National Dog Bite Prevention Week happened recently, and it’s a subject worth keeping front and center. Deborah Wood and Jen Keene shared the following award-winning article for Spot readers, covering the subject thoroughly, and showing how we can all help reduce dog bites in our community. —The editor
At the Bonnie Hays Small Animal Shelter, we have the responsibility of investigating every dog bite in Washington County — about 350 dog bites a year. All of these bites involve a dog that has broken the skin — from fairly small bites to serious attacks. The overwhelming reaction from the dog owners is almost complete surprise that their dog bit a human. Consider some facts and tips:
Many dog bites happen because dogs are frightened, stressed or anxious, and find themselves in situations where they don’t feel like they have another option. It is important to remember that any animal with teeth can — and will — bite under some circumstances. It is much better to prevent a bite rather than deal with the aftermath. Contrary to the surprise and disbelief that many people express, most bites did have warning signs and could have been prevented.
Often, people minimize a pet’s past behavior and don’t realize that it can be a predictor of later, more serious problems. For example, a snap or a bite without damage should definitely be a wakeup call to pay attention to what dogs are telling us.
Knowledgeable animal lovers can be a powerful force in preventing bites — which also means preventing dogs from feeling so terrible that they feel they have to bite in the first place. Don’t be afraid to speak up and take action if you see a problem. There are two important things to watch for to prevent dog bites: body language signals and “stacking triggers.”
Dogs use body language to communicate — both consciously, like lowering themselves submissively to signal that they are not a threat, and unconsciously, like showing the whites of their eyes because they are recoiling from something scary but are afraid to take their eyes off of it. By learning to recognize a few common signs that a dog may feel the pressure is on, savvy people can stop bites before they happen.
Cowering — Hunched or lowered body posture.
Brows Furrowed — Just like people, dogs wrinkle their brow when concerned.
Panting – Stress panting happens even when a dog is not hot. It is usually fast and accompanied by thin drops of drool.
Yawning — Dogs will yawn when stressed, even when they’re not sleepy.
Licking lips/nose — A dog flicking his tongue to lick his own snout, especially if there no food around, is likely showing stress, not hunger.
Change in movement — Walking in slow motion, pacing, moving away. It may seem obvious, but if a dog is moving away from a person or situation, it may be because it is stressing him out. Pacing and walking very slowly can also be signs that a dog is not 100% okay.
Be aware that multiple triggers — things a dog finds stressful — can “stack” to make a bite much more likely. Here are some common situations in which dogs may be more stressed than normal: