National Dog Bite Prevention Week is Now

National Dog Bite Prevention Week (May 17-23) is now, and it is a good time to remind ourselves about the common triggers of biting. It’s common for dogs to guard food from other dogs and from people, but dogs might “protect” much more than food. Here are other guard-worthy items and situations to keep in mind:

  1. Boring, familiar kibble may not concern your dog, but human food dropped to the floor is a different story. Dogs might bite over higher-value food – including cookies put down for a moment by toddlers, tostada chips on the coffee table, or a dropped piece of chicken while you’re cooking.
  2. The definition of “food” can be, unfortunately, very ambiguous to a dog. In addition to the cookies, chips and chicken mentioned above, there may be a great deal of value in empty wrappers, dirty laundry, used tissues and tampons (sorry), and dead squirrels encountered on walks.
  3. Dogs determine their own favorite spots for resting or sleeping. That expensive dog bed might not make the cut, but a resting dog might guard the sofa, the cozy corner behind your plant or under the desk, and your own bed after you’ve gotten up. This is especially risky for toddlers and young children approaching (or simply walking past) the dog.

The dog’s owner/pet parent/guardian is also an important “resource” to protect, especially from other family members. Again, this is a common trigger of bites to young children, who might run to their parent or caregiver while the dog is lying nearby.

Dogs do make their own decisions about the value of different items, including people. The best prevention is to know your own dog and to apply common sense to avoid these triggers. Of course, you can teach your dog to ‘leave it’ using positive reinforcement (not punishment, which may increase worry and aggression), but it’s even easier to avoid leaving food at muzzle’s reach, to separate your dog from a toddler clutching a cookie (or your toddler from a dog trying to eat his breakfast), to keep trash cans and hampers covered or empty, and to meet an approaching child halfway. If your dog is eyeing some rank roadkill, offer something delicious to move her on her way. Don’t grab things from your dog. Try instead to teach him that relinquishing an item and jumping off the sofa when asked are positive, familiar activities that (at least sometimes) are positively reinforced.

Ilana Reisner, DVM, PhD, DACVBIlana Reisner, DVM, PhD, DACVB
Dr. Reisner has been a board-certified veterinary behaviorist since the specialty of veterinary behavior was established in 1995. She has expertise in both normal (though often undesirable) and abnormal behaviors of all companion animals. She graduated from Oregon State University and completed her Internship in Small Animal Medicine and Surgery at Michigan State University. After completing her residency in Behavioral Medicine at Cornell University, she stayed on to earn her PhD in Behavioral Physiology. Dr. Reisner joined NorthStar VETS in October 2012.

Previously a member of the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine where she headed the behavior service at the Matthew J. Ryan Veterinary Hospital, Dr. Reisner provided clinical services to pet owners, served as mentor in a clinical residency program, and taught both clinical and undergraduate veterinary students. She has published and spoken extensively on all aspects of behavior problems in dogs and cats and has an ongoing research interest in dog bites and public health.

The information presented on this web site is not intended to take the place of your family veterinarian’s advice and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Discuss this information with your own veterinarian to determine what is right for your pet. All information is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. We can not and do not give you medical advice via this blog. The information contained in this online site and emails is presented in summary form only and intended to provide broad understanding and knowledge. The information should not be considered complete and should not be used in place of a visit, call, consultation or advice of your veterinarian. We do not recommend the self-management of your pet’s health problems.

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