National Dog Bite Prevention Week – the third week in May – was established to remind us of a common threat to the health and safety of all us, especially our children. According to the CDC, of the 4.7 million Americans that are bitten by dogs each year, 800,000 seek medical attention, 386,000 require treatment in an emergency department and about a dozen die.
About one half of those bitten are children. The injury rate is highest for children between 5 and 9 years old. For children four years and younger, almost two thirds of the injuries are to the head and neck.
In my 30 plus years as a veterinarian, I can’t begin to count the number of dogs that have been presented to me because they bit a child. Most of these dogs belong to the family of the victim or to a close neighbor. Almost all of these bites could have been prevented.
The CDC (http://www.cdc.gov/HomeandRecreationalSafety/Dog-Bites/dogbite-factsheet.html) offers some good tips and rules to help prevent dog bites. The first safety tip they mention is, “Do not approach an unfamiliar dog.” is excellent advice. Since our children will have to be in the presence of dogs from time to time and many dog bites come from dogs that we thought were safe, it’s extremely important to teach our children how to correctly approach any and all dogs.
Below are listed some recommendations that I have for greeting all dogs, even those that we know and consider harmless. The greeting ritual outlined by these suggestions helps reassure the dog that we are not a threat or afraid and helps create a positive social bond between the person and the dog. This lessens the chance, but does not guarantee, that a bite may occur.
Please note that these recommendations are for those situations where a child may meet a dog, including dogs they already know. All children must understand and follow the CDC’s first rule to never approach an unfamiliar dog. Of course, any interaction between a child and a dog should be supervised by an adult who can control the dog and the child. These greeting suggestions should be followed by adults as well as children.
- Don’t look at the dog, especially at his eyes.
- Don’t move towards the dog.
- Don’t reach towards the dog with your hands or make a lot of movements with your hands.
- Don’t talk to the dog.
The Dos and Always
- Do talk to the owner of the dog as if the dog is not there.
- Do act calmly as if nothing is wrong.
- Always ask the owner if you can pet the dog, but only after the dog becomes calm, has sniffed you and is not acting aggressive or fearful. If the owner says it OK for you to pet the dog, always let the dog come to you, never move towards the dog. If the dog won’t come to you when you ask it to, don’t go towards him or reach for him. He probably isn’t ready to trust you yet and that’s OK.