Becoming educated about the a dog’s body language, understanding how to properly behave around dogs, and knowing what to do if a potential dog attack is imminent can reduce the risk of a dog bite. Dog bites can result in significant injuries and infections that sometimes leave victims with long term or permanent suffering. Sometimes these attacks even result in death. Children between the ages of 5 and 9 years old are at the highest risk for becoming victims of dog bites. Since more than half of these dog attacks occur with familiar pets at home, or while visiting friends or family, it is essential that dog owners, parents, and other individuals who come in contact with dogs work together to increase safety and reduce the risk of dog bites.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 4.5 million individuals are bitten by dogs each year in the United States. While some breeds of dogs are more likely to inflict serious, or even deadly injuries, even the smallest, friendliest of dogs can attack under certain circumstances.
Understanding Dog Body Language
In many situations, dogs will show physical signs that they may be preparing to attack. Understanding a dog’s behavior can help prevent individuals from being bitten. Signs of an impending dog attack include:
- Dog’s head or ears are pulled back
- Tail is stiff
- Dog is bearing its teeth
- Dog is slowly backing away
- Dog’s fur on its back is standing up or “puffed” out
While many dogs show a mixture of these signs, individuals should be aware that some dogs might show no sign of attack at all. Crouched posture or a wagging tail might even occur right before an attack.
Safe Behavior to Prevent Dog Attacks
Even the friendliest of dogs might attack if they feel intimidated, threatened or anxious. That’s why it is important to practice safe behavior around all dogs- even those who are familiar. Additionally, young children should never be left unsupervised around dogs. Other behaviors to avoid include:
- Unfortunately, taking a toy, food or bone away from a seemingly friendly pet is all too tempting for many kids, and quickly approaching sleeping dogs or reaching out to young puppies seems harmless. Parents and caregivers should teach children to never tease dogs, and never approach or try to play with dogs who are eating, sleeping, or caring for their young.
- Loud noises, like squeals or screams, and quick movements can make an unsuspecting dog feel threatened, increasing the chance for a dog attack. Children should be taught to never make sudden movements and avoid high pitched noises when near a dog.
- When petting an unfamiliar dog, children should be extra cautious. They should always ask the owner of the dog before approaching, and if the owner or guardian is not available, children should avoid interacting with the dog altogether. When the child has permission to pet the dog, he or she should allow the dog to sniff a closed hand first to establish familiarity. Even then, children should avoid petting a dog on its snout or head, opting for the shoulders or back instead.
- Individuals should never try to pet a dog who is in a fenced yard or inside of a vehicle. Dogs often try to protect their territory and can become more prone to attack if they feel their space is threatened.
When a Potential Dog Attack is suspected
Unfortunately, some dogs try to attack even when they are not provoked in any way. Knowing what to do if a dog becomes aggressive can help reduce the risk for significant injuries, and might even prevent the attack altogether.
If an aggressive dog approaches, the individual should never scream or try to outrun the dog. Instead, the victim should avoid making eye contact- which can challenge a dog, and stand as still as possible. Once the dog loses interest, it will move away, and the individual can slowly retreat to safety.
If the dog does attack, the individual should attempt to put anything that is available in between his or her body and the aggressive canine. This can be anything from a bicycle or lawn chair to a jacket or bag. If the individual is knocked to the ground, he should quickly curl up into a ball and tuck his knees tightly into his stomach. Interlocking the fingers behind the individual’s neck and using the elbows to protect the face and throat can significantly reduce the seriousness of injuries. In fact, these actions may even cause the dog to simply sniff the victim and walk away.
In Nevada, dog bites fall under the umbrella of negligence laws. Dog owners who are proven to be negligent can be held liable for the injuries caused by their dogs.