Avoiding bites takes brains, awareness

Posted: Sunday, June 08, 2003

They may be our best friends, but that doesn't mean there is no risk of injury from canine companions.

The Humane Society of the United States estimates that 4.7 million Americans are bitten by dogs each year, ranging from minor nips to major attacks.

Children rank first among dog bite victims, followed by the elderly and then letter carriers.

According to the American Veter-inary Medical Association, approximately 334,000 people are admitted to U.S. emergency departments annually with dog-bite associated injuries.

Another 466,000 are seen in other medical settings. On average, a dozen people are fatally attacked by dogs each year.

The statistics are alarming, but are put in perspective when compared against the 104,800,995 dogs the U.S. Census Bureau reports are owned in America.

There are several safety tips that can greatly reduce the chances of a dog bite incident.

People thinking about getting a canine companion should do some research or ask a veterinarian's advice about which kind of dog best suits your lifestyle and family.

Socializing your dog can make it feel at ease around people and other animals.

There are numerous resources available such as dog training, obedience and agility classes, that can teach dogs proper behavior and help owners control their pets in any situation.

Spaying and neutering dogs can help. According to the HSUS, dogs that aren't spayed or neutered are up to three times more likely to be involved in a dog bite incident.

Don't let your dog roam free. Keep it on a leash when not in the house or confined to a fenced-in yard. Avoid tethering dogs for long periods of time, since it has been reported this can frequently lead to aggressive behavior.

Don't put your dog in situations where it can be harassed or teased, or where it may feel threatened. Many of the annual dog bites occur defensively rather than offensively.

Make sure your dog is healthy and take it for regular check-ups and vaccinations. Illness, injury and pain can make a dog more likely to bite.

For people who don't own a dog, there are many things to keep in mind to reduce the risk of a bite.

Don't pet or approach a strange dog, especially one that is tied or confined behind a fence or in a car. Don't scream or run past a dog, since their natural instinct is to chase.

Be cautious around strange dogs. Always assume that a dog that isn't familiar with you will see you as an intruder or threat. If a dog threatens you, remain motionless, with arms at your side and avoid eye contact. Back away slowly until the dog is out of sight.

Don't disturb a dog that is sleeping, eating, chewing or caring for puppies.

Avoid sick or injured animals. It is better to call animal control officers and let them handle the situation then to risk injury by showing compassion.

Never leave children alone with pets. Although it is often the result of their own innocence, kids have a almost magical way of provoking a dog into biting.

Also, never attempt to break up a dog fight by putting yourself between the animals.

Separating fighting animals is a common source of dog bites.

Although you can never completely rule the chance of a dog bite as impossible, following these safety steps can make a bite more improbable.

Joseph Robertia is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion. He has worked with wildlife and domestic animals for more than 10 years as a veterinary technician, a zoo keeper, and most recently as a zoologist for the Wildlife Conser-vation Society. He welcomes any pet-related questions or story ideas, but please none of a veterinary nature. Ideas and questions can be sent to his attention by e-mail at clarion@alaska.net.

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