Dog Bite Prevention Week: What You Can Do to Lower Your Risk

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May 19th is the beginning of Dog Bite Prevention Week, and we’d like to take this opportunity to add onto our dog bite prevention blog from last year and update some statistics. Getting bitten by a dog is probably not something you think about ordinarily. But, in reality, dog bites occur more frequently than you may believe, and in some cases, they are fatal.

When we look to our friends and family, I’m sure that we all know at least one person who has experienced a dog bite, or at least, has encountered an aggressive dog. While it is up to us as owners to train and socialize our dogs, we have to remember that they are still animals with instincts that, at times, they cannot control.

By understanding dog behavior, and knowing how to react, a dog bite may be preventable. To keep ourselves and our loved ones safe (especially children) it is important to know how to read basic dog body language and the best way to react to it.

First, here are the latest numbers regarding dog bites and dog bite casualties in the United States:

  • Approximately 4.7 million dog bites occur each year in the United States
  • Almost 800,000 of these dog bites need medical attention
  • In 2012, 38 fatal dog attacks occurred, of these deaths 50% were adults (ages 21 and older) and 50% were children (ages 8 and under)
  • This number has increased by 7 more deaths since 2011
  • 15 of the 19 children that were killed were ages 2 and under
  • Males were more often victims than females at 61%
  • 82% of these fatalities occurred on the dog owner’s property
  • 5% of these fatalities involved a tethered dog
  • California and North Carolina led these statistics with 4 deaths each in 2012, 75% of the deaths in California occurring in San Diego County
  • 92% of all fatal dog attacks are from male dogs, 94% of these males dogs were intact (not neutered)

What do these statistics show? Well, for one, a dog bite inflicted on a child under the age of two is more likely to be fatal. 65% of bites involving children occur to the head and neck and unsupervised newborns are 370 times more likely to be attacked by a dog. As adults, we can better protect ourselves, and are often strong enough to withstand a dog bite; however, a child is not.

Why are these numbers so high with children? It isn’t that dogs enjoy biting the little ones, more so, it’s that children don’t know how they should behave around dogs. Here are some rules that every child should know.

  • Don’t treat a dog “badly” (don’t pull fur, tails, ears, don’t slap or make fast hand movements near a dog’s face)
  • Don’t approach a dog you don’t know
  • Don’t stand over a dog and bend down
  • Be calm when handling a dog, give them space, let them come to you
  • Don’t bother a dog when they are busy (eating, playing with a toy)
  • If an unknown dog approaches you, be still, do not run

What could cause a dog to attack?

Dog possessiveness (Possessive Aggression)

  • A dog is very possessive of what they believe to be theirs, which is why we see the most frequent attacks happening on the dog owner’s property


Dog is shy or fearful (Defensive or Fear Aggression)

  • Many dogs just have a fearful disposition and are weary of new people and places
  • It can also be a sudden fear, such as being snuck up on or startled
  • A dog in pain

Mother with puppies (Maternal Aggression or Protective Aggression – can occur with humans in place of puppies)

  • Cautiously approach a young puppy when it is around its mother
  • Watch out for aggressive body language. A dog will let you know when you are getting too close

Prey or Chase Drive (more prevalent in certain breeds)

  • This instinct is triggered by movement, such as running or cycling. Just like when we play fetch with a dog, the dog sees the ball as prey and runs to catch it. The same goes for a human in motion.

So, now that we know the causes, how can we tell when a dog is ready to snap? Dog bites are almost always preceded by specific body language:

  • Ears pinned back
  • Tail erect or between the legs showing dominance or fear
  • Visibility of the whites in their eyes
  • The fur along their back (hackles) may stand up
  • Lifting their lips and showing teeth (yawning is also a way dogs show their teeth and can be a sign of anxiety and agitation)
  • Non-social and “stand-offish” behavior (backing away or trying to avoid you)
  • Growling
lip curl

Curling up the lips and showing teeth is one way a dog communicates they want space.

Now that you know the major warning signs, and the causes, what do you do if you are approached by an aggressive dog?

  • Stay calm, dogs can sense stress
  • Avoid direct eye contact, stand slightly sideways with your hands at your sides, keep the dog in your peripheral vision
  • Remain calm, yet assertive, claim your space. If you have a large object on you, place it out in front of you. This makes you appear larger, and more in charge of your surrounding area.
  • Remain in this calm, assertive state, show the dog that you are not afraid
  • When the dog feels that you are not threatening, they will most likely lose interest

Be sure to check out last year’s post for even more information on dog bite prevention and awareness. Do you have any tips to share? Leave them in the comments below.

