Approximately 4.7 million people are bitten by dogs each year. Of that number, nearly 800,000 require medical care. Areas of the body most frequently bitten include hands, arms, legs and feet. More than half of all bites to children 4 years old and younger occur to the head/neck region (CDC*).
While it’s important to educate the public about how to avoid dog bites, I find it worth mentioning that an estimated 400,000 cat bites occur each year, resulting in 66,000 visits to hospital emergency departments (WHO*).
These statistics do not take into account bites that go unreported. There are ways we can reduce the likelihood of getting bitten. Here are my top safety tips:
Avoid extending hands. Contrary to popular belief, this is not the way to greet a dog. Most canines find the behavior confrontational and a bit scary. A safer alternative is tossing the pet a treat.
Don’t offer cats a full body massage. During friendly greetings, cats will rub or groom each other only in areas their friends can’t reach by themselves. When petting, it’s best to stick to the head/neck region, stroke in the sameÂ direction that the fur grows, and make petting sessions brief.
Ask permission before petting. Some pets are uncomfortable when touched by strangers. Past scary experiences at a groomer or vet can cause some pets to react defensively. Always ask owners if their cat or dog enjoys petting, then ask for permission to pet it.
Don’t pat dogs on the head, do not hover. Dogs don’t enjoy being patted on the head. When petting, it’s safest to stroke a dog on the chest or under the chin. When petting is complete, don’t allow hands to hover over its head.
Deter children from lifting pets. Most pets detest being picked up, especially by children who tend to be clumsy. Allowing children to lift pets risks rough handling or even dropping the animal.
Remain calm if threatened by a dog. Do not run. Do not turn your back. Shout out “call the police!” as loudly as you can,Â so someone can alert authorities. Choose a relaxed pose and remain stationary. Cross arms over the chest and turn your head away from the animal. Doing so protects the face and neck from potential injuries and avoids eye contact. Try speaking sweetly, asking if he/she wants to go for a walk or wants a treat. Stay where you are until help arrives or walk away slowly.
Don’t allow kids to hug dogs. Most dogs interpret hugging as an offensive behavior. Some will respond by biting.
Never allow a dog’s body to be used as a bed. The internet is filled with images of infants lying on top of pet dogs. I’ve yet to find one where the animal does not appear uncomfortable or is about to bite. This is not cute and it places children and pets at risk. Â
Do not use the dog as a horse. Recently, I found a bunch of photos online where children were sitting or standing on their pets. In the worst example, a child was standing on a basset hound’s back. This places children in grave danger of being bitten or injured from a fall, and risks causing permanent injury to a pet’s spine. Â
Don’t pull pets by the collar. No one likes being dragged around by their shirt, and pets don’t enjoy being pulled by their collar. This frightens pets and some will bite defensively. If a pet must be moved, use a leash instead.Â Â
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â ________
* Sources: (CDC) Centers for Disease Control. Nonfatal dog bite-related injuries treated in hospital emergency departments, United States, 1994, 2001. (WHO) World Health Organization Animal Bite Fact Sheet, 2013.Â
Karen Fazio is a certified dog behavior consultant and director of training and behavior at Oakhurst Veterinary Hospital. Owner of The Dog Super Nanny in Monmouth County, Fazio also is a certified Fear-Free behavior professional.