Dog Bite Prevention Week April 11-17

Published: Apr. 12, 2021 at 4:00 PM CDT
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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - Each year, more than 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs in the United States. Of those, more than 800,000 require medical attention, according to the Centers for Disease Control. April 11 through 17 is Dog Bite Prevention Week. Click HERE for a look at dog bites by the numbers.

For many of us, when we see a dog, we want to pet the dog. However, not every dog wants your affection.

“Some dogs just don’t want to be petted. That doesn’t make them unfriendly. That just means they love their family who can pet them, however strangers touching them makes them uncomfortable,” said Heather Mishefske.

Heather Mishefske owns emBARK in Eau Claire. She is one of 12 Certified Canine Behavior Consultants(CBCC-KA) in the state of Wisconsin.

She says if you get to know dog behavior, you can often see the warning signals and potentially avoid a situation where a dog uses its teeth.

“So some of the things we see in dogs that should alert us to a red flag the dog is uncomfortable are things like yawning is a stress signal. A lip lick. You often see a lot of these paired together and a lot of these will happen in close repetition with one another. So you might see the dog freeze a little bit. They might look away. Redirected smelling where all of a sudden they will be obsessing about a spot on the ground right next to them that they really have to smell. A redirected scratching where all of a sudden, they have a a big itch on their back of their neck,” said Mishefske.

Mishefske says growling is another indicator a dog is uncomfortable.

“Growling is such good information. I know it makes people uncomfortable. You never want to punish a growl. In the dog training world we say that’s like taking the batteries out of the smoke detector. We need to know that animal is uncomfortable,” she said.

Also, don’t assume a wagging tail means the dog is comfortable.

“Often times people will say but their tail was wagging as I was approaching them, and that’s just one tiny indicator of stress in a dog, and the tail wagging depending on the motion of the tail and the rest of the body you have to look at, a really big picture will give the better description of how that dog is feeling in the moment,” said the canine behavior consultant.

Mishefske says besides picking up on the signals, we need to better educate ourselves on the appropriate way to approach dogs. While many of us were taught to present our hand to a dog, that’s outdated and not the best approach, according to dog behaviorists.

“What I always coach people to do is I want you to be observant of does that dog actually want to come up to you. Some dogs want to come up, they want to smell you and they’re just gathering info, but is that dog asking to be petted? Is their body loose?”

To better gauge if a dog is comfortable, Mishefske recommends the three second consent test.

“If a dog comes up asks to be petted, pet them for three seconds and stop and see if they ask, meaning they are approaching you on their own accord to see if they want that affection,” she said.

Mishefkse says most dogs try to avoid conflict, but we don’t always read the signals. If you notice warning signs when you approach a dog, back away and give the dog space. While adults may not always recognize the signs, it can be even harder for children. At least half of the dog bites in the U.S. involve children, according to the CDC.

“A lot of dog bites occur when there is someone approaching the dog, the dog is uncomfortable, and a lot of tactile pressure on that dog - hugging, grabbing the neck,” said the owner of emBARK.

Mishefske recommends having an adult between the dog and the child until a positive relationship is established. If you can’t be there to supervise, use boundaries to separate kids and pets, such as a baby gate.

“We’re gonna separate everyone until we get a feel, and we start conditioning the fact children bring good things,” said Mishefske.

If your dog has a bite incident, or if you’re worried it could escalate to that, help is available. Mishefske helps her clients create a plan, which includes pairing good things with the trigger to help make the dog’s trigger less scary.

During this Dog Bite Prevention Week, Mishefske hopes you take away these three things:

1. Educate yourself on dog body language.

2. Be more conservative than you think you should be when meeting a new dog.

3. Remember the dog has to consent to receiving your attention.

Click HERE for information on a free, dog body language course.

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