While you might be more inclined to pick a Rottweiler than a Shih Tzu out of a Biting Dog Line-up, the truth is that any dog can bite if provoked. And while plenty of news reports and anecdotes have made it sound as if certain breeds are more prone to aggression, there’s no scientific evidence to support the idea that any one breed is more likely than another to bite you, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.
People often underestimate or misread dogs that they believe to be harmless, leading to an estimated 4.5 million bites every year – 20% of which require medical attention. It’s important to recognize that even a dog that you’ve spent time with and who has always acted friendly may bite you if they’re put in a situation where they believe they are being threatened.
Here’s what you can do to reduce your chances of suffering a dog bite injury.
5 Tips to Prevent Dog Bites
1. Look for signs that a dog is agitated or fearful. Just like people, dogs express their emotions through body language. Watch for signs that a dog is upset or afraid, including:
• Cowering (tail tucked, legs slightly bent, ears back against head)
• Brows furrowed and ears to the side
• Licking lips repeatedly, even though there’s no food in the room
• Pacing or moving away from people in the room
• Turning head quickly to look at different sources of noise or movement
2. Teach children to recognize red flags and only play with happy dogs. Children ages 5-9 have the highest rate of dog bite accidents, in part because kids in this age range may not recognize when a dog is unhappy and about to snap at them. If you have young kids, talk to them about the warning signs and how to tell when a dog is safe to play with. You should also always supervise your children around dogs, even if the dog has been your family pet for years.
3. Pay attention to stressors. Dogs often bite because a number of stressors have been adding up and may eventually reach a breaking point. Pay attention to what’s going on in the environment around the dog; if there are loud noises, new people in the house, and kids attempting to climb on the dog, for example, the dog may be nearing the point of biting.
4. Don’t overwhelm a dog when greeting him or her. Even some people who have grown up with dogs or have had pets for years don’t know the safe way to greet a dog. You should never start by leaning over and sticking your hand in the dog’s face, pat the dog’s head, hug the dog, stare the dog in the eyes, or squeal and shout. All these gestures can be interpreted by the dog as a threat or an invasion of their space. Instead, you should stand in a non-threatening way with your side or back towards the dog and let the dog come up to you. As long as the dog does not look agitated after sniffing you, you can pet the dog on the side of their face or their back.
5. Ask before petting. If you encounter a dog you’ve never met before, ask the owner if petting is okay. Some dogs are uncomfortable with strangers, and it’s better to be cautious around animals you’ve never met than to jump right in and start petting them.
And while it hopefully won’t come to this, you should consider contacting a dog bite attorney if you or your child suffers a dog bite because of a negligent owner. The owner needs to be held responsible, especially if their dog attack wasn’t provoked by any of your actions.
About the Author:
Andrew Winston is a partner at the personal injury law firm of The Law Office of Andrew Winston. He has been recognized for excellence in the representation of injured clients by admission to the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, is AV Rated by the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, and was recently voted by his peers as a Florida “SuperLawyer”-an honor reserved for the top 5% of lawyers in the state-and to Florida Trend’s “Legal Elite.”