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Recognizing and responding to canine aggression can prevent dog bites – Times Reporter

NEW PHILADELPHIA — The arrival of spring means more people and dogs will be outside enjoying and using shared public spaces. In other words, peak dog-bite season is on the way.
There’s a reason National Dog Bite Prevention Week, backed by the American Veterinary Medical Association, is observed in the second week of April. Every year, dogs bite more than 4.5 million people in the United States – and approximately 800,000 of those who are bitten by dogs require medical attention. The AVMA also reports insurers paid $854 million in liability claims related to dog bites and other dog-related injuries in 2020.
More:Dog that bit 4-year-old boy in Dundee area 55 to 65 times has been euthanized
Ohio was in the top 10 states of reported dog bites in country in 2020, when 45.9% of the victims were children, according to Beth Lewis, facility and adoption specialist at the Tuscarawas County Dog Pound. The county agency is responsible for investigating reported bites.
“We see them from giant dogs to little dogs, anywhere in between,” Lewis said. “It just depends. Breed doesn’t really play that big of a role in dog bites. What plays a role in dog bites is the individual dog, and the people that own the dog, and how the dog is handled.”
She describes bite prevention as a process involving many factors for owners and others: pet selection, socialization, training, spaying and neutering, observation, avoiding risky situations, understanding canine behavior and respecting the animals.
“A wagging tail doesn’t always mean a dog is friendly, especially if it’s wagging at spine level,” Lewis said.
She wants the general public to understand the canine aggression ladder. On the very bottom rung is a dog yawning, blinking and licking its nose. The upward progression is: turning head away; turning body away, sitting, pawing; walking away; creeping, ears back; standing crouched, tail tucked under; lying down, leg up; stiffening up, staring; growling; snapping and finally, biting. 
Lewis and Dog Warden Ken Griffith advise dog owners and others who encounter dogs to recognize when a dog is becoming irritated.
Dams protect pups and may bite those who try to handle them, Griffith said. 
Dogs might also be protective of their toys, in the same way humans are protective of their belongings, Lewis said.
Either scenario, and countless others, can lead a dog to start climbing the ladder of canine aggression.
“If you have a dog that is already growling and barking, they can’t say, ‘Hey, back up’ or ‘Hey, I’m uncomfortable,'” Lewis said. “Their way of telling us ‘Hey, I’m uncomfortable’ is through vocalization.’
“Growling, barking, snarling, showing teeth is a dog’s way of talking to you and telling you they’re uncomfortable. They should never, ever be punished for telling you that. The fact that they’re willing to vocalize these things to you, and not bite, is actually a good thing. They’re saying, ‘Hey back up.'”
Humans can leave the scene, remove an irritant or redirect a dog’s attention.
“You can fix the situation without leading to a dog bite,” Lewis said.
She advises giving dogs permission to vocalize negative moods without punishment.
“We’ve had dogs in here that, through conversation, we have realized had been punished for growling or snarling, particularly at children,” she said. “A parent or guardian or whoever, through the years, had been upset that a dog had growled at a child and had punished the dog.
“The unfortunate thing about punishing a dog for growling is that a lot of times, they’ll then skip the growl the next time, and they’ll jump straight for a bite because they’ve learned, unfortunately, that growling equals punishment, so I don’t want to do that again, but at the same time, this child’s annoying me, bothering me, so what’s my next step?” 
Understanding canine behavior is key to preventing bites, according to the dog pound leadership. Allowing intruders into a dog’s territory — such as its home or crate — can cause problems.
“We get a lot of dog bites at gatherings,” Griffith said. “If you see your dog’s afraid, put it somewhere quiet, make sure everybody stays away. If you’re at the party and you see the dog cowering, don’t give it a hug.”
Griffith recalled a bite that happened at a New Year’s party. The dog was hiding in the kitchen to avoid the commotion. A man walked into the kitchen, decided to hug the dog, and was bitten.
“Just always (be) respecting the dog’s space,” Lewis said. “A crate is a dog’s space. Don’t let your child in the crate, even if it’s cute and funny. That’s its safe space.
“If a dog is on the other side of a fence, don’t reach over the fence, don’t reach through the fence,” Lewis said. “We’ve had people who said, ‘I tried to pet the dog and it bit me.'” 
