2%
- Owners' prior mismanagement of dogs: 37.5%
- Owners' history of abuse or neglect of dogs: 21.1%
- Four or more of these factors co-occurred in 80.5% of deaths. This information simply cannot be ignored.
Teaching Children Appropriate Dog Handling
- Pulling the tail
- Pulling the ears
- Hugging and kissing the dog
- Excessively picking up the dog
- Grabbing the dog's face
- Sitting on or riding the dog
Do This Instead:
- Calm, gentle petting strokes.
- Have children feed the dog treats and meals.
- Teach the dog to touch the baby's hand on cue. (Ask us about this!)
- Allow the dog to leave if uncomfortable or tired.
- Scratch under the chin instead of petting over the head.
If you repeatedly ignore low-level stress signals, your dog has no choice but to resort to growling, snapping, and ultimately biting. All of their other warnings did not work, so they will move up the ladder to one that does. The list below goes in order, starting at the lowest level.
Early Warning Signs That a Dog is Uncomfortable:
- Flick of tongue (looks like the dog is licking its lips)
- Turning away
- Blinking or squinting excessively
- Seeking out distance (trying to leave room, etc)
- Whale eye (you can see primarily the white of the dog's eye; typically the dog has eyes on the threat)
- Air Snapping
If your dog is showing signs of aggression, or if you'd like help safely introducing a dog to children or a new baby, please contact a certified professional in your area. Some places to search for a qualified trainer: