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Any Dog Can Bite: Strategies to Protect Your Family

May 21, 2012

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Dr. Melissa Bain, shown with her dog Thumper, treats dogs, cats and other pets for aggression, separation anxiety and other behavior disorders in the Behavior Service. She is a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists.

May 18, 2012

More than 4.7 million people each year are bitten by dogs, and up to 1 million individuals seek medical treatment for dog bites. According to one study, half of children between 4 and 18 years old reported having been bitten by a dog.

National Dog Bite Prevention Week May 20-27, 2012 is the right time to dispel myths about dog bites and take preventive measures to protect family, friends and the public health.

One study states that the vast majority of victims were bitten by a dog that they knew, not a stray dog roaming the streets. Children and seniors are most likely to be bitten.

Dog bites accounted for more than one-third of all homeowners insurance liability claims paid out in 2009, costing $412 million and up 6.4 percent from 2008, according to the Insurance Information Institute, which reported paying  $24,840 per claim in 2009.

Melissa Bain, DVM, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist and chief of the Behavior Service at the William R. Pritchard Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, explains, "All dogs have the potential bite. It is important that owners of dogs be aware of their dog's behavior, and to take steps to prevent bites from happening. If they are concerned, they should seek help from their veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist."

Adults and children can learn to avoid or deal with situations that might lead to dog bites.

Bain joins the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Humane Society of the United States in reminding pet owners and other members of the public of some tips on how to avoid dog bites: 

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 without direct adult supervision
  • Talk to your veterinarian about the best ways to socialize your puppy and keep it healthy
  • Introduce animals to new situations gradually
  • When out and about, be aware of others around you; obey leash laws
  • Neuter your pet, as it may help reduce some aggression in dogs (not to mention helping reduce pet overpopulation)
  • Learn to read your dog’s body language so that you will be aware of potential situations that could lead to 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 behavior tendencies
  • 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, resting, or caring for its puppies

If you encounter an aggressive dog

  • Stay still and calm. Children can learn to stand very still and "be a post" or "be a rock" until the animal leaves
  • Stay quiet, or speak in a low, calm 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 the bicycle 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 School of Veterinary Medicine's Behavior Service provides consultation and behavior therapy for a wide range of behavioral problems in companion animals. Veterinary behavior services are available in Davis at the William R. Pritchard Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital.

Appointments are available at (530) 752-1393 or through your pet's veterinarian.

Who is most likely to be bitten by a dog?

The Centers for Disease Control website contains detailed information on dog bites, a serious public health problem, including statistics on dog bite injuries and deaths, who is most likely to be bitten, and other information.

One of the CDC fact sheets concerns choosing an appropriate pet and practicing responsible pet ownership,

The American Veterinary Association also contains consumer guidelines about dog bite prevention,

The AVMA also assigned its Task Force on Canine Aggression and Human-Canine Interactions, which has authored the paper, "A Community Approach to Dog Bite Prevention." A PDF version of the paper is available at 

About the Behavior Service

The mission of the Clinical Animal Behavior Service is threefold:

  • To educate veterinary students, veterinarians in behavior residency programs, veterinarians and veterinary staff, and the general public in scientifically-based humane behavior modification techniques 
  • To diagnose and treat client-owned animals with problem behaviors using the most current scientific and humane behavior modification techniques
  • To perform and disseminate evidence-based results of research in clinical animal behavior

Please join the UC Davis Behavior Service Facebook page.

In the news: Insurance companies report sharp rise in dog bite claims,