National Dog Bite Prevention Week is May 19-25 and Barbara Sherman, a veterinary behaviorist at NC State University, wants to use the annual event to help educate parents and children on how to avoid becoming a victim of a dog bite.
More than 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year in the U.S. with some 800,000 receiving medical treatment. Children, age five to nine, are the most common bite victims and are far more likely to be severely injured with bites to the face and head.
“Simple information and education can dramatically reduce what is a public health issue and keep children out of theemergency room,” says Dr. Sherman, a clinical professor and director of the Behavior Medicine Service at NC State’s Veterinary Health and Wellness Center.
Dr. Sherman relates a recent first-hand experience with the need to educate children. “At a recent College of Veterinary Medicine Open House Tenya, a certified therapy dog greeted thousands of visitors,” says Dr. Sherman. “Many of young guests were eager to pet Tenya and our Behavior Medicine Service team taught each child to ask, ‘May I pet your dog?’ and, once permission was granted, showed how to pet Tenya along her back. Without such guidance, most children approached the dog face-on, looked her in the eye, and reached over her head. Tenya responded by turning her head to avoid what she considered confrontational approach.”
Dr. Sherman says many dogs—even those known to the child and parent and believed to be friendly—could consider such direct face-to-face approaches and reaching over the head to be threats and may respond with “keep back” bites to hand or face.
To avoid this miscommunication during greetings, Dr. Sherman says it is critical for parents to teach children safe methods of approaching and greeting dogs, and to avoid them at certain times. Three simple rules can help:
Additional basic child safety around dogs: