It’s hard not to be a dog person living in Colorado. As one of the nation’s most dog-friendly cities, Denver is home to an abundance of four-legged friends, and on any given day you’re bound to encounter a dog or two while out-and-about. If you’re a dog person like me, you’ve probably greeted a dog you passed walking in your neighborhood or said “hi” to the pup hanging outside your favorite coffee shop. But keep in mind that not every dog you encounter will be as happy to say “hello” to you.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Foundation, dogs bite more than 4.5 million people in the U.S. each year—most of them children. And, no, not all bites come from aggressive breeds. Any dog can bite, especially when put in uncomfortable or stressful situations.
The good news is the majority of these bites are preventable. Which is why it’s important to educate yourself and your children about ways to prevent dog bites both in your home and around your neighborhood.
We spoke with Erin Askeland—a seasoned dog training and behavior expert at Camp Bow Wow—who offered the following tips for dog bite prevention:
1. Know how to identify and manage key warning signs:
· Lip licking, yawning, wide eyes and spiked fur – all are indicators of a stressed dog. But remember to assess the situation—if a dog is lying on the couch by itself and licks its lips, most likely the dog is not stressed, but if a dog is being hugged or tugged and emits these warning signs, this is a clear indicator that the dog is now stressed.
· Growling and snapping – never try to get a dog to stop growling; we want it to growl, as it lets us know the dog is uncomfortable. If a dog gets in trouble for growling, it will stop and can immediately go to biting.
· Stiff wagging tail – a dog that is experiencing stress will wag its tail in a stiff manner. Look out for a tail that is pointed high and moving even more quickly back and forth.
· Averting their gaze – avoidance behavior indicates that the dog is not comfortable with the particular situation.
· Cowering or tail tucking – this behavior indicates that a dog is fearful. It doesn’t mean the dog will bite, but could if the dog’s fear continues to increase.
· Backing away or hiding – whether the dog backs itself into a corner or tries to hide, this indicates that the dog is uncomfortable and is trying to escape. It’s important to leave dogs that are exhibiting this behavior alone! Let them come to you.
2. Train your dog and yourself – enlistyour entire family and dog into a reward-based training class. A reputable trainer will help educate you and your family on the proper ways to interact with your dog, and teach you how to notice signs that your dog may be experiencing stress and needs to be given space.
3. Never leave a child under 10 alone with a dog – no matter how much you trust your four-legged friend. Dogs tend to give off warning signs when they are uncomfortable and may bite in response, but in most cases, children aren’t able to pick up on these signals and can easily get hurt.
4. Always ask, “May I pet your dog?” – if your child wants to pet a dog, always as the pet parent first, so they can inform you whether or not their dog is comfortable interacting with kids or new people.
5. Remember that all dogs can bite – even your family pet, if put in a bad situation. Educating others on the proper way to interact with your dog will help prevent dog bites. Inform them not to grab the dog’s fur, ears, tail or any other parts of its body, and to not play with your dog unless you are available to supervise.
6. Never tie up your dog – dogs that are chained-up in the backyard or any other area are more likely to bite because they can become protective of that particular territory. Also, never approach a dog who is tied up.
7. Supervision is mandatory – always supervise your dog around family members, especially children 12 and younger. A dog can go from normal to stress to biting in seconds. Also, don’t be afraid to ask your children’s friends if their family dog will be around your child.
8. Provide a safe space – always provide a safe space for your dog to go (like a crate) where the dog won’t be bothered. Pups can retreat there when they need a break, are nervous, tired, or when there is too much activity in the house.
9. Never force ANY interaction on a dog – hugs in particular are common sources of anxiety that humans love to inflict upon their own dogs but aren’t as well received by them.
10. Remove Fido from stressful situations – if you note that your dog is stressed, nervous or anxious, remove the dog from that situation: ask others to step away, relocate your dog to their safe place and talk to a professional about how to approach similar situations in the future.