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How to Prevent Dog Bites

Author / Coordinator: Jonathan Whitbourne
March 2007

Over 4 million people are bitten by dogs every year. Here’s how you can keep canines from baring their teeth

Dogs may be man’s best friend, but they’re not always chummy with children.  Every year in the United States an estimated 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs, ranging from minor nips to major attacks. Of these incidents, nearly 1 million dog bite victims require medical attention, 60 percent of which are children, reports the American Veterinary Medical Association (AMVA).

So what can you do to protect your child from being bitten? For starters, never approach a strange dog, especially one who is tied or confined behind a fence or in a car, urges the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Don’t pet a dog—even your own—without letting him see and sniff you first. Also, never turn your back to a dog and run away: A dog’s natural instinct will be to chase and catch you.
Remember to heed the ages-old adage, “Let sleeping dogs lie.” Like the rest of us, canines don’t enjoy being roused suddenly when slumbering. Dogs can be equally irritable and defensive when eating, chewing on a toy or caring for puppies—so teach your family to respect the dog’s need for space and privacy. You might, for instance, tell your kids, “The doggie doesn’t like to be bothered when he’s eating or napping. He’ll want to play with you later, but for now we have to let him rest.”

Once Bitten…
If a dog bites you or your child, try not to panic. Instead, follow these steps from the HSUS:

  • Immediately wash the wound thoroughly with soap and warm water.
  • Contact your physician for additional care and advice.
  • Report the bite to your local animal care and control agency. Tell the animal control official everything you know about the dog, including his owner’s name and the address where he lives. If the dog is a stray, tell the animal control official what the dog looks like, where you saw him, whether you’ve seen him before, and in which direction he went.
  • If your own dog bites you, confine him immediately to an area where he cannot threaten your family, such as a basement or locked garage. Then, call your veterinarian immediately to check your dog’s vaccination records.

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