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Bark Bytes… Taking The Bite Out Of The Dog

Even though dogs are man’s best friend, they have been known to bite their owners, strangers and other dogs.  In fact, every year more than 4 million people suffer a dog bite, with small children and the elderly among the most frequent targets.  One out of every 5 of those bites requires medical attention and a trip to the emergency room and more than 30,000 victims require reconstructive surgery.

Family members and/or friends are often bitten in their own homes.  Children (particularly boys ages 5-9) are three times more likely than adults to be seriously bitten (mainly in the face or neck) because children are around the same height as a dog and they can crawl into small, low places where dogs can reach them.

Dogs bite for a reason – most do so out of fear.  They often bite as they misinterpret what is actually happening at that time.  While familiar dogs are most likely the culprit, it’s also important that you take the necessary measures to lessen the likelihood of a bite in cases where you are approached by a strange dog.

Should a dog approach you, here are some tips to keep you safe:

  • Don’t turn and run…the dog will think it is a game and chase you.
  • Stand still with your hands by your side. Generally, this will lead the dog to turn away when he realizes you are not a threat.
  • Don’t put your hand out – just allow the dog to approach you to sniff you.
  • Don’t scream or get excited. Speak calmly.
  • Back away slowly, watching the dog from the corner of your eye, until the dog is out of sight. Do not stare at the dog and avoid eye contact.

If you are bitten by a dog, it is not a good idea to try to catch the dog on your own.  Instead, if, possible, try to take a picture of the dog and then call animal control or 911 so the dog can be contained and tested for rabies.

Tips for Parents:

  • Never leave a baby or small child alone with a dog.
  • Never allow young children to discipline a dog.
  • Never let your children play with a dog if he is eating or feeding his/her puppies.
  • Never allow your child to walk a dog unsupervised. You never know what other dog may appear along the walk.
  • Remind your child that a dog is not a horse; therefore, he should not be ridden or annoyed by pulling on his tail or collar.
  • Never allow your child to approach an unfamiliar dog.
  • Never allow your child to play aggressively with any dog.

Understand that many puppies nip as part of their development.  Generally, this occurs when they are teething or during rough play.  It is important that you spend time educating your puppy and teaching him acceptable ways to play without using his mouth.  You will need to work with your dog to establish your good leadership.

To deter your puppy from nipping, never use a physical reprimand like hitting or pushing.  Doing so could give your dog more reason to think he should be physical to you which may result in him biting you.  Instead, use good body language and an effective tone to communicate your dog’s mistake.  Then guide your dog to an appropriate item to chew.

If your dog snaps at or bites you, don’t overreact.  Remain calm and still – assuming it’s not a serious bite.  When the situation has diffused, calmly step back and try to determine WHY your dog bit – What were you doing at that moment?  How did you approach the dog?  What was the dog doing at the time?  Was there a ‘resource’ or high value item near the dog?  Is your dog aging or in pain (ear, tooth, joints, etc.)?

Dogs are wonderful companions and respond well to consistent training and leadership.  By acting responsibly with dogs you not only reduce the number of dog bites, but also enhance the relationship you can have with your canine companion.

Vicki and Richard Horowitz, of Woodbridge, are dog behavioral therapists and trainers with Bark Busters, the world’s largest dog training company.  For more information, call 1-877-500-BARK (2275) or visit

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