The American Veterinary Medical Association, a founding sponsor of National Dog Bite Prevention Week Coalition, joined coalition representatives from the U.S. Postal Service, State Farm, the Insurance Information Institute, and American Humane at the Weingart East Los Angeles YMCA to share the latest dog bite statistics and demonstrate safety tips with a group of Los Angeles area school children.
"It is vital to teach children from a very young age how to read a dog's behavior," said Dr. Melissa Bain, board certified in veterinary behavior and animal welfare in the Clinical Behavior Service at the University of California–Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.
"These types of interactive sessions are so important to bridge the 'communication gap' between children, dogs and adults. For years, we have taught children to 'be a tree' when approached by a strange dog. When I asked kids to 'be a tree' they started swaying their arms and body as if they were a tree in the wind. As a behaviorist, I knew what I meant and what I anticipated how they would respond."
Dr. Bain said it is the same with dog behavior. We can't be certain a dog understands what our behavior says to them. We think we know how they will respond to a hug or kiss but it may mean something very different to them in different situations.
Dr. Bain provided a few simple tips to prevent dog bites both inside and out of the home:
- Children and dogs should never be left alone together unsupervised, even if that dog is considered well behaved and kid friendly
- Socialize your pet
- Use positive, not negative, training methods
- Learn to read your dog's body language
- If you have concerns about your dog's behavior, visit your veterinarian to see if your pet is in pain or has a medical condition
- Ask your veterinarian about selecting a local trainer or if a referral to veterinary behaviorist is warranted
AVMA public resources include:
- Jimmy's Dog House: this video series teaches children lessons on how to be safe around dogs in everyday situations such as noises, sleeping and eating.
- Jimmy the Dog videos teach kids what a yellow ribbon means, what to do with a lost dog, how to interact with a dog behind a fence, and what to do when the letter carrier comes to the house.
- Bilingual Dog Bite Prevention activity/coloring book
- What you should know about dog bite prevention
- Teaching children about dog bite prevention
- Socialization of dogs and cats
American Humane offers a free online booklet "Pet Meets Baby," with valuable information on introducing a new child to a home with a pet – or a new pet into a home with a child available for families with children.
State Farm reports that in 2016, it paid nearly $122 million because of 3,660 dog-related injury claims, an increase of 15 percent. Responsible pet ownership and educating children about how to safely interact with dogs is key to reducing dog bites. State Farm does not exclude dog breeds or types from insurance coverage because under the right circumstances, any dog might bite.
The U.S. Postal Service reports that 6,755 letter carriers were attacked last year, an increase of 206 attacks over 2015. They ask that if a letter carrier delivers mail or packages to your front door, place your dog in a separate room and close that door before opening the front door. Dogs have been known to burst through screen doors or plate-glass windows to get at strangers. Dog owners should keep the family pet secured.