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Dog Bite Prevention

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Information originally published by the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association 

We all love our pets, and though they are usually gentle and tolerant, bite wounds are in reality, very common. Statistics show that it is most often pets you know that bite, so just because you know your pets or your neighbours' pets well, don't assume they will not bite you. Children are most often bitten in the face. Both cats and dogs can bite and it hurts!

Here are some ideas to help you avoid bites:

  • Avoid contact with strays
  • Ask an owner first if it is OK to pet a dog or cat
  • Do not chase dogs or cats
  • Avoid cornering any animal
  • Speak with a calm and quiet voice
  • Avoid waving your arms, jumping around or running away
  • Never pull on an animal’s tail or ears—that hurts!
  • Let sleeping pets know you are approaching—don't surprise them
  • If you approach a dog to pet it, let it sniff you first, and avoid moving your hand over the head.  Scratch the side of the head or under the chin instead of the top of the head until the dog knows you better
  • Recognize signs of aggression and fear in animals. Early warning signs are often present if we know how to read them.

Signs of aggression or fear in dogs may include:

  • Dogs that are growling or barking at you
  • Hackles (hair on their back) are up
  • Holding their tail out stiffly or are wagging it very stiffly
  • Making a snarl, or their upper lips are curled up showing their teeth
  • Are giving you a strong stare
  • Or, that have taken a low posture with ears back and lips curled.

Remember that a dog may exhibit one or more of the above signs at once.

In cats, signs of fear or aggression may include:

  • Hair standing on end (puffed out tails)
  • Arched back
  • Hissing, spitting or deep throaty growl sounds
  • Swatting with paws and ears back
  • Tail swishing back and forth from side to side
  • Strong stare
  • Lying on their back with claws poised ready for action!

You might wonder why veterinarians and veterinary technologists don't get bitten very often. After all, we give pets needles and work on them when they have health problems. When pets are ill, it is likely that they would rather be left alone by the fireplace or window!

Veterinarians and veterinary technologists are not often bitten because we have learned about animal behaviour and safe animal handling techniques, and we ensure that our veterinary assistants also use the safest way to handle our patients. Veterinary technologists and other staff are a big help around the animal hospital. Without their valuable help, we would surely need a lot more bandages for our fingers!

Additional Resources:

American Veterinary Medical Association: National Dog Bite Prevention Week

Dogs & Kids: Dog Bite Safety Program

Doggone Safe (Be a Tree) Dog Bite Prevention

Family Paws Parent Education:  Preparing families with dogs for life with children

The Yellow Dog Project: Help your dog play nice in the park! If your dog is fearful, new to socializing with other dogs or recovering from a recent surgery, consider putting a yellow ribbon on his/her collar.

Stop the 77:  77% of dog bites come from the family dog or a friend's dog

Dog Care & Management Program: The Dog Care and Management Program (DCMP) provides resources, guidance, and assistance to communities to implement a community-based, humane, and comprehensive dog management program. For over four years, they have partnered with the Siksika Nation, providing guidance, resources, and training. The program has reduced dog bites and improved the welfare of dogs in the community.