Vail Pet Talk column: Avoid dog bites by being a responsible pet owner
Being bit by a dog or cat is inevitable in my profession (I’ve told many people I’ll never be an arm or hand model), but it’s also very common as a pet owner.
Every year, dogs bite millions of people, and according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, one in five people will go to the doctor to be treated for the wound. Of the people who are treated for bite wounds, at least 50 percent are children, with the second most common victims being senior citizens.
How can we change this? In my opinion, it starts with the veterinarian and the pet owner. The veterinarian’s responsibility is to inform pet owners of what they can do at home to avoid dog bites, and the pet owner’s responsibility is to implement these things at home, all of the time, so we can prevent them from happening.
Why do dogs bite? I feel fear is the most common reason. Other reasons include dominance, pain and protecting their territory. Dogs will frequently display warning signs that are not always recognized by the people around them — these signs may include trying to get away, growling and body language. What you can do at home starts with understanding these signs and intervening when necessary to prevent confrontation between your dog and someone else.
Fear in a dog can range anywhere from fear of a new person or situation to fear and uneasiness due to a child grabbing them. Signs of fear in a dog include a dog’s ears being pinned back, their tail tucked between their legs, growling, whining, trying to get away, barking and having a “whale eye” (when a dog is looking at something but not facing it, with the whites of its eyes being more prominent).
Dogs can also express dominance behaviors, which can result in biting — dominance over a spot on a couch, dominance over a certain toy, dominance over their food dish area, etc. Stopping and preventing this behavior is necessary and possible. It takes time, commitment and hard work and should start when the dog is a puppy.
Education begins at home
Education at home must begin with any children who may come in contact with your dog. The problem with children is when they grab a dog, they tend to hang on tight, and this right here is what is threatening to the dog. You as a parent and a dog owner must speak with your children about safe interaction with any dog, not just your own.
Even if your dog is the “greatest dog in the world that will never ever bite your child,” then it doesn’t mean that the dog next door is or the dog at the park or the dog at your child’s best friend’s house. In addition, if you notice behavior in any dog that is signaling aggression, then stop the child’s behavior that stimulated this response and contact your veterinarian and a dog trainer right away.
Lastly, be sure you are considering your dog and his or her stress level. Make sure your dog has its own space at home, whether it be a kennel or a small bed in the corner of a room. Allow your dog to occupy that space without constant stimulation or intrusion. Teach your kids that when the dog is in that spot to leave him or her alone. Be in the room when any kids are interacting with your dog, if you can. Know that there are people out there who want you and your dog to succeed in terms of social interaction.
Liz Foster, DVM, is an associate veterinarian at Mountain Mobile Vet and The Animal Hospital Center. She can be reached at 970-328-7085.
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