Dog Bite Prevention Week


Current dog bite prevention strategies aren’t working – at least not enough.  Sadly, there’s increasing evidence that dog bite numbers are up, beyond the increased number of owned dogs. National Dog Bite Prevention Week is April 7 to 13, and I’ll be participating in two free webinars (described below).

For decades, the American Veterinary Medical Association and just about everyone else has been saying when seeing an unfamiliar dog, ask the handler, “can I pet your dog?” The advice is good. But clearly it’s not done the trick, otherwise bite numbers – including fatalities – wouldn’t be on the rise.

My idea is now – ask the dog, “can I pet you?”

If the dog is merely looking the other way, and reaching to the end of the leash in the opposite direction, that dog is saying, “I’d rather not interact.”

Perhaps, there are other signs – a stiffened brow, tail tucked, ears down, etc. Dogs are always communicating with us, the problem is that we don’t either pay attention to what they’re saying or we don’t understand what they’re trying to tell us. The signaling may be subtle to us, but not necessarily from the dog’s perspective.

For example, a dog lunging (either toward a person or away from a person) and growling is obviously saying “keep away or I may bite.”  Most people – even children – know enough to keep away from that dog. The dog described above that is merely looking the other way and acting uninterested might actually be saying the same thing, “keep away or I may bite.”

And what’s more the level of the stress hormone cortisol might be the same in both dogs, the one who is acting ferocious and the one who is far more subtle about not wanting to interact.

Just as anxious humans may act out on their feelings differently from one another, the same is true in dogs.

Even if the dog doesn’t bite – but offering a myriad of signals asking not to interact, it’s disrespectful to pursue.

In conjunction with Fear Free, there’s another new idea, S.T.O.P.P:

stop – talk – observe – plan – pet

New Data

Just released data from California shows increased rates of emergency room visits, hospitalizations, and even deaths from dog bites, with new records set after COVID lockdowns. In 2022, there were 48,596 ER visits for dog bites in California, or 125 visits per 100,000 residents, a 70 percent increase in the rate of visits from 2005, according to the state Department of Health Care Access and Information.

Although deaths from dog bites are extremely rare, the death rate in California rose an astounding 70 percent from 2006 to 2022..

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, comparing 2011 with 2021, between 2011 and 2018, the number of dog bite related deaths hovered around 20, on average nationally. Unfortunately, 2018 through 2021, national deaths resulting from dog bites more than doubled. While the number of dogs has significantly risen, that number has not doubled.

So, why more dog bites and also significant bites?

Animal shelters and rescues, particularly those self-identified as no-kill – will do all they can to adopt dogs, which is consistent with their mission statements and what donors want. So, dog trainers are given a limited amount of time to “rehab” aggressive dogs. Given restricted time frames and/or knowledge these trainers successfully temporary put a cork on that the aggression using aversive training methods and equipment like shock collars. Then dogs – presumably rehabbed – are adopted into homes. However, instead of truly adjusting brain chemistry and therefore changing behavior, the trainers through intimidation only suppress the behavior, that is until the cork pops.

So many dogs were adopted into homes during the pandemic – which is a good thing but many of these dogs were also never properly socialized.

As we continue to spay/neuter dogs (important to prevent unwanted litters), often times dogs who do breed are hardly the best of the best, and may actually be the worst regrading their temperaments. There is a genetic component to temperament.

California state data and a recent study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association public health researchers show that, in California (like throughout the country) children and young adults are the age groups most likely to make ER visits for dog bites. Much of the time when there are serious bites to young children, there was no adult supervision when the dog attacked, and the dog might have been provoked (from the dog’s point of view). Also, more deliveries coming to homes may play a role.

Interestingly, according to California data, serious Dog Bite Injuries Are More Common in Rural California . The rate of ER encounters for dog bites in 2022 was almost 50 percent higher in counties with fewer than 200,000 people. One explanation might be that dogs in rural areas are often not as socialized as their urban cousins. Rural residents also tend to have more dogs.

Free Webinars

April 11: I will moderate a panel of experts for the American Veterinary Medical Association Dog Bite Prevention Week Join here, noon CT, 1 p.m. ET, 11 am MT, 10 a.m PT.  Join free Facebook Live event. Participants include veterinary behaviorist Dr. Melissa Bain; Incoming AVMA President Dr. Sandra Faeh; Heather Paul, media relations specialist at State Farm; dog trainer and TV host Victoria Stilwell, and Janet Ruiz, director of strategic communications at the Insurance Information Institute

April 11 Steve presents a Fear Free event, a Free Webinar: Building Trust, Preventing Bites: ​​​​​​​Proactive Dog Bite Prevention and Handling Strategies -on dog bite prevention S.T.O.P.P. and Ask the Dog 3 p.m. ET; 2 p.m. CT; 1 p.m. MT and noon PT.