Dogs Don’t Bite Out of the Blue

So your dog doesn’t bite and would never bite anyone, ever. Don’t be so sure.

“Any dog can and will bite,” says Lt. Dan DeSousa from the County Department of Animal Services.  “On average, a dog bites one child under the age of 12 every day in San Diego County.”  All too often, those bites affect a child’s face, head or neck. The number of all bites each year usually ranges from 2,400 – 2,500 and those are just the cases reported in the unincorporated County and its contract cities.

Rady Children’s Hospital saw 264 children with dog bites last year and 80 percent of those cases involved a dog the victim knows. And the number of incidents is rising. Twenty more bites were reported in 2011 over the year before. Nationwide, emergency rooms see about 1000 dog bites a day and most of them come from family pets.

That’s why the County’s Department of Animal Services and Rady Children’s Hospital teamed up Wednesday to deliver one message. “A dog bite is preventable,” said Kay Thompson, R.N., Sam S. and Rose Stein Emergency Care Center.  

Thompson is an emergency room nurse at Children’s. She’s seen the damage a dog bite can do, not just physically but emotionally. Yet, she loves dogs. She has two Labradors and she’s a certified professional dog trainer.

Thompson says if you learn to read a dog’s body language, you can prevent bites. There’s no better time than now for that lesson. Kids will soon be out of school and Rady Children’s Hospital typically sees five cases each week in the summer time. May is also National Dog Bite Prevention Month.  

Surprisingly enough, dogs do not like hugs and kisses. Children have a tendency to show their affection for their pets that way but Thompson says dogs like their space. They also don’t like being patted on the head, but prefer being gently scratched on the side of the neck.

Here are the signs to watch for when an animal needs to be left alone.    

When the dog:

  • Yawns – he’s not tired, he wants you to leave
  • Licks his lips
  • Displays a half-moon eye – you can see the whites of his eyes under his pupils
  • Turns his head away  
  • Freezes and stares – watch out, he may bite you

Teach your children not to approach strange dogs. While it may be OK with the owner to pet his dog, it may not be okay with Fido. Children need to stand still, wait and see if the dog approaches them.

Hali Hughes "makes like a tree," a rigid posture advised for avoiding dog bites. De Sousa says children should know what to do if a dog runs up to them or starts chasing them. For one, make like a tree. Four-year-old Hali Hughes from San Marcos demonstrates. Stop, fold your branches (arms down) and watch your roots grow (keep your head down.) The dog should lose interest and walk away. If the dog knocks you down, act like a rock and crouch down on the ground.

De Sousa says pet owners may like their dogs to run loose, but it’s the law to put them on a leash when they are out in public. He also recommends spaying and neutering pets because they are less likely to bite. Make sure your dog is socialized and accustomed to different situations so both of you will be more comfortable out in public. Finally, he says it’s the responsibility of the dog owner to ensure the safety of the community and if a dog bite occurs it must be reported to County Animal Services or local authorities.       

Thompson says once a child comes to the emergency room, it’s too late. Start telling kids now what they need to know to stay safe.