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The bad news: Dogs of any breed or size can, and do, bite. The good news: There are really very few aggressive dogs. Most dogs bite because they’re afraid. This means there are steps you can take to prevent your dog from biting and prevent you and your children from being bitten. Here’s some information on dog bite prevention from Kate Knutson, DVM, of Pet Crossing Animal Hospital & Dental Clinic in Bloomington, Minnesota.

Most dogs bite for two reasons: They’re afraid, or they think you’re prey.

Take these steps when meeting a new dog

  • Slowly approach the dog and owner
  • Ask the owner’s permission to pet the dog
  • If the owner and your parent or guardian says it’s OK, slowly extend your hand, allowing the dog to sniff the back of it
  • Pet the dog’s shoulder or chest – not the head

If a dog approaches or attacks

  • Don't run
  • Look away from the dog’s eyes
  • Stand like a tree with arms by your sides
  • Give the dog your jacket or anything not attached to you
  • If the dog knocks you down, remain quiet, curl up in a ball and cover your ears - most dogs will leave
Preventing your dog from biting

Following these directions won’t guarantee that your dog won’t bite, but they’ll certainly make it less likely. Any dog that is well restrained and well trained can be perfectly safe, regardless of breed. The truth is, an irresponsible owner is much more dangerous than any dog.

  • Restrain your pet. Unrestrained dogs cause about 82 percent of all fatal bites. Keeping your dog on a strong leash whenever you’re in public is a big first step toward preventing bites. Strangers and a strange environment may startle your pet. Extra precautions should be taken to make ensure your pet is at ease. If you leave your dog alone outdoors, your yard needs to be enclosed with a six- to eight-foot fence, depending on your dog’s size.
  • Socialize your puppy. Puppies are more open to learning between the age of 8 and 12 weeks. This is the opportune time to start puppy classes and begin socialization with other pets. It is important to introduce the puppy to animals with a known vaccination history. Talk to your veterinarian about the proper time to take your canine friend to puppy classes, the park and the pet store. Socialize your puppy by taking him anywhere where he can interact with people and other dogs in a nonthreatening environment. Be sure to praise him when he interacts well with others.
  • Spay or neuter your dog. Intact (non-neutered) male dogs are responsible for approximately 80 percent of fatal bites. When dogs are altered, they lose some of their territorial instincts, including a lot of their territorial aggression.
  • Train him not to bite. Dogs will mouth, chew and bite everything from your hands to your furniture until you teach them that it’s inappropriate. If your dog is biting or growling at you or other family members, distract him with a quick sound, such as a clap or a sharp "ouch!" Then redirect his attention to a chew toy. Remember, timing is everything. Make sure your noise is heard at the exact moment the dog is biting. The dog will not understand what is going on if the noise occurs after the bite (they cannot make that connection). Also be sure to reward him when you catch him chewing on the right things.
  • Watch your dog’s behavior. This may be the most important part of preventing your dog from biting. It’s easy for owners to be in denial that their sweet, furry Fido may be a threat. But if your dog exhibits any of the following behaviors, it’s time for your veterinarian’s help: growling at, snapping at, or biting family members; growling or snapping at strangers; or extreme fear of strangers.
Why some dogs bite children

Teaching children how to approach dogs slowly and carefully as well as how to recognize warning signs are critical components of dog bite prevention. Remember, not all dogs are friendly and not all dogs want to be touched. Children are often at eye level, and may stare directly into dogs’ eyes. They also run and move suddenly, appearing like prey. Any dog may bite, even your family pet. Adults should always supervise children when they play with any dog, and they should teach children the best ways to approach and treat animals to avoid being bitten. 

If your dog is growling, barking, or behaving aggressively

If your dog is growling or behaving aggressively, he/she may be in physical pain. Take your dog to your veterinarian to rule out any health problems. If there are no health problems, ask your veterinarian to refer you to a Certified Animal Behaviorist (CAAB), a veterinary behaviorist (Dip ACVB), or Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT). Check references and see if you can meet the trainer first. Trainers should emphasize positive reinforcement training methods. Consequences of a dog biting a human vary from state to state. In general, penalties have increased. They range from liability insurance requirements to euthanaizing your dog, so it is important to address biting behavior early to prevent serious problems from arising.

Breed characteristics

It’s difficult to determine just how much a dog’s genetics determine his behavior, just like it’s hard to know how much of a person’s personality is nature and how much is nurture. It’s true that some breeds simply have more ability to injure people than others do. Though it’s no more likely to bite than a smaller dog, if it does bite, a big dog can do much more damage than a small dog, for example. (Even very small breeds can be dangerous to children, however.)

A study performed by the American Veterinary Medical Association, the CDC, and the Humane Society of the United States, analyzed dog bite statistics from the last 20 years and found that the statistics don’t show that any breeds are inherently more dangerous than others. The study showed that the most popular large breed dogs at any one time were consistently on the list of breeds that bit fatally. The study also noted that there are no reliable statistics for nonfatal dog bites, so there is no way to know how often smaller breeds are biting. Nearly any dog can be aggressive or non-aggressive, depending on his training and environment. Owners play a big part in making sure that their pet is safe around other people.

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