Nearly 90 million pet dogs reside in the United States. They are known as man’s best friend for a reason. People love their dogs like family, but that does not mean that they are no longer animals capable of inflicting serious injuries.
Every year, there are around 4.5 million reported dog bites in the U.S. That number does not reflect any of the millions of additional, unreported incidents. From those bite incidents, 800,000 require professional medical attention, resulting in 900 daily emergency room visits and 30 to 50 annual deaths. The statistics are surprising and may make you wonder: is it in a dog’s nature to bite and attack?
Nature or Nurture?
The question of whether it is in a dog’s nature to attack is a complicated one. Unlike humans, dogs can not use words to clearly express their feelings and needs in a way that we recognize immediately. They have to use body language, bark, growl, cry and snarl to get their point across. When their previous modes of canine communication are not understood, a dog might feel the need to bite.
The vast majority of dogs are friendly and good-natured and will go their whole lives without ever biting anyone. However, the cause of most dog bites is not an intrinsically aggressive dog but a person’s mistake or bad behavior.
Some dog breeds have a bad reputation for being aggressive. Pit bulls, for example, are frequently considered dangerous and are the most often targeted breed for bans and breed-specific legislation. Pit bulls and pit bull mixes are involved in the most bite incidents and tend to inflict more damage when they do attack.
However, studies show that breed is not the best indicator of aggressiveness. A dog’s temperament, experiences, training, socialization and owner have a much greater influence on their willingness to bite than does genetics. Size is another factor that influences these statistics. Small and medium-sized dogs bite just as often as big ones do, they just cause less damage and are therefore less often reported.
Breed-specific legislation is common but it often fails to address the root cause of dog bites. It does little to encourage responsible dog breeding and ownership.
Tips for Preventing Dog Bites
Owning a dog is a serious commitment that requires time, effort, patience and love. Responsible ownership gives a dog the best life possible and reduces the chance that it will injure someone. Dog owners should always:
- Start with training and socialization as soon as possible. Training classes, canine good citizen courses and more are very beneficial for puppies and adult dogs alike. Good habits are easier to establish early though.
- Avoid harsh punishment. Dogs that are hit, yelled at or left alone for long periods can develop a fear of people and aggressive tendencies.
- Watch pets for signs of aggression or anxiety and immediately address them. Reduce triggers and seek professional training when necessary.
- Keep up to date with vaccinations and vet care. A dog that is in pain or sick not only suffers but also might be more likely to bite.
- Always keep a dog safely contained in a fence or by other means and use a leash when out in public. Many attacks happen when a dog is running at large.
Everyone, even non-dog owners, should use common sense when interacting with a dog to prevent an attack. Here are a few best practices for everyone to keep in mind:
- Ask for permission to touch a dog that is with its owner. Approach a loose or unfamiliar dog cautiously.
- Try not to surprise or sneak up on a dog.
- Never enter an unfamiliar dog’s area or touch their food or toys. Reaching into a vehicle or going into the yard where a dog is could cause them to attack to protect their territory.
- Watch for signs that precede a bite. Dogs almost never bite out of the blue and many people who are injured by a dog miss the signals that it is scared, uncomfortable, anxious or otherwise upset. A dog that is close to biting might put its tail between its legs, flatten its ears, crouch, stand very still, raise the hair along its back, growl, show its teeth and more.
- Avoid running from a dog. It can activate its natural urge to chase.
What To Do If a Dog Attacks
Sometimes a dog attack is unavoidable. There are a few strategies that will help protect in that situation and lessen the damage a dog is able to inflict.
First, do not turn your back on a dog that is showing signs of aggression. Try to stay calm, avoid yelling and brace for an attack while backing away to safety. If the dog does not back off though, make as much noise as possible to alert others and get help. Cover your throat and neck with your hands as this area is extremely vulnerable and kick the dog off if possible.
Individuals who are injured by a dog may be entitled to compensation from the dog’s owner for the damages their animal has caused. The dedicated Illinois personal injury lawyers at Briskman, Briskman & Greenberg can help. With over 30 years of experience advocating on behalf of injury victims, we know what it takes to succeed on behalf of our clients.
As a part of the Briskman Guarantee, your initial consultation is free. We work on a contingency fee basis, meaning you only pay us when we are successful in getting compensation for you or your family. To learn more, call 1-877-595-4878 to schedule a free consultation today. Briskman, Briskman & Greenberg has locations in Joliet and Chicago to better serve you.