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How to Prevent Dog Attacks

No matter how cuddly and friendly a dog appears, the natural predatory instincts of the canine breed can emerge at any moment. Various circumstances, such as inappropriate interactions, sudden confrontations, and miscommunication can transform the best of dogs into an angry, threatened, and confused companion. Throughout the last ten years, dog attacks on humans have sadly become an increasingly powerful media topic that has captured the attention of the public with some of the most shocking headlines.

How to Prevent Dog Attacks

Why Do Dogs Attack?

Each year, it is estimated that 2% of the United States population will experience a dog bite, which adds up to about 5 million people every year [1]. When it comes to the reasoning behind a dog attack, there are two main factors to consider: human behavior and dog behavior. A lot of human behaviors become a significant factor in many dog bite cases, especially in regards to people who are not familiar with dogs. To better understand why dogs attacks, consider the following factors:

a) Food and Water:

Some dogs (especially smaller breeds) become aggressive when an owner attempts to take their food or water away.

b) Sudden Reaction:

When someone steps on a paw or tail of a dog– a sudden response can come in the form of an attack. A resting or sleeping dog may attack if they become startled.

c) Sickness:

Sick or injured dogs may attack when approached or touched (regardless if it is their owner). This is especially true in older pets that may develop a tendency to become “snappy” in their old age. Older dogs also experience feelings of vulnerability and anxiety – causing their disposition to show less tolerance and more aggression.

d) Surrounding Aggression:

A dog may attack when they see other humans or dogs fighting.

e) Threatened Puppy:

People who pose a threat to a puppy while in the presence of an adult dog (especially its mother) can trigger a dog to attack.

f) Direct Eye Contact:

People who look directly in the eyes of a dog they do not know can create a confrontational situation that can lead to a dog attack. Canines view direct eye contact as an act of aggression or dominance.

g) Chase-and-Catch Instinct:

The natural urge to chase and catch objects is embedded in dogs, which is why people are encouraged not to run out of fear when coming in contact with an agitated, suspicious, or unfamiliar dog. Keep in mind that the majority of dog breeds have the ability to outrun and catch the average human.

h) Dominance Aggression:

Family members are most at risk for the aggression that arises when a dog is touched in a certain way; their positioning is threatened (shoved off a couch or bed); or direct eye contact. Any challenge to their dominance within the household can provoke an attack.

i) Fear:

Various objects, sudden movements or noises, or the raise of a hand or arm can cause a dog to attack if it has been abused in the past. This is a common problem seen in rescued dogs, which sometimes tend to develop fear or apprehension towards humans.

j) Animal Threats:

A dog may attack another animal that threatens their food, water, or possessions (such as toys or bedding).

k) Redirected Aggression [2]: An overly excited dog may revert to an aggressive state when not allowed to express their feelings. Another target may become a victim of the dog’s redirected aggression.

Common Attack Breeds [3]

When taking a look at the most common dog attack breeds that result in serious wounds and fatalities, a collection of popular purebreds usually make the list, including Pit Bull-types, Rottweilers, German Shepherds, Husky-types, Malamutes, Doberman Pinschers, Chow Chows, Great Danes, and Saint Bernards. Often times, owners overlook the potential of dog attacks in smaller breeds, which are actually more likely to nip at younger children and strangers.

Signs of an Oncoming Dog Attack

Barking is one of the most common signs that a dog is ready for attack. However, the signs of an oncoming dog attack are not always that clear to detect. Some dogs defending their territory will wag their tail, while another highly upset canine may yelp or jump around in frustration. Typical signs of aggression that can lead to an unwanted confrontation include:

· Growling
· Hair bristling on their neck and back
· Refusing to lie down or sit on command
· Bumping into you
· Refusing to move out of the way
· Stops eating or chewing as you approach
· One raised paw
· Barking and retreating
· Ears pent back with very rapid panting
· Hiding behind a person or object
· Lowered tail with only the end wagging
· Snapping and missing
· Snarling with teeth shown
· Body freezes and suddenly becoming stiff
· Tail down or straight (in curly-tailed dogs like Chow Chows)

Dog Attack Prevention

To prevent a dog attack, the responsibility falls both on the shoulders of humans and dogs. A well-trained dog that listens to its owner can avoid unnecessary canine confrontations. Owners must also treat their pets with respect, so that their canines do not harbor aggressive tendencies towards humans and other animals. An alert, prepared, and knowledgeable owner can also prevent dog attacks through their actions. Some recommendations include:

a) Education:

Teaching children the signs of an agitated dog is an important asset, as statistically – the number of recorded dog bites is radically higher in children than in adults [4]. It is important to keep in mind that a family pet delivers 77% of all dog bites. Also, 50% of dog attacks take place on the property of the owner.

