We would like to introduce you to a Guest Blogger- Dr. Amanda Florsheim, owner of Veterinary Behavior Solutions*
While dogs may be man’s best friend, the number of dog bites reported in the country has swelled to the level of a public health crisis. Currently, more than 4.5 million people in the US are bitten by dogs each year. Of those bites, at least 800,000 require medical attention; 400,000 of those are children. Children and senior citizens are the most common dog bite victims. Half of all bites are inflicted by the family dog. To help reduce these numbers, we need education on both the canine and the human end of the leash.
Aggression in dogs comes from a combination of factors – genetics, early socialization, experience and how people interact with them. Puppy socialization and continued training using appropriate methods helps dogs learn to respond appropriately in a wide variety of situations. On the human end of the leash, educating ourselves on dog behavior is just as important. Unfortunately, there is a wealth of misinformation available on TV, online and from our friends and families. Understanding why dogs behave the way they do from a scientific perspective is essential in diffusing situations that could lead to a bite. Seek information from reputable sources, such as the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, the American Society of Veterinary Behaviorists and Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists.
There is no such thing as an aggressive breed of dog. While there is a great deal of focus on Pit Bulls and other bully breeds in the media, many reports on breeds involved in bite incidents have been shown to be inaccurate. Some dogs have been genetically selected for aggressive behaviors, which must be kept in mind, but this does not mean that focusing on these breeds will decrease the risk of bite incidents. Breed-specific legislation has been shown to be ineffective at reducing bite statistics and several communities that have implemented these have since repealed them. On the flip side, there is also no such thing as a breed that cannot be aggressive. Assuming a dog is safe because they are “the right breed” versus monitoring that dog’s behavior and knowing that dog’s history puts everyone around that dog at increased risk.
Reducing dog bites to children is paramount. Many of us grew up influenced by the Lassie myth – an image of dogs as completely trustworthy and seeking out only the best interest of our children. Facebook and Instagram pages are loaded with pictures of young children and dogs that most remark are “adorable!” or “too cute!” but are in fact very dangerous situations. Recently, a client sent a picture of her dog with a generalized anxiety disorder and her 18 month old grandchild toddling over to the dog. The dog was backed into a corner, diverting her eyes and her body appeared tense. The client passed along the picture as an example of cute the interaction was but the dog appeared terrified and had nowhere but through the toddler to escape if needed. As adults, it is our responsibility to set up both our dogs and our children for success when they interact. Children and dogs should never be left unattended and adults should educate themselves on canine body language that could indicate a dog is uncomfortable in a given situation.
Reducing the incidence of dog bites is everyone’s responsibility. Prior to approaching a dog and petting them, ask the owner if it is ok. Monitor dogs on leash for a yellow or red leash – these can be indications that the dog is not comfortable with new people approaching. If you have a child, do not leave them unattended with a dog, even a dog that you and the child may know quite well. If you have a puppy, involve them in an appropriate socialization class early on (prior to 16 weeks of age and preferably before 12) so that they get the opportunity to learn about new people, dogs and situations