Better All BARK Than All BITE

What follows is not a fairy tale. It’s a cautionary tale.

Once upon a time, there was a sweet, little girl who lived in a lovely, white house surrounded by woods in Chappaqua. The girl lived there with her mother, her father, her big brother and her best friend – her dog – Daisy.

The child’s parents had waited, as they had been told would be best, until their daughter was five years old before they bought the dog, who turned out to be both intelligent and energetic.

Unfortunately, the parents made a mistake, as many parents do, and left their daughter alone with the dog.

That mistake came back to bite not them but their daughter because the little girl didn’t respect the dog’s “private space.” She treated Daisy like a plaything instead of a living creature. One day, she startled the dog while it was napping and, as a result, was bitten in the face in three different places.

The wounds were serious enough to require a trip to the hospital for plastic surgery. The parents were upset because their daughter’s face was scarred. The brother was disheartened because he had taken Daisy to “puppy kindergarten” where he assumed the dog had learned how to behave among family members.

The hospital found the event grave enough to report it to the police.

This sad tale is not uncommon. Most of the nearly 4.7 million victims who are bitten by dogs in the United States each year are children. Half of all children in this country are bitten by a dog before their twelfth birthday according to the Humane Society of the United States. And about 70% of those children, and most adults, are bitten, on their own property, by dogs they know.

So what you don’t know about pet safety can hurt and cost you.

Man’s Best Friend Can Leave Marks On Your Insurance
If the dog in the case above had attacked a non-family member on the family’s property, the incident could have been reported to the homeowner’s insurance agent as well as the police. And that might have resulted in higher premiums, a clause excluding the dog from coverage or the eventual cancellation of the homeowner’s policy.

Under most state laws, if your dog bites someone, you are responsible for the expenses and damages. If the claim exceeds the limit, usually $100,000 to $300,000 in most policies, you are responsible for ALL damages, including legal, above that amount. Dog bites are so common, according to the Insurance Information Institute, that they account for one-third of all home-owner’s insurance
liability claims.

Prevention: You Be The Top Dog
Many accidents could be avoided if dog owners would properly train their dogs
and educate the people who come into contact with their pets. Many dogs are not well socialized; they do not know how to adequately interpret people’s body language. Dogs who rarely see people, different places, and different situations will be nervous and frightened in the company of others. Enroll the animal in an obedience class so your pet understands certain basic commands such as “sit,” and “stay,” “down” and “leave it!” It is easier to train a dog at eight to ten weeks of age than six to eight months.

Many dogs are not well socialized; they do not know how to adequately interpret people’s body language.

Keep Fido out of trouble by avoiding situations that are potentially dangerous to your dog until proper training has been completed. Steven Diller, animal behaviorist with the Center for Applied Animal Behavior and Canine Training in Elmsford, New York, says you’ll have better control, for instance, if you introduce your dog to the UPS delivery man while your pet is on a leash. Diller, a professor in Veterinary technology department at Mercy College, also says “It is not a good idea to leave a child, particularly a baby, unattended with the dog. The dog could become territorial.” In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you wait until your child is mature enough to handle and care for an animal before you purchase a pet as a companion. Six years old is usually the typical age.

Minimizing The Risk: Safety Tips
Before you purchase a dog, you can test its temperament. When the animal is seven weeks of age, try the Volhard Puppy Aptitude test. One of the criteria: Gently hold the dog upside down on its back. Does the dog squirm uncontrollably or try to bite? You want him to look at you, lick you, and wiggle just a little.

Spay or neuter your dog as it curtails the hormonal desire to roam and fight.
Altered dogs are three times LESS likely to bite.
Play gentle games such as Frisbee or hide-and-seek with your dog. Don’t indulge in games of tug-of-war or wrestling. Those promote aggression.
Never take food away from a dog.
Keep your dog on a leash when you walk so you can maintain control.
Stay away from a dog that is ill, sleeping, chewing on a toy, tending to puppies, eating, chained or near a fence.
If you allow a puppy to mouth human hair or clothing, he interprets this as a sign that it’s fine to bite close to human flesh.

Body Language: How A Dog Sees You
Before you approach a dog, you should know how the animal sees you. While you may view direct eye contact as friendly, unlike humans, a dog will view an eye-to-eye stare as a threat. Similarly, a smiling person who walks up to the dog may regard himself as outgoing, but the dog may look at the approach as a challenge, and your broad grin, with teeth showing, as a challenge to his authority.

While you may view direct eye contact as friendly, unlike humans, a dog will view an eye-to-eye stare as a threat.

The Humane Society of the United States offers these tips to help you “read” a dog and help avoid a biting incident.

  • Learn the correct way to pet a dog: Look sideways or at the feet of a dog you are approaching on the street. Keep your mouth closed; do not display teeth or lick your lips. Approach the dog very slowly. Let is smell you before you pet it and speak in a soothing voice.
  • Never stand over a dog and reach down with your hand to pat the top of its head or sensitive ears. To a dog, that’s a sign of domination. (If you decide not to pet the dog, pretend you are interested in something else, such as a shirt button, as you pass the dog so he does not preceive you as threatening.)
Wesley Cullen Davidson

Wesley Cullen Davidson

Wesley Cullen Davidson is an award-winning freelance writer and journalist specializing in parenting. Currently, she is targeting her writing about recovery to parents whose children have substance abuse disorders.