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How to prevent dog bites

Even the gentlest dog can bite under certain circumstances.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA),* a founding sponsor of the National Dog Bite Prevention Week Coalition, announced the creation of a toolkit of fun/interactive materials designed to keep everyone safe from dog bites.

Dogs like Miley have very gentle temperaments and their owners trust them with their children. Still, the AVMA recommends teaching your kids to recognize when dogs need some space.

“Dog bites are not a breed issue but an economic, cultural and very human issue,” said AVMA representative, Dr. Patrick Melese, a board certified veterinary behaviorist and director of Veterinary Behavior Consultants, a Southern-California based veterinary practice dedicated to preventing and solving behavior problems in animals since 1988.

“Education and responsible pet ownership is key. It is not only important to understand how dogs behave, it is important to understand how our own behavior may be interpreted by a dog,” said Dr. Melese.

These miscommunications result in most people being bitten by their own dog or a dog they know. For example, the average child may interpret a dog’s yawn as ‘sleepy’ and licking as ‘kissing’ while they are often signs of stress.

The AVMA tools include videos, posters, coloring books and interactive games to teach every age group how ensure their pet is a loving companion, a good neighbor and not a threat to postal employees or visitors to your home.

Besides learning to read your dog’s body language, other ways to prevent bites include:

  • Use positive, not negative, training methods
  • Adults should always actively supervise children and dogs, even if that dog is considered well behaved and kid friendly
  • Socialize your pet
  • Place your pet in another room when deliveries are being made to your home
  • If you have concerns about your dog’s behavior, visit your veterinarian to see if your pet is in pain or has a medical condition
  • Ask your veterinarian about selecting a local trainer or if a referral to veterinary behaviorist is warranted

“Dog bite safety doesn’t just protect people,” said Dr. Kwane Stewart, chief veterinary officer for American Humane. “It protects everyone including the dogs themselves since biting dogs may be euthanized.”

Some bite statistics: how many and the costs

Approximately 800,000 seek medical attention for bites and more than half of those are children. The total number of postal employees bitten by dogs nationwide was 6,244 in 2017 — more than 500 fewer than 2016.

“We’re encouraged by the decrease,” said USPS Safety Director Linda DeCarlo. “That’s still too high, but we’re confident that with continuing education and dog bite prevention training, along with advancing technology, we can keep more people safe and keep attacks trending downward.”

While the number of postal employees bitten decreased, dog bites (and other dog-related injuries) accounted for more than one-third of all homeowners liability claim dollars paid out in 2017, costing in excess of $700 million, according to the Insurance Information Institute and State Farm. State Farm reported that California had the most dog-related injury claims (468 claims totaling $18.7 million) in 2017. State Farm does not refuse insurance based on the breed of dog someone owns.

“We believe that educating dog owners about being responsible will reduce dog-related injuries because under the right circumstances, any dog might bite,” said State Farm Insurance agent, Tracey Rivera.

The National Dog Bite Prevention Week Toolkit includes:

For kids:

For adults:

More stuff to help parents

American Humane offers a free online booklet, “Pet Meets Baby,” with valuable information on introducing a new child to a home with a pet – or a new pet into a home with a child available for families with children.

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