National Dog Bite Prevention Week

by Bruce W. Little, DVM

National Dog Bite Prevention Week

The second full week in April each year is designated as National Dog Bite Prevention Week. This year, that week begins on April 8 and ends on April 14. National Dog Bite Prevention Week was created by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the United States Postal Service (USPS) and State Farm Insurance Companies several years ago to bring light to the fact that any dog can bite. Knowing that dogs provide companionship, joy and health benefits to millions of families across America, these groups joined together to preserve that bond between humans and the dogs they love. More recently the American Humane Society, the Insurance Information Institute and Positively®, Victoria Stilwell joined the Dog Bite Coalition.

There are an estimated 70 million dogs living in United States households. More than one in three households in America, 36.5%, has at least one dog. On average 4.5 million people, most of them children, are bitten by dogs annually according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of those bitten, 20% or 800,000 people require medical attention for pain relief, protection or treatment against infection, plastic reconstructive surgery or other treatments to alleviate the complications of the dog attack. Children, the elderly, and postal carriers are the most frequent victims of dog bites. One-half of all dog bite victims are male. Adults with two dogs in the household are five times more likely to be bitten. In the three years encompassing 2010-2012 there were 359,223 children ages 1 to 14 that were bitten by dogs. One in three of those bites came to children between the ages of 5 to 9 years, while two-thirds of those bites were injuries to children under the age of 4 years and two-thirds of those bites were around the head and neck causing concern for nerve damage, facial feature damage requiring the need for plastic reconstructive surgery and emotional damage for years to come. The U.S. Postal Service reports that 6,755 postal employees were attacked by dogs in 2016. Nearly 29,000 reconstructive procedures were performed in 2016 to repair injuries caused by dog bites, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. In 2017, insurers across America paid almost $700 million in claims related to dog bites, according to estimates from the Insurance Information Institute. Dog bites accounted for one-third of all homeowner’s liability insurance claims with an average payment by insurers for dog bite claims being $33,230 each. A great majority of these bites, if not all, are preventable. Take this opportunity during National Dog Bite Prevention Week to help educate your family, your friends, and your neighbors about dog bite prevention to educate others so we can all work together to prevent dog bites.

Be a responsible pet owner. Some pet owners promote aggression in their dogs, or at least, allow aggressive behavior to go unchecked. It is true that some people feel safer and protected from home invasion if the dog barks and acts aggressive and protective when strangers come onto their property. This is a normal connection that is created by the human-animal bond and should not be taken lightly. However, responsible pet owners recognize the dangers that could unfold when service employees, such as mail carriers, package delivering agents or meter readers are required to come onto the property to perform their jobs are attacked by the family dog. Please recognize the potential for danger and put the dog in a secure room or crate until the service employee has departed the premises. If there are strange persons scheduled to visit your property, make sure the dogs are secured before they arrive. It is the fair thing to do. And it might just save you money by not having your home insurance premiums increase because of a claim against your dog biting one of these people. Or worse yet having to fund defense of a law suit.

Media outlets and insurance company policies often give the impression that certain breeds are more likely to bite. However, there is little evidence to support these claims. It is more important to choose the proper puppy to bring into your home by selecting puppies from reputable breeders who can introduce you to the parents and siblings of the puppy you are considering as a pet to take into your family. If either of the parents appear aggressive or if the puppy you choose acts aggressive, perhaps that is not the best choice for your family. Your veterinarian can help you with puppy selection by advising you about the breed and size of dog that fits your living environment. Immediately upon bringing a new puppy into your household, begin the process of socializing both the puppy and your family members so that both feel at ease around each other. Include other animals that are already in the home in this process. Gradually expose the new puppy to all family members through a variety of situations under controlled circumstances so that the puppy feels comfortable with its new surroundings. Continue this process of socialization on a regular basis as you dog gets older, never putting your dog in a position where it feels threatened or teased. Take extra care in introducing your new puppy with children. Always supervise your children’s actions will all dogs, including your own. Carefully manage the introduction of a child with your new dog and with dogs the child may encounter while walking your own dog or going to the dog park and interacting with other people’s dogs. Train your dog the basic commands of “sit”, “stay”, “no”, and “come” to incorporate the training into fun activities that build a bond of obedience and trust between pets and people. Avoid highly excitable games like wrestling and tug-of-war. Obey all leash laws that are written by your municipal governing bodies and your neighborhood homeowner’s associations. If you have a fenced-in area for your dog, be sure the gates will lock securely and keep them locked when the dog is in the enclosure. Walk your dog regularly for the health benefits it brings to both you and the dog. Walking helps to maintain proper weight and mental stimulation, again for both parties.

Practice precautions that can help protect you and your family from being bitten by your dog or a strange dog. Be cautious around strange dogs and treat your own dog with respect. Much of this is common sense; however, information that should be repeated frequently to young children and people who take all pets for granted is simple cautions, such as:

  1. Never leave a baby or a small child alone with a dog
  2. Teach children, including toddlers, to be careful around and respectful of pets
  3. Teach children not to approach strange dogs or try to pet dogs by reaching through a fence or screen on a crate
  4. Teach your children to ask for permission from the dog’s owner before petting any dog, and do not allow children to pet stray dogs
  5. Be alert for potentially dangerous situations, and take measures to intervene and stop them from escalating

Dogs naturally love to chase and catch things. Don’t give them a reason to become excited or aggressive. Don’t run when you are near a dog. Never disturb a dog that is sleeping or eating. Do not take the food dish away while the dog is eating. Dog’s are very territorial and may consider your actions as a threat. If you are threatened by a dog, remain calm and quiet. Do not scream or yell. If you say anything at all, speak quietly and firmly and avoid eye contact. Stay still until the dog leaves, or back away slowly. Do not turn and run. If you fall or are knocked down, curl into a ball with your hands over your head and neck covering your face.

If your dog bites someone, even if it was warranted such as pulling on it’s ears, it is important to take responsibility for your dog’s actions. Restrain your dog immediately and separate it from the scene. Check the victim’s condition and administer first aid by washing the wound with warm, soapy water. Call a physician to make an appointment or take the victim to the emergency room for a professional evaluation of the bite wounds and recommended further treatment. Provide all your contact information to the bite victim and the date of the dog’s most recent rabies vaccination. Comply with all local ordinances regarding dog bite incidents. Consult your veterinarian about your dog’s behavior seeking advice for how you can prevent similar incidents in the future.

If you are bitten by your own dog, confine it immediately and wash the wounds with warm, soapy water. Check to see when the most recent rabies vaccination was given and seek professional medical attention if necessary. Conform to all municipal dog bite regulations by consulting your veterinarian who can advise you on the current rabies control ordinances and observation periods required. If you are bitten by a stray dog or someone else’s dog, first seek medical treatment for your wounds. Contact the animal control authorities and tell them everything you can about the dog that bit you, including the owner’s name if known, the color, size and breed of dog, where you encountered the conflict with the dog that bit you, and where and if you have seen the dog before. These details may help animal control officers locate the dog in a timely manner. Check with your physician about the need for post-exposure rabies prophylaxis if necessary.

Dog bites represent a painful inconvenience with an enormous financial and emotional cost for both the owner of the biting dog and the recipient of the bite. Dog bites can be prevented if we all accept the responsibility of dog ownership and respect for each other. It is important to understand why dogs bite and how we can socialize them, so dog bites become a thing of the past. I encourage all to educate ourselves and be a part of the solution, not part of the problem.

For further information go to:

American Veterinary Medical Association:
United States Postal Service:
State Farm Insurance:
American Humane Society:
Positively®, Victoria Stilwell:

Bruce W. Little, DVM