May 20-26 is Dog Bite Prevention Week, which aims to educate the public on the nearly 5 million dog bites that happen annually and offer tips on prevention. This subject is one that I relate to all too well.
Seven years ago I suffered a severe bite to my face by my own dog. He was always a little on the nervous side, and that morning when I reached down to kiss his head – something I had done hundreds of times before – I think I startled him and he reacted by growling and whipping his head around. Unfortunately, my face was right in the line of his teeth, and I suffered deep wounds on my temple, the bridge of my nose was gashed open, and my nose was actually broken by the force. He sadly paid the ultimate price for his mistake, and I was left with emotional and physical wounds that took some time to heal.
I learned some tough lessons that day, but I honestly have never blamed my dog for what happened. The way I see it, this bite could have easily been avoided if I had modified my actions, and I think the same is true for the majority of bites that occur.
So in honor of Dog Bite Prevention Week, here are a few tips that you – and especially your children – should keep in mind every time you interact with a dog, whether it’s the first time or the hundredth time:
- One lesson I learned is that EVERY dog, regardless of breed or size, is capable of biting. This is true whether it’s your family pet or a strange canine you’ve never met before. Never take anything for granted and always be vigilant. Have a basic understanding of dog body language, as most dogs will show obvious warning signs before biting.
- Never leave children alone with a dog. My Labrador retriever Blue is a sensitive soul who is literally afraid of flies (and therefore wouldn’t hurt them), but I never leave him unattended with my young nieces. When dealing with kids and dogs, be alert for potentially dangerous situations and teach kids at a young age how to be careful and kind around pets. This includes teaching them never to approach strange dogs or to pull on their ears, lips or tail, and to ask permission before petting a dog.
- Always ask the owner’s permission before approaching or trying to pet an unfamiliar dog. Dogs that are tied up or confined in a yard or car should always be avoided. If you see a stray dog, do not approach it and call your local Animal Control agency.
- Always give a dog the opportunity to see and sniff you first. Dogs use their sense of smell to get to know strangers, so allow the dog to come to you and slowly offer the back of your hand. This will allow the dog to meet you and become comfortable with you. Stroke the dog on the side of the chest, the shoulders or under the chin (not on top of the head). Don’t force yourself on the dog if it backs away or won’t sniff your hand.
- Respect the space of a dog that is eating, sleeping, chewing on a toy or bone, or caring for puppies. Dogs are more likely to be protective or distracted in these situations and can be easily startled.
- Never put your face close to an unknown dog.
- If you find yourself cornered by a dog, do not turn your back and run away. If you need to remove yourself from a situation with a dog, stand still with your hands at your side and avoid making eye contact as you slowly back away.
- Never trap or corner a dog. Even if you are well-acquainted with the dog or just playing, dogs will act out defensively if they feel trapped.
If you are a visitor to this blog, it’s probably because you are a dog lover just like me. My experience seven years ago never lessened my love for dogs, but it did teach me how to safely interact with them. These tips aren’t meant to frighten you, but to help you avoid a terrible situation like I experienced with my dog. I hope these precautionary measures will ensure that your interaction with any canine is a pleasant and safe experience for both parties involved!
What are some successful ways you’ve introduced yourself to a new dog? Leave your ideas and comments below!