When it comes to protecting children from dog bites, parents might think the biggest threat comes from stray dogs, or dogs unknown to the family.
But in reality, only about 10 percent of bites are inflicted by dogs unknown to the victim. And more than two-thirds of children bitten by familiar dogs were bitten with a parent or grandparent in the room.
This week (May 18-24) is National Dog Bite Prevention Week, sponsored by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). With an estimated population of 70 million dogs living in U.S. households, millions of people—most of them children—are bitten by dogs every year. The majority of these bites are preventable.
Dr. Ilana Reisner, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist and consultant on dog bite safety, says one of the most important factors in preventing children from dog bites is not just supervision, but active supervision. Dr. Reisner recently presented tips for parents during a National Press Club event hosted by State Farm and the United States Postal Service.
“Supervision is not well understood,” said Dr. Reisner. “Dog owners in general are lacking knowledge about what kinds of things dogs and children do that can be a risk. For example, they might go out of the room and prepare lunch while the child is alone with the dog maybe 10-20 feet away, and that’s not active supervision. If that’s one message we can get across I think it would prevent a lot of bites.”
Breed bias can also play a factor in dog bites to children. While breed bias often reflects unfounded fears toward breeds that may be a danger to our kids, it can also work the other way, when dogs considered to be “safe” are allowed to interact unsupervised with children.
“Just because you happen to have a dog that’s considered to be a great family pet doesn’t mean that it would be safe for a toddler to crawl up to that dog and give him a hug when he’s sleeping,” Dr. Reisner said.
Finally, Dr. Reisner stressed the importance of understanding what types of behaviors are provocative to a dog. While most of us realize that a child poking, hitting, or pulling the dog’s hair could provoke a bite, Dr. Reisner says that resource guarding—of food, toys, or even its owner—is the cause for most bites. “So if a small child runs up to an owner and the dog is lying near the adult, the dog might bite the child,” Dr. Reisner says.
In addition to Dr. Reisner’s video, the AVMA will be releasing short, fun videos with tips on preventing dog bites every day during National Dog Bite Prevention Week. You can view them on AVMA’s YouTube channel.
The AVMA, U.S. Postal Service, American Humane Association, American Society for Reconstructive Microsurgery, Insurance Information Institute, State Farm Insurance, and Prevent The Bite are driving home the message that dog bites are a nationwide issue and that education can help prevent dog attacks to people of all ages. Visit the AVMA’s website to learn more about dog bite prevention.
For more information, or to set up an interview with Dr. Reisner or other veterinary experts on dog bites and dog behavior, contact Michael San Filippo, AVMA media relations assistant, at 847-285-6687 (office), 847-732-6194 (cell) or firstname.lastname@example.org.