Sunday was the start of National Dog Bite Prevention Week®, and Mom already did her part to prevent dog bites by sending Barry and Mel to Pooches' Paradise during our picnic! But really, everybody needs to be careful all the time and try to prevent dog bites, not just during this one special week.
Last year I wrote a rather excellent post about dog bites and how to keep them from happening. But since this is such an important subject, I think it's worth writing about again. An average of 4.5 million people get bitten by dogs every single year, and one in five of those people has to get medical care. This is what happened to Mom when she got bitten by that dog at the shelter last summer, and she had to go to the doctor to get some antibiotics.
The people that dogs bite the most are (1) children, (2) old people, and (3) mail carriers. So there are all sorts of groups who are helping sponsor National Dog Bite Prevention Week®, including the US Postal Service, the American Veterinary Medical Association, pediatricians, plastic surgeons, and insurance companies. Also Victoria Stilwell, who has a program on Animal Planet called It's Me or the Dog, is being part of the campaign against dog bites. Ms. Stilwell only uses training methods that are based on positive reinforcement. She feels that if you force dogs to do stuff by yanking on their collars or rolling them over on their backs, you are just making them feel scared and stressed. Which means they are more likely to bite you.
The USPS is very interested in preventing dog bites because about 10 letter carriers get hurt by dogs every single day. The most common way this happens is that a person goes to the door and opens it to take their mail from the carrier, and then the person's dog rushes out past them and bites the mail carrier. So the way to solve this problem is either to keep your door closed when the mail comes or to put your dog someplace safe before you open the door.
The Postal Service put out a list of the top 10 cities where dogs have attacked mail carriers, and guess what! The number one city is my own hometown of Houston! Of course, this doesn't exactly make me proud, and I hope you don't think I'm the kind of girl who would ever bite the mailman. But anyway, here's the top ten list, with the number of bites in each city during 2010:
1. Houston, TX - 62
2. Columbus, OH, and San Diego, CA - 45 each
3. Los Angeles, CA - 44
4. Louisville, KY - 40
5. San Antonio, TX, and St. Louis, MO - 39 each
6. Cleveland, OH, and Phoenix, AZ - 38 each
7. Minneapolis, MN, and Portland, OR - 35 each
8. Denver, CO, and Philadelphia, PA - 31 each
9. Sacramento, CA - 30
10. Seattle, WA - 28
Anyway, like I said in my post last year about dog bites, there are a lot of things you can do to make dogs less likely to bite you. But today I want to just talk about what to do when you meet a dog that you don't know, because a lot of times people get bitten when they are meeting new dogs.
If the dog is with its owner, you should ask if you can pet the dog before you try to do that. And even if the owner says it's okay, you should approach the dog slowly and calmly and watch to see if the dog seems afraid of you. Because dogs who are afraid are mostly the ones who bite, since they might think you are threatening.
And also, a dog who is with his human might think the human needs to be protected, and that's another reason you might get bitten. So if the dog is sort of cowering or seems uneasy or especially if it growls, DON'T TRY TO PET IT! And don't have that silly idea that "dogs always like me" and force yourself on the dog.
A lot of people, when they are coming up to a new dog, hold out their hand for the dog to sniff. And they often tell kids to do this, too. Personally, I think this is a dumb thing to do because as I have told you before, dogs have Very Good Noses, so we can smell a person perfectly well without needing to have a hand stuck under our noses. And if someone reaches out toward us, it can be kind of frightening, and we might just decide to bite that hand.
The same is true if you reach out to pet a dog on the head, because in dog language, this is a sign of dominance, and some dogs don't react well to being dominated by someone they only just met. So if you are going to pet a new dog, you should do it on his neck or back or side or maybe give him a little scritch under the chin. This way, you will not seem like a threat, and the dog will not be thinking about whether to use his weapons of defense.
If you see a dog that is just roaming around loose, without its person, you should be even more careful about how you go up to that dog. And this is because a dog that is lost is probably very scared and nervous. Except that sometimes a lost dog might be happy to have found somebody to rescue him, and he will be really friendly. But you have to know how to read doggy body language so that you can stay safe.
Well, that's pretty much all I'm going to say right now about preventing dog bites. Just remember that ANY DOG WILL BITE if the situation seems threatening enough. And just because your beloved, faithful dog has never bitten you, that doesn't mean he might not bite somebody else sometime.