National Dog Bite Prevention Week, April 11 to 17, is critical for shedding light on this issue, which can break the bond we share with our dogs. Nothing destroys a relationship faster than a bite from your furry pal, no matter the circumstances. Keep in mind that all dogs can bite, especially if startled, scared, or pushed too far, despite their warning signals. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data, dogs bite about 4.7 million people each year, with injury rates highest among children 5 to 9 years old. Additionally, the family dog, or a dog familiar to the victim, are the most likely to bite. To avoid a physically and emotionally scarring dog bite, learn how to best prevent injuries, and then teach your children the same skills. Here are five ways to prevent dog bites.

#1: Learn to read canine body language

As your dog’s advocate and your child’s protector, learning to read canine body language is incredibly helpful for both. One of the most common misconceptions is that a wagging tail equals a happy dog, but hard, stiff wags and a tense posture can indicate otherwise. A stressed or uncomfortable dog may be pushed to defend themselves if their warning signals are ignored. If you see your dog exhibiting the following body language cues, back off, and let them relax:

  • Yawning 
  • Lip licking 
  • Body freezing
  • Whale eye that shows the whites of the eyes
  • Head turn
  • Furrowed brow
  • Tense jaw
  • Low tail carriage 
  • Shaking
  • Drooling 
  • Sweaty paws 

Oftentimes, these cues are brief and difficult to catch, so watch closely for stress signals when a dog is in a potentially uncomfortable situation.

#2: Choose the right dog for your family

Since the family pet is the source of most dog bites, choose a family-friendly breed to mitigate the risk. But, keep in mind that personality traits can differ among the breed, so research your chosen pet carefully, and ask to meet the puppy’s parents before taking your new pet home. Some breeds are known to make excellent family dogs, but there is always the possibility that a particular dog does not do well with children, especially if they are not socialized and trained properly.

#3: Always supervise your child’s interactions with dogs

An accident can happen in the blink of an eye, but being present when your child is around dogs can greatly reduce the risk of a tragedy. Also, teach your child how to approach, pet, and play with your family dog, and monitor your pet for stress signals. Young children are most at risk for being bitten because they do not understand how to interact safely with dogs, but you can act as a mediator and coach your child on interacting with the family dog, while offering comfort and security to your pet.

#4: Avoid highly excitable games with dogs

Although games like tug-of-war and wrestling are great fun, an excited dog can quickly reach their limit and nip, out of play or anxiety. Keep your child and yourself safe from an inadvertent bite by forgoing highly excitable games, and interacting through minimal contact activities, such as training, agility, and fetch. If your dog becomes too excited during a game of fetch, work on their self-control by asking them to drop it, sit, and stay, while you pick up the ball. 

#5: Teach your child to respect dogs

Many dogs bite children in their family accidentally, or because the child has not been taught to respect dogs. Teach your child the following rules to minimize the potential for a bite:

  • Never pull a dog’s ears or tail
  • Never disturb a dog while they’re eating or sleeping
  • Do not take a toy or treat away from a dog without offering a substitute
  • Do not reach through a dog’s crate or fence to pet them
  • Always ask the owner’s permission before approaching a strange dog
  • Always approach a dog from the side, never directly from the front

Any animal, including the most gentle and loving of dogs, may bite, if startled or pushed too far. Implementing proper precautions, and ensuring your dog is happy and healthy, can help reduce the risk. Schedule regular wellness exams with your south Austin veterinarian to ensure your pet is free from pain, cognitive dysfunction, thyroid disease, and other conditions that can cause behavior changes and make them snap. Call our Oliver Animal Hospital team to schedule your dog’s appointment.