The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Globe Life

May 20, 2013

Ryan Richardson: Groups give tips for preventing dog bites

JOPLIN, Mo. — When I was a teenager in the '90s I had an unfortunate incident with my neighbor's dog, a Brittany, that I had grown up with. It took a chunk out of my thigh when I went into the neighbors' yard to retrieve a ball.

After a quick emergency room visit that resulted in stitches, I was good to go. Unfortunately, the dog was taken away for a short time. After it returned I still made a point of saying hi, though usually from my own side of the fence. I held no ill will toward that dog or its owners.

Stories like this aren't uncommon in the United States.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, more than 4.5 million people in the U.S are bit each year by dogs. One in 5 of those people  require medical attention -- that's about 800,000 Americans each year. Most of these dog bites happen while people interact with familiar dogs.

May 19 to 25 is National Dog Bite Prevention Week. Not surprisingly, the U.S. Postal service will continue its long tradition of supporting this week through public service announcements. Postal workers are the third most commonly bit group, behind children and the elderly.

Between the USPS and the AVMA, many of their tips can go a long way in avoiding a negative interaction with a dog.

The first tip is to remain calm in your interactions with dogs. Refrain from using loud noises and avoid eye contact. Try to stay still and non-threatening until the dog leaves.

Most people think this means putting out their hands, but some dogs can see that as aggressive. Just remain calm and back away slowly.

The groups also suggest steering away from dogs that recently had a litter. Many dogs will become hyper-territorial of their new pups, and in this case it is best to avoid the situation altogether.

Also, if you find yourself face-to-face with an unknown dog, do not run. Some dogs will feel a natural inclination to chase you. If by chance they do chase you down, "feed" them your jacket, bike or whatever you can to put something between you and the dog.

If the worst thing happens and you find yourself being attacked, cover your neck and your face and remain as motionless as possible. It may not be an easy situation, but try to remain as quiet as possible.

I don't believe that if a dog bites it is automatically a bad dog. I don't believe in bad dogs. Dogs of all breeds can bite. And while some are more aggressive, that doesn't mean a breed as a whole is dangerous -- it means extra training and precautions need to be taken when dealing with them.

A lot of how a dog interacts with others depends on you as an owner. If you are going to welcome a dog into your home, take the time to get to know it and set clear boundaries for it.

At least teach it basic commands and socialize it enough to have a basic understanding of how to act around other people and other dogs. It will go a long way to preventing a bite, an emergency room visit or a pound visit.

Contact Ryan Richardson about this column or other topic suggestions at rrichardson@joplinglobe.com or 417-627-7363.

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