The 12th to the 19th of June is Dog Bite Prevention week in the UK. This week is an opportunity to get people talking and thinking about dog bite prevention, so don’t forget to use the hashtag #preventdogbites this week, so that people can find what you have to say.
The key word here is ‘prevention’. The current national strategy is to punish the owners of dogs who have bitten. Never has the phrase ‘shutting the door after the horse has bolted’ been more appropriate! It’s likely to be far more effective to look at ways we can stop bites happening in the first place.
The fact that the vast majority of dog bites happen to people who are known to the dog, together with the fact that any dog can bite, should help us to understand why dog bite prevention strategies are so important. Preventing dog bites is the responsibility of everyone who owns, knows or works with dog(s), and cannot be shirked because the media wants us to believe that only ‘dangerous dogs’, owned by ‘irresponsible owners’, bite.
So how can we go about preventing bites, if we can’t identify dogs as either ‘dangerous’ or ‘safe’?
Many recommend education as the first line of defence. If we understand the warning signs and the types of situations that might make a dog more likely to bite, we can act accordingly. However, I would argue that awareness is equally important. If you’ve never been bitten, it’s hard to imagine that it might ever happen to you. You might be tempted to be a little complacent, particularly around your own dogs or dogs you know. You might even be more inclined to leave your child with the dog whilst you pop upstairs to find your phone. These situations lead to bites seemingly occur ‘out of the blue’, but if we’re more aware that they might happen, even if our dog has never bitten anyone in the past, we will probably take fewer risks.
We also need to protect our dogs from needing to bite. This might sound a little counter-intuitive, but many dogs are euthanized as a direct result of aggressive behaviour. In fact, dog bites are more often fatal for the dog than they are for the dog bite victim. Here are a few tips you can use to protect your own dog:
- Muzzle train your dog. Your dog might never have bitten anyone, but dogs are often required to wear muzzles at the vets. You can make this experience less traumatic for your dog (and safer for the vets) by training them to enjoy wearing the muzzle using positive reinforcement. Find out more information about the pros of wearing muzzles from The Muzzle Up! Project. If you’d like to get started with muzzle training, this video by Chirag Patel is very helpful.
- Invest in an ‘I need space’ vest. These vests are great to stop overly friendly people from smothering your dog – you know the type! An ‘I need space’ vest from Yellow Dog UK can be used when out and about to deter these sorts of unwanted attentions. They’re particularly useful in situations where your dog might be a little less tolerant than usual – after an operation, if they’re a little bit older, or if they’ve just had a bad day. I recommend the vest over the collar or lead, because they’re visible from a distance.
- Don’t make your dog uncomfortable. It might sound a little obvious, but learning to read your dog and knowing their limits is invaluable. Use the Ladder of Aggression to help you spot when your dog is not comfortable.
- Let sleeping (and eating!) dogs lie. This is a particularly important message for children, but some adults could do with reminding too! Sometimes we treat dogs as if they should put up with anything we do to them – but they need peace and quiet sometimes just like we do. Respect their space when they’re eating and sleeping, and tell others to do the same.
- Communicate with other people. They don’t know your dog like you do, so it’s you responsibility to tell them when (or if) it’s ok to approach/interact with your dog. You can tell people to back off with words – dogs have to use other means.
We can use Dog Bite Prevention week as an opportunity to reduce the risk of dog bites. Spread the word about this campaign to help others, check in with your own behaviour to help yourself, and consider making some small changes to protect your dog.