Question. How many people die every year as a result of dog bites? Answer. Ten to 20 people die every year as a result of dog bites in the U.S.
By far, the majority of the victims are children. In a three-year period between 1999 and 2001, 33 people died after being bitten by a dog. A vast majority of these victims (24 of 33) were under 12 years of age. Question. Why do some dogs bite? Answer.
There are many reasons why a dog bites. Dogs bite out of fear or to protect their territory or to establish their dominance over the person bitten. Some owners mistakenly teach their dogs that biting is an acceptable form of play behavior. And every year a number of newborn infants die when they are bitten by dogs who see them as "prey." Because dog bites occur for a variety of reasons, many components of responsible dog ownership—including proper socialization, supervision, humane training, sterilization, and safe confinement—are necessary to prevent biting. Question.
Which dogs most commonly bite? Are some breeds more likely to bite than others? Answer. The breeds most commonly involved in both bite injuries and fatalities changes from year to year and from one area of the country to another, depending on the popularity of the breed. Although genetics do play some part in determining whether a dog will bite, other factors such as whether the animal is spayed or neutered, properly socialized, supervised, humanely trained, and safely confined play significantly greater roles. Responsible dog ownership of all breeds is the key to dog bite prevention. Question.
How can local laws prevent dog bites? Answer. The most effective dangerous dog laws are those that place the legal responsibility for a dog's actions on the owner rather than on the dog. The best laws hold the owner accountable for the bite victim's pain and suffering, and mandate certain corrective actions such as spay/neuter and proper confinement of the dog.
For more information on legislation that will effectively reduce dog bites in your community, contact The HSUS. For guidance on developing a dog bite prevention plan in your community, read the American Veterinary Medical Association's A Community Approach to Dog Bite Prevention. Question. What should I do if I am bitten by a dog? Answer. If you are bitten or attacked by a dog, try not to panic.
► Immediately wash the wound thoroughly with soap and warm water. ► Contact your physician for additional care and advice. ► Report the bite to your local animal care and control agency. Tell the animal control official everything you know about the dog, including his owner's name and the address where he lives. If the dog is a stray, tell the animal control official what the dog looks like, where you saw him, whether you've seen him before, and in which direction he went.
Question. Can children be taught to avoid being bitten by a dog? Answer. Yes, just as we teach our children to practice safety in other situations, we can teach them to be safe around dogs. The most important lessons for children to learn are not to chase or tease dogs they know and to avoid dogs they don't know. Question.
Is there any way I can "bite-proof" my dog? Answer. There is no way to guarantee that your dog will never bite someone. But you can significantly reduce the risk. Here's how: ► Spay or neuter your dog. This important procedure will reduce your dog's desire to roam and fight with other dogs, making safe confinement an easier task. Spayed or neutered dogs are three times less likely to bite.
► Socialize your dog. Introduce your dog to many different types of people and situations so that he or she is not nervous or frightened under normal social circumstances. ► Train your dog. Accompanying your dog to a training class is an excellent way to socialize him and to learn proper training techniques. Training your dog is a family matter.
Every member of your household should learn the training techniques and participate in your dog's education. ► Never send your dog away to be trained; only you can teach your dog how to behave in your home. ► Teach your dog appropriate behavior. Don't play aggressive games with your dog such as wrestling, tug-of-war, or "siccing" your dog on another person. Set appropriate limits for your dog's behavior.
Don't wait for an accident. The first time he exhibits dangerous behavior toward any person, particularly toward children, seek professional help from your veterinarian, an animal behaviorist, or a qualified dog trainer. Your community animal care and control agency or humane society may also offer helpful services.
Dangerous behavior toward other animals may eventually lead to dangerous behavior toward people, and is also a reason to seek professional help. ► Be a responsible dog owner. License your dog as required by law, and provide regular veterinary care, including rabies vaccinations. For everyone's safety, don't allow your dog to roam. Make your dog a member of your family: Dogs who spend a great deal of time alone in the backyard or tied on a chain often become dangerous. Dogs who are well-socialized and supervised rarely bite.
► Err on the safe side. If you don't know how your dog will react to a new situation, be cautious. If your dog may panic in crowds, leave him at home. If your dog overreacts to visitors or delivery or service personnel, keep him in another room. Work with professionals to help your dog become accustomed to these and other situations. Until you are confident of his behavior, however, avoid stressful settings.
Question. What should I do if my dog bites someone? Answer. If your dog bites someone, act responsibly by taking these steps: ► Confine your dog immediately and check on the victim's condition.
If necessary, seek medical help. ► Provide the victim with important information, such as the date of your dog's last rabies vaccination. ► Cooperate with the animal control official responsible for acquiring information about your dog. If your dog must be quarantined for any length of time, ask whether he may be confined within your home or at your veterinarian's hospital. Strictly follow quarantine requirements for your dog. ► Seek professional help to prevent your dog from biting again.
Consult with your veterinarian, who may refer you to an animal behaviorist or a dog trainer. Your community animal care and control agency or humane society may also offer helpful services. ► If your dog's dangerous behavior cannot be controlled, do not give him to someone else without carefully evaluating that person's ability to protect him and prevent him from biting. a Because you know your dog is dangerous, you may be held liable for any damage he does even when he is given to someone else. ► Don't give your dog to someone who wants a dangerous dog.
"Mean" dogs are often forced to live miserable, isolated lives, and become even more likely to attack someone in the future. If you must give up your dog due to dangerous behavior, consult with your veterinarian and with your local animal care and control agency or humane society about your options.
Christopher M. Davis is the managing partner of Davis Law Group. He brings over 15 years of practical yet innovative experience to personal injury cases. He practices law in Seattle, WA. You can learn more about Mr. Davis at http://www.InjuryTrialLawyer.com or http://www.seattleaccidentnews.com. Copyright 2007 Christopher M. Davis.