According to the latest data from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), 45% of U.S. households include a dog or dogs, for a total of 88 million canine companions in the United States. While most of these dogs will coexist peacefully with us, dog bites remain a serious public health risk, with more than 4.5 million people being bitten each year in the United States.
During National Dog Bite Prevention Week (April 9-15), a coalition of veterinarians, animal behavior experts, and insurance representatives are spreading awareness of this issue and sharing tips on how to prevent bites from happening.
Of particular concern is the increased risk of dog bites to delivery drivers. E-commerce sales as a percentage of total retail sales have doubled in the past seven years, and many Americans are having more and more deliveries brought to their doors. These interactions have the potential for trouble, but with a little planning, training, and preparation, dog owners can make sure these interactions are safe.
“The tragedy of dog bites is that most are preventable,” said Victoria Stilwell, celebrity dog trainer and behavior expert. “The more we take the time to understand dogs’ needs and teach them the skills to cope with the challenges of living in a domestic environment, the less bites will occur.”
All dogs, even well-trained, gentle dogs, are capable of biting when provoked. This could include when they’re eating, sleeping, caring for puppies, or when an unexpected stranger, such as a delivery driver, approaches the house. To help prevent bites in these situations, the National Dog Bite Prevention Coalition offers the following advice:
Dr. Lori Teller
- Secure your dog: Make sure your dog is secured in a separate room, crate, or fenced area during delivery times. This prevents any surprise encounters between your dog and the delivery driver. Do not leave your dog unleashed in your front yard when you expect a delivery.
- Use clear signage: Place visible signs on your door or on your property to warn delivery personnel about the presence of a dog.
- Train your dog: Train your dog to be comfortable with strangers and to follow basic commands.
- Socialize your dog: Expose your dog to a variety of people, animals and environments to help them become more comfortable with new situations.
- Communicate with delivery services: If possible, notify delivery services about your dog and any special instructions for delivering packages to your home.
- Monitor your dog’s behavior: Regularly monitor your dog’s behavior and consult with your veterinarian if you notice any signs of aggressive behavior.
In addition, the coalition provides the following tips to prevent dog bites in other situations:
- Don’t ever leave children unsupervised with dogs, even with family pets. More than 50% of all dog-related injuries are to children, and for kids that are under four years of age, often those bites are to the head and neck region. American Humane offers a free online booklet available for families with children called “Pet Meets Baby,” providing valuable information on introducing a new child to a home with a pet – or a new pet into a home with a child.
- Make sure your pet is healthy. Not all illnesses and injuries are obvious, and dogs are more likely to bite if they are sick or in pain. If you haven’t been to the veterinarian in a while, schedule an appointment for a checkup to discuss your dog’s physical and behavioral health.
- Take it slow. If your dog has been mainly interacting with your family since you brought them home, don’t rush out into crowded areas or dog parks. Try to expose your dogs to new situations slowly and for short periods of time, arrange for low-stress interactions, and give plenty of praise and rewards for good behavior.
- Educate yourself in positive training techniques and devote time to interact with your dog.
- Be responsible about approaching other people’s pets. Ask permission from the owner before approaching a dog, and look for signs that the dog wants to interact with you. Sometimes dogs want to be left alone, and we need to recognize and respect that.
- Make sure that you are walking your dog on a leash and recognize changes in your dog’s body language, indicating they may not be comfortable.
- Always monitor your dog’s activity, even when they are in the backyard at your own house, because they can be startled by something, get out of the yard, and possibly injure someone or be injured themselves.
In addition to potential physical and emotional injury, dog bites can be costly. Janet Ruiz, director of strategic communications at the Insurance Information Institute, reported that in 2022, there were 17,597 claims for dog bites and related injuries, with the total cost of claims at $1.136 billion and an average cost per claim of $64,555, which represents an increase of 32% from 2021 and 132% percent over the last 10 years.
“On a positive note, the number of claims decreased by 2.2% over the past year, which underscores the progress of educating dog owners to take responsibility for their beloved pets,” Ruiz said.
In 2022, State Farm paid nearly $211 million dollars for nearly 3,300 dog-related injury claims. Those may be dog bites, or they could also be injuries from a dog accidentally pulling someone down the stairs or off a curb.
“As the largest property insurer in the country, State Farm is committed to educating people about pet owner responsibility and how to interact with dogs safely,” said Heather Paul, public affairs specialist at State Farm. “It is important to recognize that any dog, including ones that are in the home, can bite or cause injury. Every dog has a unique personality, and while breed or type may dictate how they look, how a dog reacts isn’t guaranteed by those qualities.”
“While dog bites are a serious public health issue, the good news is that most dog bites are preventable,” said AVMA President Dr. Teller. “By taking steps to train and properly socialize our dogs and educate ourselves and loved ones on dog bite prevention, we can help reduce bites and keep dogs in loving homes, where they belong.”
For more information on preventing dog bites and National Dog Bite Prevention Week, visit AVMA.org/DogBitePrevention.