The American Veterinary Medical Association has named this week, Sunday, May 18, through Saturday, May 24, as National Dog Bite Prevention Week.
According to the association, it’s estimated that there are 70 million dogs living in U.S. households, and dogs bite in the ballpark of 4.5 million people, mostly children, every year. The majority of dog bites are preventable; it’s all in how you approach the animal, said dog trainer Louisa Morrissey, owner of High Country Dogs.
“In terms of approaching any dog you don’t know, it’s important to ask the owner, and it’s really important to ask the dog,” Morrissey said. “Even if the owner says OK, sometimes owners aren’t aware of the body language they are sending and the dog is saying it’s really not OK to me.
“Stand a few feet away from the dog, stand sideways, clap your hands on your knees and invite the dog over. If the dog wants to come over, that’s a good thing, but if the dog says no, that needs to be respected, by the owner, by the person and by a child.”
Morrissey said she likes to go by the rule of five.
“Pet a dog for a tone of five and stop and see if the dog still wants to be petted,” she said. “Pet more on the chest, rather than trying to reach over the head of the dog. Kids and dogs have to be supervised at all times, period. The dog needs to be in a safe place where they feel safe and happy and secure.”
About that yellow ribbon
The Yellow Dog Project was started a few years ago as a way for owners to warn the public that their dog needs space. According to the project’s website, a yellow ribbon doesn’t always mean that the dog is aggressive; it could mean that the pup has issues of fear, pain or distrust or is a working or service dog.
“If a dog has a yellow ribbon on them, they just need space,” Morrissey said. “They could need space for a lot of reasons. Maybe they’re old they don’t see very well or hear very well; approaching a dog like that would startle them. Maybe the dog is more aggressive and likes their space, or maybe it’s even a dog working with someone. The yellow ribbon means ‘I need space,’ and it’s not a dog you just rush up to and grab.”
Morrissey added that though she thinks The Yellow Dog Project is great, even if a dog does not have a yellow ribbon on it, that doesn’t necessarily mean you can run up and grab them.
“Every dog should be treated with respect and given their space and invited to come to a person, rather than a person running into their space and grabbing them,” she said.
Educational videos online
Every day during National Dog Bite Prevention Week, the American Veterinary Medical Association has been releasing a short video with a tip on preventing dog bites. The first video, released Sunday, May 18, discussed the yellow ribbon campaign and stressed the importance of asking permission before petting someone’s dog.
Monday’s video serves as a reminder never to pet a dog over or through a fence, even if it’s one you know. Other videos address other bite-risk scenarios, such as dogs that are eating, dogs and postal workers and more.
Visit www.avma.org to learn more about dog-bite prevention and access tools to help educate others, or subscribe to the association’s YouTube channel to view the daily videos, as well as other pet, vet and animal-related shots throughout the year.