When Cuddly Turns Ugly: Preventing Dog Bites

Children, the elderly and letter carriers, in that order, are most likely to be bitten by a dog. Last year 3,000 letter carriers were bitten while delivering the mail.

Every year, the Postal Service takes a leadership role during National Dog Bite Prevention Week — this year May 17 to 23.

Children, the elderly and letter carriers, in that order, are most likely to be bitten by a dog. Last year 3,000 letter carriers were bitten while delivering the mail.

But there’s a lot we can do to prevent dog bites, starting with understanding why dogs bite for no apparent reason. Experts say, psychology, there are reasons — at least from the dog’s point of view.

Every day that a letter carrier comes into a dog’s territory, the dog barks and the letter carrier leaves. Day after day the dog sees this action repeated. After a week or two, the dog appears to feel invincible against intruders. Once the dog gets loose, there’s a good chance it will attack.

Paducah, KY, Letter Carrier Brian Mudd says he had just finished delivering to the last house on his route when he turned the corner only to be attacked by the customer’s loose dog. “I had no time to react,” said Mudd. “He was just there. He jumped up and bit me on the hand.”

Mudd says it was the aftereffects that caused him the most discomfort and inconvenience. “I had to get stitches and I couldn’t use my right hand,” he said. “I had to miss two weeks of work.”

Dog owners also need to remind their children about keeping the family dog secured. And, children shouldn’t take mail directly from the letter carrier. A dog may see handing mail to a child as a threatening gesture.
Many of the OSHA-recordable bites that were reported by letter carriers in 2008 came from dogs whose owners used those famous last words “my dog won’t bite.”

Keeping children safe

Children are the majority of dog bite victims and are 900 times more likely to be bitten than letter carriers. In fact, dog attacks are the most commonly reported child-hood public health problem in the United States. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) also reports that the number of dog attacks exceeds the reported instances of measles, whooping cough and mumps combined. Dog bite victims account for up to 5 percent of emergency room visits.

In the United States, according to the AVMA, as many as 800,000 people are admitted to emergency rooms every year from dog bites. Countless more bites go unreported and untreated.

But there are ways to avoid being bitten:

  • Don’t run past a dog. The dog’s natural instinct is to chase and catch prey.
  • If a dog threatens you, don’t scream. Avoid eye contact. Try to remain motionless until the dog leaves, and then back away slowly until the dog is out of sight.
  • Don’t approach a strange dog, especially one that’s tethered or confined.
  • If you choose to pet a dog, always let the dog see and sniff you before petting it.
  • If you believe a dog is about to attack you, try to place something between yourself and the dog, such as a backpack or a bicycle.

For more information:

Prevent the Bite is a web-based learning site filled with information and activities for children to help them avoid dog bites.

The Humane Society of America is another excellent source of dog bite prevention information.

About the Author

Marilyn Jones has been a journalist for more than 30 years and is currently a freelance feature writer specializing in travel. Her articles have appeared in major newspapers including the BostonGlobe, Akron Beacon Journal and Chicago Sun-Times as well as regional travel magazines.

Visit her website at travelwithmarilyn.com

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