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Dog Bite Prevention

From the Humane Society of the United States

Everyone knows a dog is man's best friend. And it is generally true. But every dog has the capacity to bite, and children are most often the ones who get bitten. Everyone, particularly children, should learn some basics about dog behavior and safety around dogs.

When Dogs Might Bite

  • When they feel threatened and, sometimes, when they're afraid.
  • When they are protecting their territory, food, toys, family or pups.
  • When they get excited, even in play.
  • When they don't know you.
  • When their 'chase response' is triggered.
  • When they have been bred and/or trained to be aggressive.
  • When they are in pain or irritated.

"Do's and Don'ts" Around Dogs

  • Always ask permission to pet a dog.
  • If the owner says it is okay to pet the dog, do it gently and slowly. Stand quietly and still. Let the dog sniff the back of your hand (with your fingers curled into your palm). A dog may also sniff other parts of your body. That's how they say 'hello' and find out who you are.
  • Never pet a dog without letting it see and sniff you.(Do not walk up behind a dog, even one you know, and pat it if it does not know you are there.)
  • Never go up to a strange dog, particularly one that is confined or restrained (confined in a yard, chained to a doghouse, tied to a fence, etc.).
  • Never go into a house or a yard where there is a dog without the owner being there.
  • Never run past a dog or turn your back on a dog and run away (a dog's natural instinct is to chase and catch its prey).
  • Do not jump around, wave your arms or scream, even in play. These actions excite the dog and stimulate its chase response. Remember, too, that a dog does not have hands. If the dog thinks someone wants it to play, the only way it can interact is by jumping up or by using its mouth to 'grab' and hold. Dogs play rough with each other, and they may think that is the way people want to play, too.
  • Do not make fast or jerky movements, particularly toward a dog's head or eyes. (If you hold out your hand for a dog to sniff, do it slowly and do not jerk it back all of a sudden. This could seem like teasing or could startle the dog.)
  • Never disturb a dog that is sleeping or eating, or a dog taking care of puppies.
  • Do not pet or pick up an injured animal without taking precautions. Even your own pet may bite you if it is in pain or afraid. Be careful, move slowly and try loosely muzzling the dog with a leash or rope. Get help to move the animal.
  • Do not 'sic' a dog, even your own, on someone in play. (You will be teaching the dog that it is okay to attack someone, and the dog may think it is okay anytime.)
  • Never stare into a dog's eyes, particularly if it is a strange dog. (That is how dogs challenge each other to fight, and it can stimulate an attack.)
  • Do not put your face near a dog's mouth when you are playing or do not know the dog.
  • Always assume that a strange dog may see you as an intruder or a threat, and be careful.

How to Tell When a Dog Might Bite

  • The dog may stand stiff and still, maybe with its hair up.
  • It may stare at you.
  • The dog may hold its tail stiff and up in the air. Very Important - a dog that is friendly will wag its tail, and the wagging will be very relaxed. If you see a dog whose tail is up, stiff and wagging very fast, watch out! That can also be a danger signal.
  • It may growl, snarl, show its teeth or bark.
  • Some dogs may not give any signs. When in doubt, be careful.

What to Do if You're Threatened by a Dog

If you think a dog may attack you, or you aren't sure what they want to do:
  • Stand very still and try to be calm. Don't scream and run.
  • Be aware of where the dog is. Don't turn you back on it, but don't stare it in the eyes.
  • If the dog comes up to sniff you, let it. In most cases the dog will go away when it decides you aren't a threat.
  • If you say anything, speak calmly and firmly.
  • Try to stay still until the dog leaves, then back away slowly until it's out of sight.
  • If a dog does attack suddenly, 'feed' it your jacket, purse, your bike, anything that may distract it and give it something to bite besides you.
  • If you fall or are knocked down, curl into a ball with your hands over your head and neck. Try not to scream or roll around.

What to Do if You Get Bitten

  • Children should tell their parents immediately. All bites should be reported to the police.
  • Go to the hospital for treatment.
  • Tell the police as much as you can about the dog - what it looked like, where you saw it, if you've seen it before, and so on. It's important for them to try to find the dog.
  • Note: In most parts of the country, getting rabies from dog bites is a rare occurrence, but it's still possible. An important reason to find the dog is to determine whether it's owned and whether the owner can be held responsible for not controlling the dog.

How to Keep Your Dog From Becoming a 'Problem' Dog

  • Many of the same rules apply. The best basic prevention is to have a good understanding of dog behavior (and there are many books on the subject), to observe and know your own animal, and to be a responsible pet owner.
  • Make sure your dog is in good health. Provide companionship, proper food, care and grooming. (A dog with matted hair, for example, can be very uncomfortable and may snap when touched.)
  • Do not allow your dog to roam. Your dog should be either in a securely fenced yard under your supervision or walked on a leash.
  • Take your dog through a basic obedience training class, and work with it regularly. Make sure the entire family is consistent in their handling and treatment of your dog, and that they reinforce good behavior.
  • Correct aggressive or inappropriate behavior when it starts, before it becomes habitual. Obedience training, your veterinarian, books and animal behaviorists are all sources of help. If your dog has serious aggression problems that professional help cannot cure, do not simply give the dog to someone else. You will only be perpetuating the problem. Don't give the dog to someone who wants a 'mean' dog. Such animals usually live miserable lives. If the problems cannot be corrected, it would be more responsible and humane to have the dog euthanized by your veterinarian.
  • Spay or neuter your dog. It will not only prevent unwanted litters and avoid adding to the critical pet over-population problem, but will also reduce aggression (though not protectiveness), the need to roam, territoriality and a number of behavioral problems.
  • Don't play aggressive games with the dog or engage in contests that you might lose (such as tug games). Your dog should respect your leadership at all times, not challenge you or members of the family.
  • Make sure your pets are properly licensed and have rabies and other necessary inoculations.
  • If you don't know how your dog will react in new situations, it's better to err on the side of caution. For example, if you think your dog may be panicked or defensive in crowds, leave the dog at home. If you don't know how the dog will act when visitors or workmen come to the door, keep it in another room.
  • If your dog does bite someone, act responsibly. Be able to produce proof of your pet's current inoculations. Be willing to confine your dog for an observation period. Evaluate the circumstances surrounding the incident and make a realistic plan for avoiding such problems in the future. Your veterinarian can be a big help in deciding what to do or in referring you to other professionals.
  • When you get a pup, remember that you are dealing with a baby. You must teach it, through consistent training and rewards for good behavior, how to be a member of your family. The same is true when you bring an older dog into your home. But, in that case, you must be aware that the animal has already developed some habits, likes and dislikes, fears and possibly some behavioral problems, so you must go slowly until you can get to know each other.
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS)
2100 L Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20037
(202) 452-1100

Go to Dane County Humane Society
Key Contacts
  • Animal Services Office:
    (608) 267-1989
  • Animal Services Officer Dispatch:
    (608) 255-2345
  • Dane County Humane Society:
    (608) 838-0413
  • Dane County Humane Society's Wildlife Center:
    (608) 838-0413 (ext 151)