According to the American Veterinary Medical Association and the CDC, the majority of the 4.5 million dog bite victims per year in the United States are children. Therefore, it’s vital that parents and caregivers are aware of the steps to take to prevent dog bites from happening in the first place.

Understanding what leads to dogs biting can go a long way toward helping you proactively avoid an attack. Here are some helpful tips for preventing dog bites, a visual dog bite prevention handout, and recommended courses of action to protect your health if an animal bite does occur.

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5 Tips to Prevent Dog Bites

The quote, “dogs do speak, but only to those who know how to listen,” is a helpful mantra to keep in mind regarding dog bites. While we tend to associate a dog biting someone with a stray or an “aggressive” animal, it’s not uncommon for a dog bite to come from a friend’s animal or a family pet.

Dogs bite for a variety of reasons, not just mere “aggression.” Common triggers include:

  • The dog was startled by sudden movement or noises.
  • The dog is protecting a resource, such as food or a toy.
  • The dog feels the need to guard his pet owner.
  • The dog is sick or injured.
  • The dog is playing and gets overly excited.
  • The dog is responding to a physical threat like a tail pull or overly enthusiastic contact.

Rarely, except for a rabid animal, does a dog bite happen completely unprovoked. These five tips should allow you to avoid a situation where a dog bite is most likely to occur.

  1. Socialize and train your dog. If you are a dog owner, introducing your pet to other dogs and people can help him acclimate to social situations and be less reactive to strangers. Ideally, start introducing your dog to others while he is a puppy. If you rescue an older dog, ease into social situations carefully.
  2. Avoid taking unnecessary risks. Though not all dog bites are preventable, you can potentially avoid the bulk of them by taking precautions. This includes not interacting with a dog who is not with his owner and not allowing your child to run up to a dog, as a dog may perceive that body language as a threat.
  3. Know when not to approach a dog. There are times when a dog may be more aggressive. This includes when he is eating, sick or injured, sleeping, or guarding his home.
  4. Educate family members, especially children. Ensure you give your kids plenty of guidance about not approaching strange dogs and being gentle and cautious when making contact.
  5. Stand like a tree. Several animal behavior experts, including Dr. Sophia Yin and the non-profit organization, Doggone Safe, recommend specific behaviors to avoid riling up a dog. One of these tips is to adopt “be a tree” body language, which entails standing still, keeping your limbs close, and bowing your head toward your body. This technique can work for both kids and adults.

Because this situation can lead to the animal being euthanized, the American Humane Association strongly recommends socialization and caring for your pets like family so that they feel safe and secure.

How to Immediately Manage a Dog Bite

Whether the dog bite came from the family dog or a wild animal, the risk of infection is a primary concern, especially among those who are immunocompromised or have an underlying condition such as diabetes.

There’s also the risk of rabies exposure in situations where the infected animal has not received a rabies vaccine and carries the rabies virus. Fortunately, human rabies cases are rare.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there are between just one and three cases reported each year. The CDC attributes this rarity to public health education initiatives, animal health programs, vaccines, and rabies testing among animals suspected of having the disease.

Another concern many dog bite victims have is that they can contract Lyme disease. Fortunately, the American Kennel Club has confirmed that the Lyme disease is not transmissible from bites from domestic animals – only tick bites.

The Cleveland Clinic recommends washing dog bite wounds thoroughly and then seek immediate medical attention. You should wash the area with warm water and mild soap, allowing the tap to run over the bite for several minutes.

Your doctor will examine the wound and administer additional cleaning protocols. Depending on the severity of the bite and its location on the face or body, you may be given either a topical antibiotic ointment or a prescription for antibiotics.

What is the Best Protocol for a Dog Bite?

It may be tempting to skip a visit to the doctor if the wound is only surface level, but a thorough examination by a medical provider is essential. Even a seemingly minor bite can become infected, and there could be underlying damage to the nerves, muscles, or tendons.

Keeping the wound clean is a top priority when caring for a dog bite. Though many people assume that they’ll receive stitches for dog bites, that’s not always the case. Closing up the wound too early with sutures can trap bacteria and increase the risk of infection.

As you’re healing from a dog bite, make sure you keep the wound clean, watch out for signs of infection, and follow the entire course of any prescribed antibiotic.

Dog Bite Hand Treatment

The hand is one of the most common areas where dog bites occur. Logically, this makes sense because many people are bitten when they reach for a dog with their hands. However, in situations where the dogs are not familiar dogs and it’s a true attack, the face and neck are common targets.

Depending on the severity of the dog bite, damage to the hand can be permanent. Doctors, including hand specialists, recommend aggressive treatments to reduce the risk of any complications. Even post-infection, there could be lingering damage and reduced hand strength if the proper protocols were not followed.

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Dog Bite Prevention Tools

If you work in an environment where you’re around dogs a lot, or you live in an area where dogs roam freely, you might need some preventative tools to keep your arms, legs, and face safe.

One of the best options is to wear protective gloves to lessen the severity of a dog bite or block the teeth from penetrating the skin altogether. The gloves will ideally cover your entire hand and wrist up to the elbow area. A company called Midwest Tongs makes heavy-duty gloves that contain Kevlar lining. There’s also a more affordable option here.

Dog Bite Prevention for Utility Workers

Utility workers visit properties with dogs as a daily part of their job, so they can be at a higher risk of dog attacks. A dog protecting his home or territory from “strangers” may be more aggressive, so it’s important to take some precautions.

Our tips include:

  • Notify the property owner in advance of your visit and ask that the dog be safely contained.
  • Bring protective items such as gloves and barriers to protect your workspace.
  • If there is a dog on the property and the owner isn’t home, request rescheduling your visit for another time.
  • Evaluate the dog’s body language to look for signs of potential aggression. Growling, pulled-back ears, and tension are key indicators that the dog is uncomfortable with your presence.

Dog Bite Prevention for Delivery Drivers

Delivery drivers may encounter dozens or hundreds of dogs in a single day of work, putting them more statistically at risk for dog bites. While it’s a common misconception that breeds like pit bulls are to be the most feared, you might be surprised to learn that any breed of dog can sink their teeth into you and cause damage, including chihuahuas.

Even cat bites are not unheard of, and though their bites tend to look less severe, they come with a higher risk of infection.

Delivery drivers have a good chance of preventing dog bites by following these tips:

  • Use parcels to your advantage. Carrying something bulky creates a barrier around you. The animal has to get through the package before he can get to you.
  • Stay calm. It’s okay to be concerned about a dog that appears dangerous, but running, screaming, or using aggressive body language in an attempt to scare is likely to escalate the situation, making the dog’s behavior worse.
  • Avoid eye contact. Staring a dog in the face can be perceived as a challenge.

Dog Bite Prevention Program

There are several resources available online to help prevent dog bites in children and adults, and the majority of them are free. For example, Good Dog in a Box has several videos that are engaging to a young audience.

Because the bulk of dog bites happen to children, many dog bite prevention programs are aimed at shaping behavior in younger people. However, dog bites can happen to any age group, and this dog bite prevention handout is a helpful reference.

For more pet related educational materials from Weave, check out the articles below:

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