National Dog Bite Prevention Week® takes place during the second full week of April each year. With an estimated population of nearly 85 million dogs living in U.S. households, millions of people – most of them children – are bitten by dogs every year. The majority of these bites, if not all, are preventable. This week, American Humane is partnering with veterinarians, animal experts and insurance representatives to urge people to take steps to prevent dog bites.
This year was different than any other year, as both people and pets had to adapt to a new life stuck at home in each other’s company. This was a major disruption in normal routines and dogs picked up on the anxiety that came with it. According to State Farm, there were more dog-related injury claims in March 2020 than in any other month last year, with a reported 21.6 percent increase in dog bites compared to March of the previous year. In fact, the Insurance Information Institute reported that in 2020, insurance companies paid $853.7 million for 16,991 dog bite and injury claims.
Now that we have adapted to quarantine life, we face another stressful period as people start to return to normal life, and pets must again adapt to being home alone for long periods of time. Experts fear that this could lead to another surge in dog bites.
Yesterday, a panelist of experts including Dr. Lesa Staubus, rescue veterinarian for American Humane; Dr. Douglass Kratt, AVMA president; Dr. Melissa Bain, veterinary behaviorist; Heather Paul, public affairs specialist at State Farm; Janet Ruiz, director of strategic communications at Insurance Information Institute; and, Victoria Stilwell, celebrity dog trainer, convened to discuss advice on how pet owners can ensure a smooth transition, and prevent dog bites in general. Watch the full panel discussion here: https://www.facebook.com/events/290820619319518.
As pet owners, we must protect and advocate for our animals. The National Dog Bite Prevention Coalition recommends 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.
- Take it slow. If your dog has only been interacting with your family this past year, 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 give plenty of praise and rewards for good behavior.
- Educate yourself in positive training techniques and devote time to interact with your dog.
- Get outside for leash training and allow your dog to do more socializing.
- Gradually start arranging play dates with other dogs and people as allowed, and carefully increase the amounts of time and freedom together. This will help your dog get used to being with other canine companions again.
- 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.
It’s important to remember that even well-trained and well-behaved dogs can bite if they are put into the wrong situation. Addressing and avoiding these situations is key to reducing dog bites, and not focusing on unrelated factors such as a dog’s breed or appearance. Our companion dogs are ultimately our responsibility, as are their actions. By keeping them safe and happy, we can keep people safe as well.