AVMA behavior expert demonstrates top ways to keep children and community members free from dog bites

There are more than 77 million good dogs in the United States, but even the gentlest dog can bite.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), 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 (I.I.I.) and American Humane today 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. The coalition is committed to reducing the number of dog bites and helping owners maintain the loving bond between them and their dogs.

The latest statistics show:
•Half of the 4.5 million Americans bitten by dogs annually are children 14 and younger, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

•6,755 postal employees were bitten by dogs nationwide in 2016

•Dog bites and other dog-related injuries accounted for more than one-third of all homeowners liability claim dollars paid out in 2016, costing in excess of $600 million, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) and State Farm, the largest writer of homeowners insurance in the United States

“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 actually mean something very different to them in different situations.

Several children at the event learned dog bite prevention techniques with the help of “Hooch,” top winner at the 2016 American Humane Hero Dog Awards, and his owner, Zach Skow. They were joined by Dr. Bain and Dr. Mark Nample, veterinarian and certified animal safety representative for American Humane’s “No Animals Were Harmed” program.

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