Understanding Canine Body Language Essential to Preventing Dog Bites

May 19, 2014 | Pet Guardians, Training

Infographic: Dog Bites by the Numbers

Infographic: Dog Bites by the Numbers

The Pet Professional Guild (PPG) is promoting education and a better understanding of canine body language as paramount in reducing the number of dog bites this National Dog Bite Prevention Week, taking place 18 – 24 May, 2014.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), there is an estimated population of 70 million dogs currently living in U.S. households and about 4.5 million people – most of them children – are bitten by dogs every year. However, the majority of these bites, if not all, are preventable.

In spite of inaccurate and often sensationalist reporting in the media, it is a fact that any dog can bite if provoked. If a dog finds itself in a stressful situation, it may bite to defend itself or its territory. Dogs can also bite because they are scared, have been startled or feel threatened. They can bite to protect something that is valuable to them, like their puppies, their food or a toy. Dogs might bite because they aren’t feeling well and want to be left alone. They also might nip and bite during play. Dogs generally communicate their discomfort before they go all out and bite, and awareness of their signals – such as growling, freezing or stiff musculature, staring, whites of the eyes showing, lip curling, pinned ears, raised hackles – can go a long way towards preventing bites.

“Many children are bitten by dogs and most of the bites are by a family dog or other dog known to the child,” said Joan Orr, PPG member and Co-Founder and President of Doggone Safe, a non-profit organization dedicated to dog bite prevention through education. “Experts agree that education about dog body language and how to act safely around family and friends’ dogs is vital to reducing the dog bite risk. PPG members are on the front line and can help with this education.”

Doggone Safe, as well as many other bite prevention programs and canine behavior experts, teaches children to stand still if an unfamiliar dog approaches. Doggone Safe refers to this as its ‘Be a Tree’ program, which teaches children to stand still, fold their hands in front, look at their feet and count in their heads over and over to the biggest number they know until help comes or the dog goes away. Such actions can calm the dog and prevent being bitten or could even save a life.

The Pet Professional Guild is a 501(c)6 a member organization founded on the principles of force-free training and pet care. Its membership represents pet industry professionals who are committed to force-free training, pet care philosophies, practices and methods. Pet Professional Guild members understand force-free to mean: no shock, no pain, no choke, no fear, no physical force, no physical molding, and that no compulsion-based methods are employed to train or care for a pet.

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Dog Bite Facts (source: AVMA)

  • Each year, more than 4.5 million people in the U.S. are bitten by dogs.
  • Almost 1 in 5 people bitten by dogs require medical attention.
  • Every year, more than 800,000 Americans receive medical attention for dog bites; at least half of them are children.
  • Children are, by far, the most common victims of dog bites and are far more likely to be severely injured.
  • Most dog bites affecting young children occur during everyday activities and while interacting with familiar dogs.
  • Senior citizens are the second most common dog bite victims.

Additional Resources (source: Dr Ken Tudor)

The results of a 10-year study recently reported in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association sheds further light on the complexity of this issue. It identifies preventable factors that are far more significant than breed.

The researchers examined the data from 256 dog bite-related fatalities in the U.S. between the years 2000-2009. They generated the following statistics for factors involved in the fatal attacks:

– In 87% there was an absence of an able-bodied person to intervene.
– 45% of the victims were less than 5-years old.
– 85% of the victims had only incidental or no familiarity with the dogs.
– 84% of the dogs were not neutered.
– 77% of the victims had compromised ability (age or other conditions) to interact appropriately with dogs.
– 76% of the dogs were kept isolated from regular positive human interactions.
– 38% of the dog owners had histories of prior mismanagement of dogs.
– 21% of the dog owners had a history of abuse or neglect of dogs.
– In 81% of the attacks 4 or more of the above factors were involved.
– 31% of the dog breeds differed from media reports.
– 40% of the dog breeds differed from both media and animal control reports.
– Only 18% of the dogs had validated (DNA) breed identification.
– 20 breeds and 2 known mixed breeds were represented in the attacks

– 73% of the dogs were chained or isolated in fenced outdoor areas or indoor areas.

– 15% of the dogs only were allowed to roam.

– Nearly three-quarters of the attacks occurred on the dog owner’s property. Restricting access to these areas could prevent many attacks.

–  67% of the older victims that were deemed compromised were under the influence of drugs or alcohol, another preventable circumstance.

– Only five of the victims were compromised due to Alzheimer’s, dementia, or uncontrollable seizure disorders.