Other common victims of dog attacks include the elderly and individuals who provide home services, such as meter readers and mail carriers. The risks that postal service workers face in regards to dog attacks is so great that National Dog Bite Awareness Week is held each year in May to spread the word on safety tips and pet owner responsibilities [5].

b) Discourage Aggressive Behavior:

While it may seem fun at the time, playing tug-of-war and other aggressive games with your dog can foster the type of behavior that can easily lead into an attack when their dominance or possessions become threatened.

c) Treat Every Dog Differently:

While your pooch doesn’t mind receiving a hug or isn’t annoyed when you stare into his or her eyes, the next dog may not respond in the same manner [6]. Another dog can read your actions as threatening, meaning it is wise to treat every dog on an individual basis.

d) Pay Attention to “Beware of Dog” Signs:

These signs are posted for a reason and a trained guard dog will attack a trespasser without giving any warning.

e) Pet Selection:

Before bringing a dog into your home – do a little research on the type of breeds that may showcase the highest level of aggression.

f) Socialization:

A socialized puppy will grow into the kind of dog that does not attack due to feelings of intimidation, lack of confidence, or fear.

g) Wait a Little Longer:

Just as you’re starting a new family – try to resist the urge to complete your household with the addition of a dog. Younger children are quite susceptible to dog bites and parents that wait to get a dog until their children have reached the age of four will lessen their chances of in-house dog attacks.

h) Public Leashing:

While your dog may respond well to the basic commands of “no,” “sit,” “stay,” “come,” and “down” – using a leash to walk your companion in public will lessen the chances of unwanted confrontations with other leashed dogs.

i) Neuter Your Dog:

It has been proven that neutered dogs are three times less likely to bite and provoke an attack.

j) Don’t Run Around a Dog:

Since dogs enjoy giving into the ‘chase,’ don’t give a reason for a canine to become excited or aggressive enough to run after you.

k) Unnecessary Disturbances:

Disturbing a dog that is in the middle of taking care of their puppies, eating, or sleeping is a good way to provoke a dog attack out of the most well mannered of dogs.

l) Stay Still:

When an unfamiliar dog approaches you – allow them to sniff you out while staying still. In the majority of cases, once a canine has identified you as a non-threat – they will walk away. If you feel threatened by the presence of a certain dog, never scream or make eye contact. Don’t turn and run, but slowly back away until you are no longer able to see the dog.

m) Defense Mechanism:

If a threatening dog ever causes you to fall or knocks you to the ground – curl into a ball, placing your hands over your neck and head to protect your face.

Resources

[1] http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/PDF/wk/mm4621.pdf
[2] Borchelt, P.L. and Voith, V.L. 1982. “Classification of Animal Behavior Problems,” Vet. Clin. North Am. Small Anim. Pract. 12:571-585).
[3] http://www.cdc.gov/ncipc/duip/dogbreeds.pdf
[4] http://www.avma.org/communications/brochures/dog_bite/dog_bite_brochure.asp
[5] http://www.usps.com/communications/community/dogbite.htm
[6] http://mendocinohumane.org/html/aggressive.html

2 Responses to “How to Prevent Dog Attacks”

  1. Ehsan
    July 21, 2009 at 9:42 pm #

    about tip l and m, if we do like that, imagine the dog is sick, or completely wild(eg. similar to wolves) then we would be eaten completely. and u suggest us just to become still to be eaten?
    wouldn’t be effective if we shout or command the dog(or even hit by some means)? i tried shouting and commanding on some small dog when they tried to attack and they escaped. but not sure about bigger dogs, would it be helpful?
    thanks

  2. tess
    January 23, 2012 at 1:53 am #

    i have a shih tzu that will attack for no reason. tonight he was lying on the bed with my other dog , a lab/rotti… I was cleaning my big dog’s eye which had some goo in it. suddenly and without any provocation my shih tzu attacked me, taking out a nice piece of flesh from my arm. why? there were no triggers involved. I wasn’t encroaching on his space, I wasn’t trying to move, or take anything from him… I am dumbfounded. This isn’t the first time.

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