Dogs play the roles of best friend and protector. They offer us their companionship and become important members of the family, which is why it’s important to practice responsible pet ownership and avoid situations that might result in the harm of another person. A dog usually doesn’t bite without a reason. They might bite because they feel scared, pain or frustration or because they want to defend their territory or when they have not been socialized with people or other animals.
More than 4.5 million people in the U.S. are bitten by dogs every year. At least half of those are children. “Parents should emphasize to their children that they should never walk up to a dog and start petting it. Always ask the owner if they can pet the dog,” Claire says.
Some breeds statistically are involved more often in dog bite incidents. “Of the cases we’ve handled, the most common breeds I’ve seen as far as aggression are German shepherds and pit bulls,” Claire says. Aggressive doesn’t always mean dangerous. For instance, Chihuahuas and dachshunds, two of the smallest breeds, tend to be more aggressive dogs. However, their bite is usually not powerful enough to cause any real damage and likely won’t require medical attention.
“In Texas, we have something called the ‘One-Bite Rule.’ This is basically the theory that an animal gets one free bite, and after that the owner is then aware of and responsible for the animal’s vicious propensities,” Claire says. In many instances, a dog that bites someone has done so before, therefore they can be held liable for any damages caused by their pet. Claire says, “To prove a dog has a history of aggression, we will oftentimes speak to the dog owner’s neighbors who have observed that dog. We also look at vet records to see if he or she says anything about the dog’s propensities and check with animal control.”
Ten Tips for Pet Owners
Know Your Pet’s Background
Adopt from an animal shelter whose staff and volunteers can inform you about the dog’s background, personality and behavior while in the shelter.
Spay or Neuter Your Dog
Puppies can be spayed or neutered as early as eight weeks of age. Dogs that are spayed or neutered are less likely to bite.
Dogs that are not socialized are a risk to their owners and others because they can become frightened by everyday things. It’s important to expose your pet to a variety of people, animals, places and things. Done properly, socializing helps dogs feel comfortable and friendly in many different situations.
Invest in Training
Take your dog to reputable training classes. Early training can open a level of communication between you and your dog that will help you teach good behavior.
Make Time for Your Pet
Don’t isolate your pet. Leaving a dog in a crate all day, chained or tied outside, or left unsupervised for long periods of time will affect your dog’s personality. Most tethered dogs become frustrated and can feel defenseless, so they’re much more likely to bite.
Don’t Ignore Aggressive Behavior
At the first sign that your dog is aggressive, seek professional help from your vet. Don’t wait for a serious accident to occur.
Avoid Stressful Situations
Many things can trigger aggression in a dog, such as the approach of strangers or strange dogs, the approach of people in uniforms, costumes or unusual attire, unfamiliar places, crowds, and loud noises like thunder or fireworks. When possible, avoid exposing your dog to these triggers.
Supervise Interactions With Children
Children should always have adult supervision when interacting with dogs. They should also be instructed to treat a dog gently and with respect, giving the dog space and opportunities to rest.
Responsible pet owners will get necessary vaccinations for their dogs and keep their dogs on a leash when in public or properly fenced on their property. Dogs shouldn’t be allowed to roam the neighborhood alone.
Safety Tips for Children
Be aware of the fact that any dog can bite. You can help protect your child from dog bites by discussing with him or her the appropriate way to behave around dogs. Here are a few tips:
- Children should not approach, touch or play with any dog who is sleeping, eating, chewing on a toy or bone, or caring for puppies.
- Children should never approach a barking, growling or scared dog.
- Children should not pet unfamiliar dogs without asking permission from the dog’s guardian first. If the guardian says it is okay, the child should first let the dog sniff his closed hand.
- Children should not try to pet dogs who are behind a fence or in a car.
- If a child sees a dog off-leash outside, he should not approach the dog and should tell an adult immediately.
- If a loose dog comes near a child, he should not run or scream. Instead, he should avoid eye contact with the dog and stand very still until the animal moves away.
- If a child is knocked to the ground by a dog, he should curl up in a ball with his knees tucked into his stomach, and fingers interlocked behind his neck to protect his neck and ears.
- Children should never try to outrun a dog.
When Dogs Attack
If your child is bitten by a dog, here’s what to do:
- Request proof of rabies vaccination from the dog's owner, get the dog owner's name and contact information, and ask for the name and telephone number of a veterinarian who is familiar with the dog's vaccination records and history.
- Immediately wash out the wound with soap and water.
- Call your pediatrician because the bite could require antibiotics, a tetanus shot, and/or rabies shots. The doctor can also help you report the incident to your local police department.
- If your child is severely bitten, call 9-1-1 or bring your child to an emergency room.
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