National Dog Bite Prevention Coalition shares tips on avoiding bites as we emerge from a year of lockdowns, isolation
SCHAUMBURG, Illinois (April 8, 2021)—During National Dog Bite Prevention Week (April 11-17), a coalition of veterinarians, animal behavior experts and insurance representatives are urging people to take steps to prevent a surge in dog bites as the weather warms, lockdowns ease and life returns to normal.
To provide more tips for pet owners, members of the National Dog Bite Prevention Week Coalition—which includes the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), State Farm, Insurance Information Institute (Triple I), American Humane and Victoria Stilwell Positively—will be hosting a Facebook Live event on Monday, April 12, at 1 p.m. Eastern.
The event, hosted by certified animal behavior consultant Steve Dale, will discuss training tips to help prevent bites, how to safely socialize your dog after a year of isolation, and how to recognize the warning signs that a dog may bite. In addition, the coalition will be releasing the latest dog-related injury claims data.
According to State Farm, the month with the highest number of dog-related injury claims last year was March, when people first went into lockdown at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. They reported a 21.6% increase in dog bites compared to the previous March, likely due to dogs dealing with owner stress, disruption in routines and more people around the house throughout the day. Experts fear another disruption—this time cause by the easing of restrictions for activities outside the home—could lead to another spike in bites.
The Insurance Information Institute reported that in 2020, insurance companies paid $853.7 million for 16,991 dog bite and injury claims. While the number of dog-related injury claims decreased 4.6% compared to the previous year, the amount paid for these claims increased 7.1%—a record high. The average claim payment was $50,245 in 2020, up 12.3% from $44,760 in 2019.
"Last year at this time many people—and pets—were in the early stages of lockdown mode, and the stress and disruption of this change can be seen when we look at the data on dog bites," said Dr. Douglas Kratt, president of the AVMA. "This year, as we begin to emerge from those lockdowns and isolation, our concern is making sure our dogs—many of which were adopted during the past year—are prepared for safe interactions outside of the home."
"Because the anxiety that isolation produces can lead to negative behaviors in our pets, helping dogs prepare for changes in our schedules will help minimize their anxiety and smooth the transition as we return to the office and other activities outside of the house," said Dr. Lesa Staubus, rescue veterinarian for American Humane.
To help our pets with this transition, the National Dog Bite Prevention Coalition recommends the following tips:
- Make sure your pet is healthy. Not all illnesses and injuries are obvious, and dogs are more likely to bite if they are sick or in pain. If you haven't been to the veterinarian in a while, schedule an appointment for a checkup to discuss your dog's physical and behavioral health.
- Take it slow. If your dog has only been interacting with your family this past year, don't rush out into crowded areas or dog parks. Try to expose your dogs to new situations slowly and for short periods of time, arrange for low-stress interactions, and give plenty of praise and rewards for good behavior.
- Educate yourself in positive training techniques and devote time to interact with your dog.
- Get outside for leash training and allow your dog to do more socializing.
- Gradually start arranging play dates with other dogs and people as allowed, and carefully increase the amounts of time and freedom together. This will help your dog get used to being with other canine companions again.
- Be responsible about approaching other people's pets. Ask permission from the owner before approaching a dog, and look for signs that the dog wants to interact with you. Sometimes dogs want to be left alone, and we need to recognize and respect that.
It's also important to remember that even well-trained and well-behaved dogs can bite if they are put into the wrong situation. Addressing and avoiding these situations is key to reducing dog bites, and not focusing on unrelated factors such as a dog's breed or appearance.
"Just like humans, dogs are individuals, and every dog has a unique personality," said Heather Paul, public affairs specialist at State Farm. "That's one reason why State Farm does not ask what breed of dog a person owns. While their breed or type may dictate how they look, how a dog reacts in a situation isn't guaranteed by what breed or type of dog they are, so it's important to recognize that while most dogs won't bite, any dog can bite and as responsible pet owners it's our duty to make sure that we are keeping both our pets and people safe."
"When people talk about dog bite prevention, the focus automatically goes to dog training," said Victoria Stilwell, celebrity dog trainer and behavior expert. "While it's important that we give dogs skills and teach them basic manners, the emphasis actually has to be on building emotional health and wellness so they can be successful in our human domestic world."
