MEDIA: For video clips of experts discussing dog bite prevention, as well as B-roll showing human-dog interactions and signs of anxiety in dogs, see: https://vimeo.com/694170265
SCHAUMBURG, Illinois (April 7, 2022)—Dogs are invaluable members of our families and communities, serving as particularly important sources of love and support during the past two years of pandemic-related stress and uncertainty. Dog bites, however, remain a serious public health risk, with more than 4.5 million people bitten by dogs each year in the United States.
During National Dog Bite Prevention Week (April 10-16), a coalition of veterinarians, animal behavior experts and insurance representatives are urging people to understand the risks dog bites pose to people and other pets, and steps to prevent bites from happening.
To assist in these efforts, 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 11, at 1:30 p.m. Central.
The event, moderated by certified animal behavior consultant Steve Dale, will discuss training tips to help prevent bites, how to safely socialize your dog after a period 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. The panelists will also be answering questions submitted by the public during the event.
"From adopting new canine companions, to working from home more often, to having more delivery people coming to the door with packages and meals, many of us have created new home environments and routines over the past two years, all of which can be potentially disruptive to our pets," says Dr. Jose Arce, president of the AVMA. "But no matter the circumstances, it's important that we take steps to prepare our dogs for safe interactions inside and outside the home."
"For thousands of years, dogs have been our best friends, providing us with unconditional love, comfort and protection," says Amber Batteiger, disaster and cruelty response specialist for American Humane. "It is now up to us to be friends to them, as well, by protecting everyone around us – ourselves, our children, and our dogs – from the dangers and consequences of dog bites."
Dogs can bite for many reasons, including improper care or a lack of socialization. All dogs, even well-trained, gentle dogs, are capable of biting when provoked, especially when eating, sleeping or caring for puppies. Therefore, it's vitally important to keep both children and dogs safe by preventing dog bites wherever possible. The National Dog Bite Prevention Coalition provides the following tips:
- 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. American Humane 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.
- 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 been mainly interacting with your family since you brought them home, 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 the yard and possibly injure someone or be injured themselves.
"Part of my job as a dog trainer and behavior expert is to empower people with knowledge about the dogs with whom they share their lives," said Victoria Stilwell, celebrity dog trainer and behavior expert. "And it's this knowledge that not only enriches the relationship between dogs and people, but helps reduce the likelihood of bites from occurring."
In addition to potential physical and emotional injury, dog bites can be costly. Janet Ruiz, director of strategic communications at the Insurance Information Institute, reported that in 2021, the number of dog bite and related injury claims was 17,989, a 2.2% increase from 2020 with the total cost of claims at $882 million and the average cost per claim of $49,025. The average cost per claim decreased for the first time in 10 years by 1.1% from 2020. California, Florida and Texas had the most claims. "Education and training for owners and pets is key to keep everyone safe and healthy," said Ruiz.
In 2021, State Farm paid over $161 million dollars for over 3,260 dog-related injury claims. Those may be dog bites or they could also be injuries from a dog accidentally pulling someone down the stairs or off a curb.
"As the largest property insurer in the country, State Farm is committed to educating people about pet owner responsibility and how to safely interact with dogs," said Heather Paul, public affairs specialist at State Farm. "It is important to recognize that any dog, including ones that are in the home, can bite or cause injury. Every dog has a unique personality and while breed or type may dictate how they look, how a dog reacts isn't guaranteed by those qualities."
"While dog bites are a serious public health issue, the good news is that most dog bites are preventable," said AVMA President Dr. Arce. "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."
For more information on preventing dog bites and National Dog Bite Prevention Week, visit AVMA.org/DogBitePrevention.