Understanding Dog Bites, and How to Avoid Them
Providing us with love and loyalty everyone remembers their childhood dog with sweet nostalgia. However, it’s important to remember that while dogs so often make wonderful friends, they are still animals. Any animal can be unpredictable when they feel threatened – that’s part of nature! When a dog wants to protect its food, puppies, or owner, it is uncertain what will unfold. In the event of a dog attack, it’s important to be prepared.
What You Can Do
Being bogged down with breed-based stereotypes does not help avoid being bitten because any dog can bite. Here are a few concrete tips:
1. Always respect the space of a dog you don’t know very well, particularly when they are sleeping, eating, or chewing on a toy.
2. Never leave a baby or small child alone with a dog. This seems like a no-brainer, but don’t forget to teach children how to be cautious and respectful around pets as well. Half of the 4.5 million victims of dog bites in the U.S. each year are children. Kids have a tendency to be overwhelmed by curiosity in the presence of an animal and will pull tails, ears, or fur. What’s more, they have grown up with stuffed animals who don’t bite when they smother them with hugs and cuddles. Teach your children to differentiate how they react to live animals. Children who are at a speaking age should always ask before approaching a dog.
3. Pay attention to a dog’s body language. When feeling threatened, dogs usually have a tensed body, stiff tail, pulled-back head/ears, raised fur, or showing teeth. Also watch for yawning or intense staring, as these are also signs of a nervous dog.
4. Don’t scream or run away. If it looks like a dog might attack, stay motionless with your hands at your side, then slowly back away.
5. “Feed” him your jacket, hat, purse or anything else you can put between you and the dog. If a dog does attack, this is an effective way to create separation. If you fall, curl into a ball and lay as still as possible with your hands over your head and neck.
6. Immediately wash the wound with soap and warm water. After a dog bite, seek medical attention as soon as possible and then report the dog bite to your local animal control agency.
Your Legal Rights
Dog bite laws vary by state/local jurisdiction, but usually the dog owner is liable for injuries caused by their dog. A few states require victims to prove the dog was vicious, or the owner caused the attack by violating animal control laws. If you have been bitten, discuss all of your options with an attorney who specializes in dog bites and personal injuries.
Resources for Further Reading:
-This brochure from the AVMA provides more information on dog bites.
-Insurance information regarding to dog bites can be found at The Insurance Information Institute website.