Do you know how to prevent dog bites? Here's some expert advice
By Kim Campbell Thornton
It's easy to find information on the signals dogs give before they bite and ways to prevent dog bites. But a recent study published in the Journal of Veterinary Behaviour found that educating people about canine body language and high-risk situations isn't enough. All too often, people believe dog bites won't happen to them or that their dog won't bite, and they ignore a dog's warning signs.
"Nobody wants to believe that their beloved dog would cause harm, but all dogs have the potential to bite, whether it be in aggression or in play," says Carri Westgarth, Ph.D., a dog behavior expert at the University of Liverpool's Institute of Infection and Global Health. She and other researchers suggest that raising awareness of that reality is an important part of successful dog bite prevention.
What are the situations in which bites are most likely to occur, either to people or other animals? Trainer and expert witness in dog bite cases Jill Kessler-Miller of Palos Verdes, California, notes the following:
-- When dogs are off their leash and off their property.
-- When people carelessly permit dogs on extendible leashes to roam.
-- When children and dogs are left unsupervised.
Dog bite attorney Kenneth M. Phillips of Beverly Hills, California, says other common situations that invite bites involve unsupervised children entering a yard with a dog or dogs in it; dogs who are tethered; unneutered male dogs; and multiple dogs.
Mistakes people make include reaching in to break up a dogfight, getting too close to a dog's face and letting dogs approach other dogs or people without first asking permission.
Even the nicest dog can bite if he feels threatened, but most bites are preventable with 10 reasonable precautions.
1. Teach dogs to wait for permission before approaching other animals or people.
2. Use a 4- to 6-foot leash instead of an extendible leash. It's too easy to let a dog get out of control, and the leashes can injure people as well.
"People get tangled in them, thrown off their feet and have had fingers torn off," Miller says.
3. Be alert to your surroundings so you know if other people or animals are approaching. You need to always be ready to either control your dog if he's reactive or get him out of harm's way if an aggressive dog approaches.
4. Teach children to ask permission before approaching any dog.
5. Take your dog to puppy kindergarten followed by obedience class. They are opportunities to work on training and socialization. Consider taking the class again so your dog gets more practice, especially if he is a large or active breed or mix.
6. Stay out of dog parks. They can be breeding grounds for canine bad behavior, such as bullying and aggression.
7. Pay attention to your own actions. Don't put your face close to a dog's face, especially if you don't know him or if he has been injured. That's just asking for a bite. The dog doesn't know you're trying to be friendly or to console him.
8. To separate fighting dogs, avoid the head, where the teeth are. Each owner should grab his dog's hind legs and pull the dogs away from each other.
"Don't let go," Miller says. "They will re-engage."
9. If you or your pet are bitten, clean the wound thoroughly and seek medical or veterinary attention. Report the bite to animal control.
10. Don't ignore or downplay aggressive behavior from your dog or someone else's dog, such as lunging, pulling on the leash or growling when he sees other people or animals. Nipping is a red flag, too. Dogs who get away with it become more ambitious and may graduate to more serious bites. Get help from a certified applied animal behaviorist or veterinary behaviorist.
Itchy bunny may have
Q: My rabbit seems to really be scratching himself a lot and is starting to lose fur. What could be causing his itchiness? -- via Facebook
A: Skin problems aren't unusual in rabbits, and itching and hair loss are common signs. The "usual suspects" in these cases are parasites such as fleas, rabbit ear mites (Psoroptes cuniculi), Cheyletiella mites and mange mites (Sarcoptes scabei), or environmental allergies to bedding, chemicals used to clean cages or treat fabrics or other materials in the home, such as cedar wood shavings.
Your veterinarian is the only one who can make a diagnosis, and only after examining your rabbit. He or she may suspect ear mites if your rabbit is shaking his head frequently, scratching at the ears and head or has a thick, reddish-brown crust in the ears. If you notice this type of crustiness, don't try to remove it by cleaning the ears. That would put your bunny in a world of hurt. Your veterinarian will prescribe medication to kill the mites.
Rabbits can pick up fleas from dogs or cats in the home. If they live in an outdoor hutch, they may also be exposed to a different species of flea carried by wild rabbits in the area.
Cheyletiella and sarcoptic mange, caused by different types of mites, are diagnosed through skin scrapings that are examined microscopically for the presence of the mites.
Depending on the problem, your veterinarian will likely prescribe a topical or oral treatment, such as ivermectin, Revolution or Advantage. The medication and dose will need to be tailored to your rabbit, so don't assume it's OK to use the same product or amount you use on your dog or cat. Some products can be fatal to rabbits.
If an environmental allergy is suspected, try changing the bedding, washing the cage thoroughly to make sure all traces of cleansers are removed and switching to a scent-free detergent or fabric softener for any items the bunny comes in contact with. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
Cats beat dogs in
-- Cats beat up dogs in the distant past, according to a study of 2,000 ancient fossils published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. More than 30 dog species were living the dream on the North American continent some 20 million years ago. Then cats arrived from Asia and started kicking dog tail, outcompeting canines for food with their awesome hunting skills.
"The arrival of cats to North America had a deadly impact on the diversity of the dog family," says the report's lead author, Dr. Daniele Silvestro, of Switzerland's University of Lausanne. Today, North America has only nine species of wild dog. No evidence shows that dogs wiped out any felid species.
-- Illinois becomes the latest state to protect pets from being left in cars in extreme weather conditions. With an amendment to The Humane Care for Animals Act, it becomes a misdemeanor to "expose the dog or cat in a manner that places the dog or cat in a life-threatening situation for a prolonged period of time in extreme heat or cold conditions that results in injury to or death of the animal." People convicted of violations face a fine of up to $2,500 or up to one year in jail. The legislation goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2016.
-- Is there a snake in your garden? Your first instinct might be to kill it, but snakes, even venomous ones, play an important role in the ecosystem. Len Ramirez of Auburn, California, travels the state humanely removing and relocating rattlers. To find a similar service in your area, contact animal control, a local herpetological association or your nearest university extension service for a recommendation, or do an Internet search for "humane snake removal" and let the experts handle it. They can also advise you on how to snake-proof your property so you won't have any more unwanted visits. -- Kim Campbell Thornton
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.
CAPTIONS AND CREDITS
Caption 01: An estimated 4.5 million dog bites occur each year in the United States. Children and men are most likely to be bitten, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Position: Main Story
Caption 02: Competition from cats played a more important role than climate change in the extinction of a number of ancient wild dog species. Position: Pet Buzz/Item 1