|What you should know about dog bites and how to prevent them |
Even though National Dog Bite Prevention Week was last month, dog owners and those living around dogs should be aware of the potential risks every day of the year.
There are nearly 80 million dogs in the United States, and last year nearly five million of those dogs bit someone. About 800,000 people seek medical attention for dog bites each year, and 12 to 20 people in the U.S. die from dog bites. For those affected, it's a public health crisis.
The U.S. Postal Service last month reported 5,577 postal workers suffered dog attacks in 2011 in more than 1,400 cities nationwide. Medical expenses for the Postal Service were nearly $1.2 million last year. Los Angeles topped the list with 83 dog attacks, and San Diego was second with 68 attacks. Other cities with more than 40 dog attacks on postal workers last year were Houston, Cleveland and Dallas.
In San Diego, there are nearly 500,000 dogs, but only about 140,000 or 30% are licensed by the County's Department of Animal Services (DAS, which covers the cities of San Diego, Carlsbad, Del Mar, Encinitas, Santee, Solana Beach & the unincorporated areas). In the last fiscal year, 2,699 dog bites were reported to the county's DAS. The most common breed in reported dog bites in San Diego was the pit bull (389 bites), followed by Labrador Retrievers (199 bites), chihuahuas (174) and German Shepherds (136). More than 100 breeds were noted for at least one bite.
"Any dog can bite," said Dr. René Carlson, American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) president. "If it is physically or mentally unhealthy, is in pain, feels threatened, or is protecting its food or a favorite toy, it can bite. It is important to understand how dogs behave and how our behavior may be interpreted by a dog."
IF YOU OWN A DOG, DO YOU CARRY HOMEOWNER'S OR RENTER'S LIABILITY INSURANCE? YOU SHOULD...
"Dog attacks accounted for more than one-third of all homeowner insurance liability claims paid out in 2011," said Dr. Robert Hartwig, Insurance Information Institute (III) president and chief economist. The cost of claims for dog bites has risen 52 percent since 2004, even though the number of dog bites has remained roughly flat, Hartwig added.
High payouts on dog bites are happening because more people own dogs, they live closer to one another, and parents are more likely to get advanced medical care for their children after a bite, according to Robert Skow, an independent insurance agent in Iowa. "Forty years ago, a kid got bit, Mom and Dad didn't take him to a plastic surgeon," he said. "Nowadays they do."
State Farm, the largest writer of homeowners insurance in the U.S., paid more than $109 million on nearly 3,800 dog bite claims in 2011. California was the state with the highest payout in dog bite claims with 527 claims costing $20,265,466.
AS A DOG OWNER, WHAT CAN YOU DO?
* Carefully select your pet. Puppies should not be obtained on impulse
* Make sure your pet is socialized as a young puppy so it feels at ease around people and other animals
* Don't put your dog in a position where it feels threatened or teased
* TRAIN YOUR DOG. The basic commands "sit," "stay," "no," and "come" help dogs understand what is expected of them and can be incorporated into fun activities that build a bond of trust between pets and people
* Walk and exercise your dog regularly to keep it healthy and provide mental stimulation
* Avoid highly excitable games like wrestling or tug-of-war
* USE A LEASH IN PUBLIC to ensure you are able to control your dog
* Keep your dog healthy. Have your dog vaccinated against rabies and preventable infectious diseases. Parasite control and other health care are important because how your dog feels affects how it behaves
* Neuter your pet
* If you have a fenced yard, make sure the gates and the ground surfaces are secure
HOW CAN YOU PROTECT YOURSELF & YOUR FAMILY?
* Be cautious around strange dogs, and treat your own pet with respect
* Because children are the most common victims of dog bites, NEVER leave a baby or small child alone with a dog
* Be alert for potentially dangerous situations. For example, don't put your face in front of an unknown dog or look directly in its eyes...
Kyle Dyer, Denver's 9News anchor, was bitten in the face by a dog during a live broadcast, Feb. 1, 2012. Dyer was conducting an interview about the rescue of Max, an 85-pound Argentine Dogo that fell into freezing cold Smith Reservoir in Lakewood, Colorado, on Jan. 31, while chasing a coyote. Dyer was bitten as she "tried to kiss/snuggle with the dog," according to the animal control report. She was taken to the hospital, where she underwent reconstructive surgery.
* Teach your children -- including toddlers -- to be careful around pets. Children must learn not to approach strange dogs or try to pet dogs through fences
* Teach children to ask permission from the dog's owner before petting the dog - and wait for the dog to approach you
* Don't pet a dog on the top of the head (it may feel threatening to the dog). Offer the dog the back of your closed fist (under his chin) to sniff, then gently scratch the cheek or chest
* Don't try to take a toy or food away from a dog
* Don't make loud noises or sudden movements towards a dog
* Don't touch a dog that appears to be sleeping
* Don't approach a dog whose hair is raised, is growling, has their ears back and erect, and appears stressed
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO IF A DOG BITES?
* If under attack roll into a ball & cover your face. If the dog retreats, avoid looking at the dog, keep your arms & hands close to your body, and slowly back away
* If the dog's owner is present, request proof of rabies vaccination, and get the owner's name and contact information
* Clean the bite wound with soap and water as soon as possible
* Consult your doctor immediately or go to the emergency room if it's after office hours
* Contact the dog's veterinarian to check vaccination records
* Report the attack to the County of San Diego Department of Animal Services 619-236-4250, or FAX the completed report form found here:
It bears repeating that any dog can bite. But just because a dog has bitten once does not mean it's a vicious or bad dog. It may be in physical pain, or be afraid or feel threatened. Learn to read and understand a dog's body language, so you can avoid uncomfortable or dangerous situations. The best source for illustrated books and DVDs on canine body language can be found at
with our favorites from Turid Rugaas, Sarah Kalnajs and Brenda Aloff. Please be safe, not sorry.