Dr. May has recently been chosen to write a monthly article about pet health related issues! This monthly article is published by the Times Publishing Group, and will appear in the Scotts Valley Times, the Aptos Times, and the Capitola Soquel Times. Please pick up one of these local weekly news and entertainment magazines to read Dr. May’s articles, or visit our website for monthly article updates. Here is the second article, that appeared in print in March 2012:
Chances are you or someone you love has been bitten by an aggressive dog in your lifetime. Over 5 million people are bitten by dogs every year in this country and unfortunately most of these victims are children. Dog bites leave people in shock, frightened, confused and angry. Approximately 20 dog bites result in fatality each year. Any size or breed dog can become aggressive and injure a person as demonstrated by the tragic instance of a Pomeranian that killed a 6 week old baby in 2000. Fortunately Understanding canine aggression and educating our children can help us asses the danger a dog poses prevent injury in many circumstances.
Aggression is a broad category of natural behaviors in dogs. It includes body language, vocalizations, and sometimes physical attack. Most often dogs will display some signs of aggression before actually biting. Recognizing the sometimes subtle body language of an aggressive dog and sharing this knowledge with children is therefore important in avoiding injury.
Warning signs that a dog may be aggressive include; direct eye contact, hair standing on end, an elevated head and tail, a rigid stance, lips retracted, growling, and hugging or mounting behavior. Some of these signs are obvious. However many times they are misinterpreted as play or affection. You have probably seen compilations of family pet photos that are often circulated on the internet. One of the photos will usually show a dog with one or both arms around a toddler or newborn baby. This clear demonstration of dominant behavior, which should trigger red flags of potential aggression, is often viewed with heartwarming feelings. Male dogs (especially if un-neutered), dogs who are chained, are also more likely to bite.
Dogs showing signs of aggression should not be stared at, yelled at, or approached. It is best to walk away calmly with a lowered head and arms to show that you are not a threat.
If you observe a dog acting aggressively towards people it is wise to report the behavior to your local animal control officer who can properly investigate.
Dog bites and children
- 50% of dog attacks involved children under 12 years old
- 82% of dog bites treated in the emergency room involved children under 15 years old2
- 70% of dog-bite fatalities occurred among children under 10 years old5
- Bite rates are dramatically higher among children who are 5 to 9 years old2
- Unsupervised newborns were 370 times more likely than an adult to be killed by a dog5
- 65% of bites among children occur to the head and neck2
- Boys under the age of 15 years old are bitten more often than girls of the same age2
What can parents do?
- Educate your children. Studies have found that the number-one dog-bite prevention measure is education. Children who understand how to act around dogs, how to play with dogs, when to leave dogs alone and how to properly meet a dog are much less likely to be bitten. To address this need, American Humane has created American Humane KIDS: Kids Interacting with Dogs Safely™, a dog-bite prevention program specifically for children ages 4 to 7.
- Supervise your children. Unsupervised children may innocently wander too close to a dangerous situation. Eighty-eight percent of fatal dog attacks among 2-year-olds occurred when the child was left unsupervised.1 Supervision of children, especially around dogs, is one way to help ensure they are safe.
Safe rules of behavior for kids
Don’t treat a dog unkindly.
- Never hit, kick, slap or bite a dog or pull on his ears, tail or paws.
Don’t bother a dog when she is busy.
- Never bother dogs with puppies or dogs that are playing with or guarding toys, eating or sleeping. Always leave service dogs alone while they are working.
Don’t approach a dog you don’t know.
- Never approach a dog that is tied up, behind a fence or in a car.
- If you find an animal, call the police or animal control for help.
- If you want to meet a dog, first ask the owner for permission. If the owner says it’s OK, hold out your hand in a fist for the dog to sniff. If he’s interested, you can give him a little scratch under the chin (notover the head) and say hello.
Do be calm.
- Always talk in a quiet voice or whisper — no shouting — and take a “time out” if you feel angry or frustrated.
Do be still.
- If a loose dog approaches you, stand still like a tree. Keep your hands at your sides, and stay quiet and calm. Look away from the dog.
- If you are on the ground, curl up into a ball, like a rock. Keep your knees to your chest and your hands over your ears. Stay quiet and calm. Look down at your knees, not at the dog.
- Always make slow movements, set things down carefully and don’t run when you’re around dogs, as this gets them excited and they may accidently hurt you.
What can dog owners do?
Neutering reduces aggression, especially in males. Un-neutered dogs are more than 2.6 times more likely to bite than neutered dogs.3 Female dogs in heat and nursing moms are much more dangerous than spayed females, and their behavior can be unpredictable. Talk to your veterinarian to schedule an appointment, or contact your local humane organization or animal shelter for information on low-cost spay/neuter assistance.
Supervise your dog.
Dogs left on their own may feel uncertain and defensive, or even overly confident, and this poses risks to your dog, as well as to other people and dogs. Eighty-eight percent of fatal dog attacks among 2-year-olds occurred when the child was left unsupervised.1
Train and socialize your dog.
Be sure your dog interacts with and has good manners around all members of the family, the public and other animals. Basic training is as important for the owner as it is for the dog, and socialization is the key to a well-adjusted adult dog. It is essential that puppies between 8 and 16 weeks old be exposed to a variety of people, places, dogs and other animals. As dogs age, do your best to continue their exposure to these things to ensure that they are well socialized throughout their lives.
Restrain your dog.
Twenty-four percent of fatal dog attacks involved loose dogs that were off their owner’s property.4 Dogs that are allowed to roam loose outside the yard may perceive your entire neighborhood as their “territory” and may defend it aggressively. By obeying leash laws and taking care to properly fence your yard, you will not only be respecting the laws in your community, but you will also be helping keep your dog safe from cars, other dogs and unforeseen dangers.
Unchain your dog.
Chained dogs are 2.8 times more likely to bite.3 Tethering or chaining dogs increases their stress, protectiveness and vulnerability, thereby increasing the potential for aggression. Fencing is the better solution.