9 Responses

  1. Paul says:

    I think this is a great article.

    Never overestimate the “protection” you have from your own dog, because reflexes are faster than cognitive thought.

    My sweet-tempered apso once reflexively bit me as I reached under a lawn chair from behind her to try to untangle her leash. She could have, but didn’t, broken the skin. I suspect that she was snapping at me, and I reached toward her mouth, turning it into a bite.

    As soon as she recognized me, she instantly stopped, whimpered and licked my hand in apology. But if she’d been just a little more startled, I could have been badly hurt.

    Since then, I make sure that she’s seen me, and knows where I am, before reaching toward her.

    A good illustration of why you should let sleeping dogs lie.

    My apso is a watch-over-us dog, not a guard or attack dog. Awake, she’s so friendly that she’s always underfoot. Often will fall asleep in a doorway or at the top of a staircase.

    Her normal response to a perceived, slow moving threat is to bare her upper teeth and growl. When I approach her and she’s not quite awake, if I don’t I’ll get her attention by speaking to her, she may growl until she recognizes me.

    • Annie M says:

      Thanks for sharing Paul! Isn’t it amazing that they “say sorry” when they know they have accidentally hurt us… It sounds like you are really in tune with your dog and you two have a great bond!

  2. Mark says:

    Very good, informative article. Appropriate for people that have adopted “rescue” dogs, that may been abused, abandoned or mistreated by their 1st owners.

    Very simi!iar case with our rescue German Shepherd, who was afraid of strangers and barked & nipped at them, because they were afraid of her and didn’t know how to behave with her. Once they calmed down and let their guard down, the dog eventually also calmed and accepted them.

    • Annie M says:

      Thanks Mark! Very happy to hear that your dog’s fear aggression went away over time. Sometimes it just takes a little time and effort from us humans to try and understand things from the dog’s point of view. Your pup is lucky to have you!

  3. Kim Anderson says:

    I was attacked and bitten 12 times by my own rescue dog while on a walk with my other rescue dog. I was standing between her and a passer by so she wouldn’t attack the passer by. She started attacking me instead. Our other dog stood up with her paws on my shoulder trying the block the attack. When the dog continued attacking our other dog pinned her down but she still kept attacking. We had had her 2 months and when we got her she was 1 year old. She had recently started biting people that she came into contact with on walks or that came to our house. She was turned into the shelter where we got her so we figured she had been severely abused.She was a beautiful Cattle dog. We had to have her put down. It was a horrible experience.

    • Annie M says:

      Oh Kim that sounds very scary and heartbreaking! I have seen what you are talking about with a rescue dog of my own. It is called redirected aggression. They get so worked up that they will direct the aggression at whatever is closest, usually the person holding the leash. So sorry that you had to go through that and that the outcome was so devastating.

  4. vagabond says:

    Neither my wife or i have been bitten, but we own a rescue terrier that has been attacked 3 times in our neighborhood while being walked on a attack by a pit bull required surgery which she has never really recovered from. the leash law as it is written apparently states that a dog may be unleashed while on private property. this includes, according to the sheriff and SEACCA, UNFENCED front yards. many of our neighbors let their dogs out the front door to “use” the front yard while they stand on the porch. others let their dogs roam the yard while they are hanging out in it talking to friends or doing yard work. when we stop and wait for them to grab their dogs before we go by, they almost always shout something like “my dog is friendly!” and leave it unleashed. once after dark we were attacked by an unattended dog tethered to the house. we had seen the dog and walked out into the street to avoid it but it had been left with enough leash to get out to the public street where it tried to get at our dog. in ALL of these instances WE were completely ignored by the attacking dog in favor of our 20 lb. rescue dog. of course we called the local SEACCA office and had them out but now we are called BAD neighbors for over reacting because their dogs are “FRIENDLY!”

    • Annie M says:

      Hi V,
      Even if their dog is friendly, whose to say other dogs walking by are comfortable with dogs they do not know running up to them? This is the whole idea behind the DINOS movement. Dinos stands for dogs in need of space. Their motto is = DINOS are GOOD dogs, they just need space! I linked their webpage if you want to check out their resources, they have flyers you can print out to educate your neighbors. Your neighbors should be thinking about the other dogs too. I thought that even if off-leash, a dog is still supposed to be completely under the control of their owner, which is no easy thing even with a well-trained and socialized dog. They can still be unpredictable anytime they feel like it!

  5. Danny says:

    My hometown every year from rabies occur due to dog bites. Probably due to dog bite disease prevention is not interested.

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