Denver Animal Protection Tips During National Dog Bite Prevention Week

Published on April 09, 2024

They say a dog is a man’s best friend. But even your best friend can bite if scared, threatened or not feeling well. It’s a message Denver Animal Protection (DAP), a division of the Denver Department of Public Health & Environment, would like to share during National Dog Bite Prevention Week, April 7-13.

There are 90 million dogs in the United States. Approximately 4.7 million people are bitten by dogs each year, and at least half are children, with injury rates the highest among kids aged 5 to 9 years. Most dog bites of young children happen during everyday activities with familiar dogs. In Denver, hundreds of people report dog bites each year. Last year, DAP recorded 825 dog bites on people. In 2022, 738 bites. And so far, this year, 192 bites.

It’s important to remember that any dog can bite, no matter the breed, size, age, gender or personality. Instead, the focus should be on the animal’s behavior. To reduce dog bite-related injuries, adults and children should learn how to appropriately interact with dogs and recognize behaviors that can lead to biting. Dog owners should be responsible for their pets by providing adequate socialization and stimulation.

"We believe that preventing dog bites begins with education, understanding, and responsible pet ownership," says DAP Director Melanie Sobel. "By equipping people with the knowledge they need to safely coexist with our community’s canine companions, we can create safer environments for us all."

Reading body language

Understanding dog body language is key to avoiding a bite. Dogs give signs of how they’re feeling so folks should respect that.

An example is an anxious or scared dog may try to make themselves look smaller by crouching to the ground and/or lowering their head. Other signs can include licking their lips, putting their tail between their legs, flattening their ears and yawning. They also may look away to avoid direct eye contact or walk away. If these behaviors happen, it’s best to leave the pup alone and not force any contact.

Protecting children

Since children are most often bitten, here’s how to keep them safe.

At home, teach children to respect animals and that the dog needs time alone, especially when they are eating, sleeping or moving away from them. Also, tell them to avoid running up to a dog or screaming since it may startle them. Children should also know they should not pull a dog’s ears, fur or tail; and they shouldn’t drag or try to ride the pup.

Adults should also separate young children and dogs unless under constant adult supervision. If the adult leaves the room even for a minute, the child and dog should be separated.

One of the most important things you can teach your children is that dogs don't like hugs and kisses. Children learn early on that giving hugs to parents, siblings, and stuffed animals is a way to show love and affection. The desire to show affection extends naturally to the family dog. To a child, the family dog is just an animated stuffed animal. This desire to show affection to the family dog is a major cause of facial bites in children.

When dogs are stressed, it is their biological impulse to run away. However, if a dog is being held, even in a ‘friendly’ hug and can’t run, it might use its teeth instead. Behaviorists believe that depriving a dog of that course of action by immobilizing him with a hug can increase their stress and may lead to a bite.

Outside the home, teach children to ask a dog’s owner for permission to pet the animal. If it’s okay, have the child slowly offer the back of their closed hand and let the dog approach them. Then, they can gently pet the dog’s back, side or chest. Avoid petting the top of a dog’s head. And if a dog is off-leash, teach them to never approach the animal and avoid direct eye contact. If the unknown dog approaches them, tell them to stay quiet and still. Don’t run or scream. If a dog knocks them down, tell your child to cover their head and neck with their arms and curl into a ball.

Be a responsible pet owner

Pet owners have the biggest impact on whether their dog bites someone. It starts with socializing a pup early on by introducing them to different sights, sounds, smells and people in high-traffic areas. This makes them less fearful as they get older and less likely to lash out. Never force a dog to be around someone or something when they are afraid. Remove them from the situation. Also, keep your dog on a fixed-length leash or harness when in public.

It’s also important to spay and neuter your dog to decrease aggressive tendencies and their desire to roam. Providing daily exercise and play can help prevent aggression because of pent-up energy, frustration or boredom.

And keep your pup up to date on vaccines to protect them and other animals and people from infectious diseases. DAP offers low-cost vaccines and microchips every Saturday and Sunday morning from 9-11 a.m.

Responding to a bite

In Colorado, all dog bites on humans must be reported to the local animal protection or public health agency. In Denver, you can file a report online. If you suffer a minor bite or scratch, wash the area with soap and water, apply antibiotic cream and cover with a bandage. See your doctor if the wound becomes red, painful and swollen. For more serious bites, get medical care or call 911. In every bite, find out if the dog is vaccinated against rabies, and get the name of the veterinarian who vaccinated the dog, along with the owner’s contact information.

For most of us, caring for a canine is a rewarding responsibility that brings immeasurable joy and companionship to our lives, but with that responsibility is an understanding that any dog has the potential to bite under certain circumstances so we should act with intention when around our pups and those we encounter in public. Learn about the other ways to prevent dog bites.