The truth is, any dog can bite. From the smallest dog to the most docile-looking canine, dog bites happen and it’s possibly more common than you think.
In 2013-14 alone, almost 4,000 people were admitted to hospital as a result of a dog-related injury. More than 90% of the hospitalisations were due to a dog bite.
What’s more, dog-related injuries are most common in children. The most popular part of the body to sustain injury is the wrist or hand (42%) and the head (23%). For younger children, aged 0-9 years, injuries to the head are most common (74%).
Certainly, a canine bite can cause major harm to the body. People who are bitten by a dog are likely to receive open wounds, which can lead to infection. However, fractures are also common as a result of a dog bite.
So what can be done to help prevent a dog bite? And more importantly, what role can you, as a pet professional, play?
Understand why dogs bite
Of course, a dog bite occurs for many reasons. As a pet professional you can use National Dog Bite Prevention Week as an opportunity to help educate people on why dogs bite.
By understanding why a dog might bite, owners have a better chance at avoiding potentially dangerous situations. Here are some common reasons why dogs might bite.
- They feel threatened. This is probably the most common reason for a dog to bite.
- Self defence. Dogs can often bite in a bid to defend their territory, source of food or a member of the family.
- Surprise. Unexpectedly jumping out at a dog or startling it can cause it to bite. (Unfortunately, kids often do this thinking it’s a fun game.)
- They’re injured or ill. If a dog is feeling unwell or has suffered an injury they may bite to ward people off.
Experts say education is key to reducing dog bites within the community. Any pet industry professional that regularly comes into contact with dog owners can help teach dog bite prevention.
Vets, in particular, are ideally placed to discuss the topic when they see a client with a new puppy. You can talk about the importance of socialisation, the need for training and offer information on bite prevention.
While all dogs have the potential to bite, a dog that’s well socialised is less likely to bite. Pet professionals can discuss the importance of early socialisation for preventing aggressive episodes later in the dog’s life.
After all, a dog that has positive experiences through puppyhood and adult life is much more likely to be relaxed and confident.
Training is essential for the safety of dogs and those around them. However, pet professionals can promote positive reinforcement as an appropriate training method. Indeed, using punishment as part of a training strategy is only likely to reinforce feelings of aggression in a dog.
Exposure to varied situations
Aside from training and socialisation, owners should be encouraged to expose dogs to many different situations. By exposing a dog to kids riding their bikes or loud noises, for example, the owner can help make these positive experiences. Without the presence of fear or anxiety, a dog is less likely to bite.
Any dog that has aggressive tendencies should be kept on a leash at all times. If necessary, owners should be advised to also use a muzzle.
Keep these factors in mind when talking to pet owners about bite prevention.
- The highest number of dog-related injuries takes place in the home.
- Children are more likely to be bitten by a dog, whereas older people (aged 65+) are most likely to be struck by dogs.
- The most common injury as a result of a canine bite is an open wound.
- Public education is key to reducing dog bites, as there are actions pet owners can take to help lessen the likelihood of their dog biting.
What do you think is the most important advice for owners when it comes to dog bite prevention?
Notes: National Dog Bite Prevention Week 2020 runs from April 12-18.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Dog-related injuries. April 19, 2017.