Every year, millions of people — mostly children — are bit by dogs, and experts say most cases were preventable.
In honor of National Dog Bite Prevention Week, which runs May 15-21, here are five tips to prevent bites. However, it is important to note that these prevention methods are reserved for non-aggressive dogs; canines that have already bitten or even growled and barked should be seen by a veterinary behaviorist or behavior consultant.
Problem to prevent: Your dog bites a person or dog while off-leash (at home or away).
Prevention: Early conditioning (or remedial counter conditioning) People = good news for dogs. Teaching dogs that humans are safe is key and the earlier the better. Proper puppy socialization classes are highly recommended. In addition, teaching simple tasks, like coming when called, and manners, like sit and down, are also good tools to guide our dogs away from people if the dog becomes frightened or overwhelmed.
Problem to prevent: Your dog bites humans who reach for him.
Prevention: Teach your dog to gently touch a human hand (hand targeting). This prevents bites by giving your dog a specific task to do when he sees a human hand reaching for him – touch it gently with his nose. Because we use reinforcement-based training, this also teaches your dog (or puppy) that human hands are safe. Touching the hand yields a treat.
Problem to prevent: Your dog bites a person or dog on a walk.
Prevention: Teach your dog to follow you on leash and change directions when cued. Not all dogs or people will want to meet your dog, even if he’s friendly. Teaching your dog to calmly follow your directions on walks will prevent frustration and possible aggression as a result. Teaching your friendly dog to properly approach and interact with people on walks will also prevent bites.
Problem to prevent: Your dog bites a human who bumps, startles or steps on him.
Prevention: Teach your dog to give humans personal space and not crowd them unless invited to do so. Dogs are very sensitive to personal space and can learn to move out of the way when humans approach them. It’s good manners and it helps teach them to be aware of human movement. Since we train this with praise and treats, there is no fear associated with the movement. Fear fuels aggression, so it’s best not to scare our dogs when training them.
Problem to prevent: Your dog bites people when he becomes frightened or stressed.
Prevention: Teach your dog to calm himself by making better behavior choices on his own. For example, teach them how to settle themselves on a mat. It’s a unique process called “shaping,” which basically engages the dog’s brain and helps him figure out how to go to the mat and relax on his own.