April 5, 2024

Experts Offer Prevention Tips Ahead of National Dog Bite Prevention Week

According to the latest data from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), 45 percent of US households include a dog or dogs, for a total of 88 million canine companions in the United States. While the vast majority of these dogs will coexist peacefully with us, dog bites remain a serious public health risk, with more than 4.5 million people bitten each year in the United States.

During National Dog Bite Prevention Week (April 7-13), a coalition of veterinarians, animal behavior experts and insurance representatives are urging people to understand the risks dog bites pose to people and other pets and to take steps to prevent bites from happening.

“Dogs are not just pets; they are beloved members of our households, providing joy, companionship and comfort in our lives,” said Dr. Rena Carlson, president of the AVMA. “While the reality is that any dog can bite, most such incidents are preventable. As we mark National Dog Bite Prevention Week, let’s commit to increasing our understanding of the issue and taking proactive steps towards prevention. Together, we can nurture the bonds we share with our dogs and ensure the safety of our families and communities.”

Join the discussion on Facebook Live

To assist in these efforts, members of the National Dog Bite Prevention Week Coalition—which includes the AVMA, State Farm®, Insurance Information Institute (Triple I) and Victoria Stilwell Positively—will be hosting a Facebook Live event on Thursday, April 11, at Noon Central.

The event, moderated by certified animal behavior consultant and radio host Steve Dale, will discuss training tips to help prevent bites, how to safely socialize your dog after a period of isolation and how to recognize the warning signs that a dog may bite. In addition, the coalition will be releasing the latest dog-related injury claims data. The panelists will also be answering questions submitted by the public during the event.

Dog bites and children

When it comes to dog bites, cases of bites to children are of particular concern. In fact, more than 50 percent of all dog-related injuries are to children, and  and for those under four years of age, those bites are often to vulnerable head and neck regions, which is why it is so important to never leave children unsupervised with dogs, even if they’re family pets.

To help protect young children from dog bites, the National Dog Bite Prevention Week Coalition is teaming up with the Center for Canine Behavior Studies to promote their new Be BiteSmart educational initiative. This initiative has launched its initial animated videos lesson—Paws to Prevent—for children ages 3 to 5 and parents. Coloring sheets that reinforce each lesson can also be downloaded. All videos and materials are free to anyone with Internet access. To view the Be BiteSmartSM video and download coloring materials, visit Be BiteSmart.

“Each year thousands of young children are bitten by a family dog, many of which were preventable,” said Dr. Nicholas Dodman, a veterinary behaviorist and Co-founder of the Center for Canine Behavior Studies. “Our educational videos focus on understanding canine body language that precipitates a reactionary bite. Collectively, we can reduce these occurrences benefiting both children, dogs and families.”

Tips to prevent dog bites

Dogs can bite for many reasons, including improper care or a lack of socialization. All dogs, even well-trained, gentle dogs, are capable of biting when provoked, especially when eating, sleeping or caring for puppies. Therefore, it’s vitally important to keep both children and dogs safe by preventing dog bites wherever possible. The National Dog Bite Prevention Week Coalition provides the following tips:

  • Make sure your pet is healthy. Not all illnesses and injuries are obvious, and dogs are more likely to bite if they are sick or in pain. If you haven’t been to the veterinarian in a while, schedule an appointment for a checkup to discuss your dog’s physical and behavioral health.
  • Prioritize proper socialization: Socialization involves gently introducing your dog to a range of settings, people and other animals and ensuring these experiences are positive. Whether it’s quietly observing the bustle of a park, meeting new people in a controlled manner or getting used to the sights and sounds of your neighborhood, each positive experience builds confidence. Remember, socialization is a lifelong journey, not just a puppy phase.
  • Take it slow. If your dog has been mainly interacting with your family since you brought them home, don’t rush out into crowded areas or dog parks. Try to expose your dogs to new situations slowly and for short periods of time, arrange for low-stress interactions and look for behaviors that indicate your dog is comfortable and happy to remain in the situation.
  • Understand your dog’s needs and educate yourself in positive training techniques. Recognize your dog’s body language and advocate for them in all situations. This will give your dog much needed skills and help you navigate any challenges you might encounter.
  • Be responsible about approaching other people’s pets. Ask permission from the owner before approaching a dog and look for signs that the dog wants to interact with you. Sometimes dogs want to be left alone, and we need to recognize and respect that.
  • Make sure that you are walking your dog on a leash and recognize changes in your dog’s body language indicating they may not be comfortable.
  • Always monitor your dog’s activity, even when they are in the backyard at your own house, because they can be startled by something, get out of the yard and possibly injure someone or be injured themselves.

“Part of my job as a dog trainer and behavior expert is to empower people with knowledge about the dogs with whom they share their lives,” said Victoria Stilwell, celebrity dog trainer and behavior expert. “And it’s this knowledge that not only enriches the relationship between dogs and people but helps reduce the likelihood of bites from occurring.”

Financial costs

In addition to the potential for physical or emotional harm, dog bites can be financially costly. Janet Ruiz, director of strategic communications at the Insurance Information Institute, reported that in 2023, the number of dog bite and related injury claims was 19,062, an increase of more than 8 percent from 2022 and a 110 percent increase in the past decade, with the total cost of claims at $1.12 billion. On a positive note, the average cost per claim decreased from $64,555 in 2022 to $58,545 in 2023. California, Florida and Texas had the most claims. “Education and training for owners and pets is key to keep everyone safe and healthy,” said Ruiz.

“As the largest property insurer in the country, State Farm is committed to educating people about pet owner responsibility and how to safely interact with dogs,” said Heather Paul, media relations specialist at State Farm. “It is important to recognize that any dog, including ones that are in the home, can bite or cause injury. Every dog has a unique personality and while breed or type may dictate how they look, how a dog reacts isn’t guaranteed by those qualities.”

“While dog bites are a serious public health issue, the good news is that most dog bites are preventable,” said AVMA President Dr. Carlson. “By taking steps to train and properly socialize our dogs and educate ourselves and loved ones on dog bite prevention, we can help reduce bites and keep dogs in loving homes, where they belong.”

For more information on preventing dog bites and National Dog Bite Prevention Week, visit AVMA.


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