The Coalition offers a few tips to help avoid risky situations where dog bites may occur:
- Make sure that you are walking your dog on a leash and recognize changes in your dog's body language where they may not be comfortable in order to reduce the chance that your dog may injure someone.
- Don't ever leave children unsupervised with dogs, even family pets. More than 50% of all dog-related injuries are to children, and for kids that are under 4 years of age, often those bites are to the head and neck region.
- Don't let your dog run to the front door and potentially bite postal carriers or someone coming to your door.
- Always monitor your dog's activity even when they are in the backyard at your own house, because they can be startled by something, get out of your yard and possibly injure someone or be injured themselves.
"While dog bites are a serious public health issue, the good news is that most dog bites are preventable," said AVMA President Dr. Kratt. "By taking steps to train and properly socialize our dogs, and educate ourselves and loved ones on dog bite prevention, we can help reduce bites and keep dogs in loving homes, where they belong."
Serving more than 100,000 member veterinarians, the AVMA is the nation's leading representative of the veterinary profession, dedicated to improving the health and wellbeing of animals, humans and the environment. Founded in 1863 and with members in every U.S. state and territory and more than 60 countries, the AVMA is one of the largest veterinary medical organizations in the world. Informed by our members' unique scientific training and clinical knowledge, the AVMA supports the crucial work of veterinarians and advocates for policies that advance the practice of veterinary medicine and improve animal and human health.
About State Farm®
The mission of State Farm is to help people manage the risks of everyday life, recover from the unexpected, and realize their dreams. State Farm and its affiliates are the largest providers of auto and home insurance in the United States. Its 19,200 agents and 57,500 employees serve approximately 85 million policies and accounts – which includes auto, fire, life, health, commercial policies and financial services accounts. Commercial auto insurance, along with coverage for renters, business owners, boats and motorcycles, is available. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company is the parent of the State Farm family of companies. State Farm is ranked No. 36 on the 2020 Fortune 500 list of largest companies. For more information, please visit http://www.statefarm.com.
About Insurance Information Institute (Triple-I)
Founded in 1960, the Triple-I, an affiliate of The Institutes, provides objective, fact-based information about insurance while also being a trusted source of unique, data-driven insights which inform and empower consumers. The Triple-I wants people to have the information they need to make educated decisions, manage risk, and appreciate the essential value of insurance.
About American Humane
American Humane is the country's first national humane organization. Founded in 1877, American Humane is committed to ensuring the safety, welfare, and well-being of animals, and our leadership programs are first to serve in promoting and nurturing the bonds between animals and people. For more information or to support our work, please visit www.americanhumane.org and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
About Victoria Stilwell
Victoria Stilwell is a world-renowned dog trainer best known as the star of the international hit TV series It's Me or the Dog (Animal Planet US) as well as Greatest American Dog on CBS, Dogs Might Fly on Sky TV, Dogs with Extraordinary Jobs for the Smithsonian Channel, Help My Dog is Out of Control for the BBC One Show, and various featured web series including Arson Dogs, Guardians of the Night and Unsung Heroes. Having filmed 110 episodes of It's Me or the Dog since 2005, Stilwell reaches TV audiences in over 120 countries with her philosophy of positive training methods, plus her ongoing work as a social media influencer includes new generations of dog lovers via the popular It's Me or the Dog YouTube channel. A best-selling author of 5 books including her latest, The Ultimate Guide to Raising A Puppy, Stilwell appears frequently in the media and is widely recognized as a leader in the field of animal behavior.
A passionate advocate for positive dog training methods, Stilwell is the Editor-in-Chief of Positively.com, the founder of the Victoria Stilwell Academy for Dog Training & Behavior, and the CEO of Victoria Stilwell Positively Dog Training – the world's premier global network of positive dog trainers.
Stilwell is the recipient of multiple awards and is committed to helping the cause of animal rescue and rehabilitation and is heavily involved with organizations around the world to increase awareness of puppy mills, dogfighting, animal abuse, pet overpopulation, dog bite prevention and other animal-related causes, but she is best known as a champion for humane positive reinforcement dog training methods. She is an Ambassador for the RSPCA, International Ambassador for the Soi Dog Foundation and serves on the Advisory Boards of RedRover, The Georgia Pet Coalition, The Grey Muzzle Foundation, DogTV and Canine Assistants.