May 19-25th marks National Dog Bite Prevention Week, a week designed to help educate the public about the nearly 5 million dog bites that happen every year.

A few facts from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA):

    • 800,000 Americans seek medical attention for dog bites every year
    • Of those, about half are children
    • The age most at risk are children age 5-9
    • Senior citizens are the second most commonly affected group

We interviewed Dr. Amy Marder, VMD, CAAB, Director of the Center for Shelter Dogs at the Animal Rescue League of Boston to get some advice on dog bite prevention.

Q: According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, more than 4.7 million dog bites occur annually, with approximately 60 percent of the victims being children. What tips can you give to help us educate our children about the prevention of dog bites?

A: Most dog bites are not reported, but statistics of the ones that are reported show that children, especially little boys, are the most common victims. Most dogs do not bite! But if they need to protect themselves or their property from what they think is dangerous, they may. It’s important that children learn about dog behavior and how to interact appropriately with a dog so that bites can be avoided. Some of those tips are as follows:

  1.  Never approach or reach for an unfamiliar dog with no owner present, especially if the dog is tied, behind a fence or in a car.  If an owner is present, always ask if the dog likes children.
  2. Never bother dogs when they are eating, chewing a toy, sleeping or caring for puppies.  Just think about how you feel when your brother or sister takes your food or toys away or wakes you up in the middle of a sleep.

Q: What is the most appropriate way to greet a dog?

A: Always let a dog, even one you know sniff you before you pet.  Watch the dog to see if he likes you for a few seconds before you pet.  If the dog wags his tail and stays with you, then it’s OK to pet, but do so under the dog’s chin instead of on his head.  If the dog backs away, he probably doesn’t want you to pet him, so don’t pet.

Q: What should you do when a strange dog approaches you?

A: If a dog is alone, stand perfectly still, do not pet.  Allow the dog to sniff and wait for him to go away.   Do not start running, as the dog will probably chase.  If the dog is with an owner, ask the owner if the dog likes children (then do as above).  

Q:What advice do you have for behaving around unfamiliar dogs? 

A: Unless there is an owner with the dog, I would ignore them.

Q: What are warning signs to look for in a dog who may bite?

A: Look at what the dog is saying to you.  Dogs use sounds and body language to communicate how they feel.  Just like us!  If you hear a dog growl, or show his teeth, don’t proceed.  If you see a dog stiffen his body, tuck his tail, move away from you, yawn, lick his lips, or stare at you, don’t proceed!  Additionally, if a dog shows signs of being fearful you should not proceed.

Q: Do you have any additional tips for preventing dog bites? 

A: Not all dogs behave in the same ways. Every dog is different. Just because your dog enjoys the things that you do, it doesn’t mean that all dogs will. If you follow these guidelines, chances are dogs will like you and you won’t get bitten.