According to the Centers for Disease Control (the CDC), more than 4.7 million people are bitten by dogs every year in the U.S. Of those 4.7 million, close to 800,000 will seek medical attention. Half of the people bitten are children, and nearly 400,000 of those bitten will need emergency treatment. There’s no question that dog bite statistics in the U.S. are pretty alarming, especially in light of the fact that so many of them involve children. Here are a few additional statistics to consider:
- Approximately 92% of all dog attacks are perpetrated by male dogs (almost always males that haven’t been neutered).
- About 25% of dogs that attack are chained.
- Every year, the insurance industry pays over a billion dollars in dog bite claims.
- Approximately three-quarters of all dog bites occur on the extremities (arms, hands, legs and feet).
- This one’s a kicker — Approximately 75% of dog bites occur on the victim’s own property and most of those victims know the dog that attacks them.
DogsBite.org cites an even higher incidence of dog bites involving children, estimating that 81% of all dog bite victims are children. Either way, it’s important to take a closer look at the reasons dogs bite and what we can do to avoid being bitten. Knowledge is power, so educating yourself and your children is the wisest thing to do when it comes to dealing with the nation’s 77.8 million dogs (not counting strays).
Why Dogs Bite
According to Canine Journal, dogs bite “as a reaction to a stressful situation”. Stressful situations for dogs might include any of the following situations:
- feeling threatened
- to protect puppies
- to protect their owner
- they’re not feeling well or they’re injured
- they’re startled
Some dogs will nip or bite when playing, which is why overly boisterous play should be avoided, even with a dog you know.
If you think of these situations as potential “triggers”, you’ll be in a better position to assess a situation that could escalate into a biting incident.
Which Breeds Bite Most?
You should educate yourself about which breeds are most likely to bite, but don’t assume that you need to fear every dog that falls within those breeds.
Pit Bulls account for the majority of fatal dog bites in the U.S., followed by Rottweilers. Also be especially wary of Bulldogs, Doberman Pinschers, Great Danes, Boxers, and German Shepherds. Although these breeds bite more often, it’s important to remember that any dog can — and will — bite if the conditions are right. Be aware of breed tendencies and the stressors that can lead to a dog bite, but don’t show fear because dogs sense it and it feeds their aggression.
Common Sense Prevention
Like people, even good dogs have bad days. Don’t assume that just because you know a dog, or your own dog has never bitten anybody, that he’s incapable. Any and all dogs are capable of biting under the right circumstances. Dog’s are very attuned to body language and attitudes. Here are a few things to keep in mind when you’re around dogs in general:
- Don’t approach a dog you are not familiar with.
- If an unfamiliar dog approaches you, don’t move. Don’t run or panic, and avoid making eye contact with it.
- Never disturb a dog — even your own — when they’re eating, drinking, or taking care of their puppies.
- Allow a dog to sniff or smell your hand before attempting to pet it. When you do pet it, scratch its chest or under its chin. Don’t pet its head.
- If you are attacked, roll yourself into a ball, avoid making eye contact and try to remain as calm as possible.
If You Have a Dog
Dogs are the most popular pets in the U.S., and it’s no wonder. Most are faithful, loyal friends, fun to play with, trainable and, at times, amusing to observe. Because most dog bite victims are children, it’s important to educate your kids on how to treat your pet and how to recognize a potentially dangerous situation (as listed above). It’s best to get a dog that’s still a puppy — younger than 4 months of age is best. An older dog is not advisable if you have children because it’s impossible to predict their behavior. Before deciding on a puppy, study up on breeds — which are the best with children and which are more likely to bite or be aggressive.
If You or Your Child are Bitten
Your first priority is to seek medical attention. Even a bite that doesn’t look very serious can easily become infected, and you may need antibiotics or even a tetanus shot. Even if you have insurance, it’s best to contact an attorney, since at the very least, you’re entitled to have your medical expenses paid by the dog’s owner.
If Your Dog Bites Someone
People with dogs will attest to the fact that they’re often asked “Does your dog bite?” or “It it okay to pet your dog?”. You can never assert with complete confidence that your dog doesn’t or won’t bite, and it’s best to make that clear from the start. But if the worst does happen, and your dog attacks someone, stay as calm as possible. Don’t argue with the person over whose fault the attack was, and offer to pay their medical expenses. Seek medical attention for the victim, even driving them to the emergency room. Give your contact information to the victim, and also get theirs. (If there were witnesses, you should get their contact information as well.) A few days or a week or so after the attack, reach out to the victim to see how they’re doing. Express your sympathy and show compassion. This won’t go against you if the victim sues you, because your concern is simply an act of kindness.
Locate your dog’s medical records, including his latest rabies shot, and make copies to give to the victim. This will reassure them that they’re not at risk for rabies.
Next, seek legal advice and contact your insurance company. You’ll want legal advice in case the victim decides to sue you, and your insurance company will be able to tell you if they cover dog bites, and whether they’ll pay medical expenses for the victim.
If you or a family member has been bitten or your dog has bitten someone in the St. Paul region, contact us. We specialize in personal injury law, and have a history of service and success dating back to 1981.