National Dog Bite Prevention Week takes place during the third full week of May each year, and focuses on educating people about preventing dog bites. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), "with an estimated population of 70 million dogs living in U.S. households, millions of people, most of them children, are bitten by dogs every year. The majority of these bites, if not all, are preventable."
Dog Bite Facts:
- Each year, more than 4.5 million people in the U.S. are bitten by dogs.
- Almost 1 in 5 people bitten by dogs require medical attention.
- Every year, more than 800,000 Americans receive medical attention for dog bites; at least half of them are children.
- Children are, by far, the most common victims of dog bites and are far more likely to be severely injured.
- Most dog bites affecting young children occur during everyday activities and while interacting with familiar dogs.
Many children are very comfortable around dogs because they may have a dog at home or a family member or neighbor has a dog they are exposed to. Unfortunately, children assume every dog is nice and approachable. It is important for children to learn boundaries and rules when it comes to unfamiliar dogs.
Here are a few tips that you can use to help children understand the importance of respecting dogs and avoiding bites:
- Avoid unknown dogs. If they see a dog they don’t know and it is wandering around loose and unsupervised, avoid the dog and consider leaving the area.
- Always ask an owner for permission to pet their dog. Don’t ever pet a dog without asking first, even if it is a dog they know, or a dog that has seemed friendly toward them before.
- Teach children to confidently, quietly, walk away if they are confronted by an aggressive dog. Instruct them to stand still if a dog goes after them. It often helps to tell them to “be a tree”. Instruct them to stand quietly, with their hands low and clasped in front of them, remain still, and keep their head down as if looking at their feet. If they are knocked down, teach them to cover their head and neck with their arms and curl into a ball.
- Teach children to avoid escalating the situation by yelling, running, hitting, or making sudden movements toward the dog.
- Teach children boundaries with family dogs. Enforce the idea that the pet's bed or crate is the dog’s space and they are to be left alone. A dog needs a comfortable, safe place where the child never goes.
- Educate children at a level they can understand. Don’t expect young children to be able to accurately read a dogs’ body language. Instead, focus on gentle behavior and that dogs have likes and dislikes and help them develop understanding of dog behavior as they grow older.
- Teach children never to tease dogs by taking their toys, food or treats, or by pretending to hit or kick.
- Teach children to never pull a dog’s ears or tail, climb on or try to ride them.
- Tell children to leave the dog alone when it’s asleep or eating.
- Don't encourage children to pretend small dogs are dolls. Most dogs do not like to be carried around or dressed up.
- Don’t give children too much responsibility for pets too early. Always supervise and check on pet care responsibilities given to children to ensure they are carried out.
The AVMA offers a couple of great resources for parents to help educate themselves and their children about preventing dog bites. The Blue Dog Parent Guide and CD helps both parents and children safely interact with dogs inside and outside the home. There is also the Bilingual Dog Bite Prevention activity/coloring book to help educate children about National Dog Bite Prevention Month and year long safety.
Although many dog bites are preventable, there are situations such as this that are not avoidable.
It is important to seek immediate medical attention as soon as the bite occurs no matter how small the wound is. Be sure to properly identify the dog and where it lives (if possible) to your child's physician and law enforcement.
The most important lessons about bite prevention start at home and start with you, the parent. Education is the key to keeping our children safe not only during National Dog Bite Prevention Week but every day of every week.
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