In bicycle-friendly communities such as Davis, California, residents enjoy recreation and transportation by bicycle. Cyclists, however, may encounter dogs ready to chase a bike or even attack, and bike riders are among the more than 4.7 million people each year—most of them children—who are bitten by dogs. 800,000 individuals seek medical treatment for dog bites each year, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Animal behavior specialists at UC Davis explain that any dog can bite, and no guarantee exists that a dog, having bitten, will never bite again—even after extensive training. Biting is part of a dog's "vocabulary," says Melissa Bain, DVM, DACVB, MS, Assistant Professor of Clinical Animal Behavior. She is chief of service in the Behavior Service at the William R. Pritchard Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital.
Many cases of aggression, she states, can be helped with appropriate diagnosis and behavior modification designed to reduce the risk of bites. People—children, too—can be educated to avoid or deal with situations that might lead to dog bites.
During National Dog Bite Prevention Week, UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine joins the American Veterinary Medical Association and the Humane Society of the United States in reminding pet owners and other members of the public of the following safety tips.
If you own a dog
- Learn about dog bite prevention, including the basics of responsible ownership and veterinary care.
- Never leave a child or baby alone with a dog.
- Talk to your veterinarian about the best ways to socialize your puppy and keep it healthy.
- Introduce young animals to new situations gradually.
- When out and about, be aware of others around you; obey leash laws.
- Neuter your pet. The American Veterinary Medical Association states that neutered dogs are less likely to bite.
- Learn to read your dog’s body language so that you will be aware of potential situations that could lead to animal aggression.
- Teach young children to be cautious and respectful around dogs, staying away from strange dogs and asking owner permission before petting an unfamiliar dog.
Respect a dog’s natural instincts
Whether or not they own pets, adults should teach children to respect a dog’s natural instincts. Do not disturb an animal that is eating, sleeping or caring for its puppies.
If you encounter an aggressive dog
- Stay still and calm. Children can learn to “be a post” or “be a log” until the animal leaves.
- Stay quiet, or speak in a low, firm voice.
- Avoid eye contact with the animal.
- Try to put something between you and the dog. If you are on a bicycle and a dog chases you, stop and dismount. Use the bicycle as a barrier between you and the animal.
- Back away slowly, and remain facing the animal until it is gone.
- If you fall or are knocked down, curl into a ball and use your hands and arms to protect the face, neck and head.
Understanding an animal’s natural behaviors is an important step in training pets and strengthening the human-animal bond.
The Behavior Service provides consultation and behavior therapy for a wide range of behavioral problems in small animal patients through the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital. Our board-certified veterinary behaviorists are among an elite group of only 50 board-certified veterinarians nationwide in this specialty.
Appointments may be arranged through your veterinarian or by calling the Small Animal Clinic, (530) 752-1393.
Fact sheet (PDF) on "Your Nipping Puppy"
Fact sheet (PDF) on "The Truth about Aggression and Dominance in Dogs"