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Family and Children's
Resource Program

Vol. 21, No. 2
April 2016

Staying Safe Around Dogs

According to the Centers for Disease Control (2015), approximately 4.5 million dog bites occur each year in the U.S. Dog bites cause not only pain and injury, but infection as well. Almost 20% of dog bites become infected.

Here are some suggestions for staying safe around dogs and preventing bites.

Those Most at Risk for Dog Bites

  • Children are more likely than adults to be treated for dog bites. Among children, the rate of dog-bite injuries is highest for those 5 to 9 years old.
  • Men are more likely than women to be bitten by a dog.
  • Dog owners. More than half of dog bites occur at home and are delivered by dogs we know. The more dogs you have, the greater your chances of being bitten. People with two or more dogs are five times more likely to be bitten than those with no dogs. Nearly half of U.S. households owned at least one dog in 2012 (Trotto, 2015).

Source: Centers for Disease Control, 2015

Preventing Dog Bites
To avoid being bitten, it helps to know there are dogs present in the first place. When arriving at a family's home--and if possible, before exiting your car--look for signs of dogs, such as the presence of a dog house, waste, chains, food dishes, footprints, chew/tug toys, etc.

If a dog is present and you are concerned about it, ask the family to place the dog in a separate room behind a closed door.

Interacting with Dogs
The Humane Society (2015) emphasizes it is important to respect a dog's personal space. Don't approach an unfamiliar dog without the owner's permission, especially if it is tied up or behind a fence. Never pet a dog without first letting it see and sniff you. Do not disturb a dog that is caring for puppies, eating, sleeping, or chewing on a toy.

Be careful around strange dogs. Always assume dogs who don't know you see you as an intruder or a threat.

If an Unfamiliar Dog Approaches
If an unfamiliar dog approaches you and you do not want to interact with it:

  • Remain motionless (i.e., "be still like a tree").
  • Do not panic or make loud noises.
  • Avoid direct eye contact with the dog.
  • Say "No" or "Go Home" in a firm, deep voice.
  • Stand with the side of your body facing the dog. Facing a dog directly can appear aggressive to the dog. Instead, keep your body turned partially or completely to the side.
  • Slowly raise your hands to your neck, your elbows in.
  • Wait for the dog to pass or slowly back away.

Source: Centers for Disease Control, 2015

Danger Signs
Be alert to a dog's body language. The following indicate a dog is uncomfortable and might feel the need to bite:

  • Intense stare
  • Pulled back head and/or ears
  • Tensed body
  • Stiff tail
  • Eyes rolled so the whites are showing
  • Furrowed brow
  • Flicking tongue
  • Yawning
  • Backing away

Source: Humane Society, 2015

Responding to an Unfriendly Dog
If you see any of the above signs, your goal should be to put space between yourself and the dog. However, the Humane Society (2015) advises you to resist the impulse to scream or run away. Do not turn your back or run--a dog's natural impulse will be to chase you. Instead, remain motionless, hands at your sides, and avoid eye contact. Once the dog loses interest, slowly back away until it is out of sight.

If a Dog Attacks
If a dog attacks:

  • Put your purse, bag, or jacket between you and the dog to protect yourself. If you have time, wrap your jacket around your forearm and use that forearm to fend off the attack.
  • Knee the dog in the chest or deliver a hard kick to the nose, throat, or ribs.
  • If you are knocked down, curl into a ball with your head tucked in and your hands over your ears and neck.

Source: Centers for Disease Control, 2015; Vermont Agency of Human Services, n.d.

After a Dog Attack
When you get to a safe place, wash wounds with soap and water. Report the incident immediately and seek medical attention, especially if the wound is serious, becomes red, painful, warm, or swollen, or you develop a fever. Because rabies may be an issue, consider contacting your local animal control agency or police department to report the incident (Centers for Disease Control, 2015; Vermont Agency of Human Services, n. d.).

References for this and other articles in this issue