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Sharon Granskog
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 Veterinarians: Active supervision, understanding dog’s body language key to preventing bites

​With 4.5 million Americans bitten by dogs annually, a record number of attacks on letter carriers and soaring insurance claims, it is clear that dog bites cut deep. 

Veterinarians realize that while even the gentlest dog can bite, most bites can be prevented. As a founding sponsor of National Dog Bite Prevention Week®, held this year from May 15-21, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) is committed to reducing the number of dog bites and helping owners maintain the loving bond between them and their dogs.

“Dogs not raised with good social skills can become dogs that bite,” said Dr. Bonnie Beaver, a past president of the AVMA and an internationally recognized expert in animal behavior. “It is important to socialize your dog and see how the dog interacts with people. Owners need to be able to read their dogs’ body language.”

Dr. Beaver added that children and dogs should never be left alone together unsupervised, even if that dog is considered well behaved and kid friendly. “Don’t assume that a dog won’t bite,” she said.

The AVMA and the National Dog Bite Prevention Week coalition recognizes that bites are not a breed issue, but instead an economic, cultural and very human issue, and that education is key to preventing bites.

“I am pleased that the AVMA and members of the National Dog Bite Prevention Week Coalition, which include the U.S. Postal Service, State Farm Insurance, Insurance Information Institute, the American Humane Association, American Academy of Pediatrics and positive trainers such as Victoria Stilwell, realize that working together on educating the public is the best way to combat this very real public health issue,” said veterinarian and AVMA Board of Directors member Dr. Lori Teller.

Dr. Teller, a veterinarian at the Meyerland Animal Clinic in Houston, represented veterinary medicine at the Houston  kick-off.

“Pet owners should talk to their veterinarian regarding any behavioral concerns they may have,” Teller said. “Their family veterinarian can assist in determining if there is a medical component; which medication, if any, would be most appropriate as part of an integrated treatment program; and whether or not a referral to a behavior specialist is warranted.”

Resources from National Dog Bite Prevention Week Coalition members:

  • AVMA has a wide variety of public resources on dog bite prevention and National Dog Bite Prevention Week, including these videos for kids:
    • Jimmy's Dog House teaches lessons on noises, sleeping and eating.
    • Jimmy the Dog videos teach kids what a yellow ribbon means, what to do with a lost dog, how to interact with a dog behind a fence, and what to do when the letter carrier comes to the house.  Visit for more tips.

  • The U.S. Postal Service reports that attacks on its carriers increased in 2015 by 782 to a total of 6,549. Houston—the site of the National Dog Bite Prevention Week kick-off press conference—is the top market, with 77 reported attacks on postal employees last year. The increase may be due to the rise in Internet deliveries taking place on Sundays. Because many of these deliveries take place at a customer’s door, the U.S. Postal Service is asking Americans to “close the door on dog attacks” by placing their pets in a separate room with a closed door to decrease the likelihood of an attack.
  •  In 2015, State Farm® paid more than $118 million as a result of 3,181 dog-related injury claims. Though the number of paid claims decreased nearly 10 percent from 2014, the amount paid by State Farm did increase by more than 3 percent, indicating an increase in the severity of incidents and rising medical and legal costs associated with dog-related injuries. Of the top 10 states for dog bite claims, only one—Illinois—saw an increase in the number of paid claims in 2015. California, Illinois and Texas represent the top three states for paid dog bite claims by State Farm.
  • The Insurance Information Institute says the number of dog bite claims nationwide is decreasing every year, but the amounts paid are increasing. In 2015, 15,352 claims were paid for a total of $571 million. The average cost per claim is more than $37,000, an increase of 16 percent from 2014.
  • American Humane Association, the country’s first national humane organization, and the only one dedicated to protecting both children and animals, offers a free online booklet available for families with children called “Pet Meets Baby,” providing valuable information on introducing a new child to a home with a pet—or a new pet into a home with a child.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics says if you're threatened by a dog, remain calm. Avoid eye contact and stand  still until the dog leaves, or back away slowly. If you are knocked down, curl into a ball and protect your face with your hands. If a dog bites your child, clean small wounds with soap and water and seek medical attention for larger wounds. Contact the dog's veterinarian to check vaccination records.
  • Renowned dog trainer and Coalition member Victoria Stilwell offers tips for observing a dog’s body language on her website.

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