As the weather warms, lockdowns ease and life returns to normal, some dogs might have trouble dealing with the change, and experts are sharing ways to help prevent bites from occurring as a possible result. This likelihood made National Dog Prevention Week, which was held recently (April 11-17), a especiallytimely event.
National Dog Bite Prevention Week was held and a coalition of veterinarians, animal behavior experts and insurance representatives. Members of the National Dog Bite Prevention Week Coalition include the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), State Farm, Insurance Information Institute (Triple I), American Humane and Victoria Stilwell Positively.
As part of the campaign to spread awareness, State Farm released new dog-related injury claims data.
According to State Farm, the month with the highest number of dog-related injury claims in 2020 was March, when people first went into lockdown at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. They reported a 21.6% increase in dog bites compared to the previous March, likely due to dogs dealing with owner stress, disruption in routines and more people around the house throughout the day.
Experts fear another disruption—this time caused by the easing of restrictions for activities outside the home—could lead to another spike in bites.
The Insurance Information Institute reported that in 2020, insurance companies paid $853.7 million for 16,991 dog bite and injury claims. While the number of dog-related injury claims decreased 4.6% compared to the previous year, the amount paid for these claims increased 7.1%—a record high. The average claim payment was $50,245 in 2020, up 12.3% from $44,760 in 2019.
The National Dog Bite Prevention Coalition recommends the following tips:
- Make sure your pet is healthy. Not all illnesses and injuries are obvious, and dogs are more likely to bite if they are sick or in pain. If you haven’t been to the veterinarian in a while, schedule an appointment for a checkup to discuss your dog’s physical and behavioral health.
- Take it slow. If your dog has only been interacting with your family this past year, don’t rush out into crowded areas or dog parks. Try to expose your dogs to new situations slowly and for short periods of time, arrange for low-stress interactions, and give plenty of praise and rewards for good behavior.
- Educate yourself in positive training techniques and devote time to interact with your dog.
- Get outside for leash training and allow your dog to do more socializing.
- Gradually start arranging play dates with other dogs and people as allowed, and carefully increase the amounts of time and freedom together. This will help your dog get used to being with other canine companions again.
- Be responsible about approaching other people’s pets. Ask permission from the owner before approaching a dog, and look for signs that the dog wants to interact with you. Sometimes dogs want to be left alone, and we need to recognize and respect that.
“Just like humans, dogs are individuals, and every dog has a unique personality,” said Heather Paul, public affairs specialist at State Farm in a press release. “That’s one reason why State Farm does not ask what breed of dog a person owns. While their breed or type may dictate how they look, how a dog reacts in a situation isn’t guaranteed by what breed or type of dog they are, so it’s important to recognize that while most dogs won’t bite, any dog can bite and as responsible pet owners it’s our duty to make sure that we are keeping both our pets and people safe.”
The Coalition offers a few tips to help avoid risky situations where dog bites may occur:
- Make sure that you are walking your dog on a leash and recognize changes in your dog’s body language where they may not be comfortable in order to reduce the chance that your dog may injure someone.
- Don’t ever leave children unsupervised with dogs, even family pets. More than 50% of all dog-related injuries are to children, and for kids that are under 4 years of age, often those bites are to the head and neck region.
- Don’t let your dog run to the front door and potentially bite postal carriers or someone coming to your door.
- Always monitor your dog’s activity even when they are in the backyard at your own house, because they can be startled by something, get out of your yard and possibly injure someone or be injured themselves.