She advises parents teach children how to meet and treat a dog.
“Don’t run up to a strange dog in the park,” Lewis said. “Always ask permission before you pet a dog. Don’t get in a dog’s face, even your own dog. Don’t sit on your dog. Don’t pull on your dog’s ears and tail. Don’t mess with their feet.”
And don’t play in their food bowl.
“We get people in here all the time. They’re like, ‘Oh, my dog will let me just take their food,'” Lewis said. “Why do you think that that’s OK? Would you want somebody just taking your food? Respect your dog’s space, just like you would want someone to respect your space because respect goes a long way.”
Avoiding risky situations plays a big role in preventing negative animal-human interactions.
“If the dog is running loose, don’t go charging up to it,” Lewis said. “Stand tall like a tree. You don’t scream, you don’t run because that just draws more attention to yourself and it can work the dog up more.”
For owners, bite prevention starts even before pet ownership. Lewis advises picking the right breed.
“If you’re a couch-potato family, you shouldn’t be picking a border collie. Why? Because border collies are herding dogs and you’re going to be turning the dog in to the dog pound for nipping at your kids because it’s not getting enough attention and it’s not getting enough exercise,” Lewis said.
She advises owners to socialize their pets so they become accustomed to other people and animals. It helps to train a dog to obey basic commands: sit, stay, come, no, down.
“It’s not going to prevent all dog bites. But a well-behaved dog is much less likely to be rowdy and to partake in some of these bad behaviors,” Lewis said. “These are all things that you, yourself, can do to prevent bites just from the beginning.”  
Spaying and neutering is valuable for preventing bites, according to Griffith and Lewis.
“The most likely dog to bite you … is an intact male dog,” Lewis said, citing a study by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). “Intact, unneutered male dogs represent 90% of dogs presented to veterinary behaviorists for dominance aggression, which is the most commonly diagnosed type of aggression. Intact males are involved in 70 to 76% of reported dog bite incidents.
“We see it here. Intact males guard females. They guard their houses.They just tend to be rowdier and have more dominance aggression. They just seem to have a shorter fuse.
“And it’s just amazing how once you neuter those dogs, how much different they are in just a couple of weeks to a month’s time,” Lewis said. “You get that extra testosterone out of them, and it changes their entire demeanor for the better.”
While any dog can bite, pit bulls and mixed-breed dogs have the highest risk of biting and cause the most damage per bite, according to research conducted by the Ohio State University College of Medicine and the OSU Wexner Medical Center. The same was true of dogs with wide and short heads weighing between 66 and 100 pounds, according to the study published in 2019 in the International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology. The study was conducted to evaluate dog bites in children.
A Nov. 22 article from data journalism website Stacker found that pit bulls were responsible for the largest number of attacks causing bodily harm in the U.S. from September 1982 to Dec. 31, 2018. They were responsible for 5,994 such events, or 166.5 per year, and 421 deaths. Stacker looked at data collected by ANIMALS 24-7, which logs serious attacks by dog breed.
Lewis downplays the role of breed in dog bites, citing a summary from the AVMA Animal Welfare Division. The 2014 review found substantial variation within breeds which, it said, “suggests that it is inappropriate to make predictions about a given dog’s propensity for aggressive behavior based solely on its breed.” 
Studies considered in the summary found that increased popularity of certain breeds was followed by increases in bite reports in some large breeds. American Kennel Club registrations of Rottweilers peaked between 1990 and 1995. They were at the top of the list of “biting breeds” on studies of bites causing hospitalization in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the AVMA literature review said.
Lewis said breed bans don’t work.
“Denver, for instance, had a long-time pit bull ban,” she said. “In Denver, bites actually didn’t decrease. But what they saw was that bites actually increased for German shepherds and chow chows. So they were seeing more bites with other breeds of dogs versus pitbulls.
“Banning Rottweilers in the ’90s wasn’t going to help,” Lewis said. “Banning pitbulls now isn’t going to help. What’s going to help is, let’s talk about safety. How do we make people safer around all dogs, little dogs, big dogs? How do we talk to children in schools about being safer around all dogs? How do we tell adults to talk to their kids? How do we make people more responsible dog owners in general?”


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