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Keep Calm: How to Prevent and Avoid a Dog Attack

Ever been bit by a dog? Chances are, if you haven’t, you know someone who has. Approximately 4.7 million people each year are bit by a dog. As a child I was bit by a dog in my own neighborhood. Being bit by a familiar dog is surprisingly very common. At age 8 I knew to stay away from strange dogs and to ask before petting someone else’s dogs, but I didn’t understand the nature of dogs or when they might feel threatened – what ultimately leads them to bite.

As a society, we often feel that what is not human is part of nature, and nature is hard to control.  It is easy to think that we can’t do much about dogs other than put them on a leash.  But that is too often a way to avoid responsibility.  Dogs are domesticated animals that are trained by humans, and trained to interact with humans.  Both owners and non-owners have a responsibility to educate themselves about dog safety.  The presence or absence of this knowledge is often vital when determining liability if something goes wrong.

Whether you have a dog or not, it’s important to teach your children appropriate behavior around dogs they don’t know. Explain to them not to approach an unfamiliar dog, don’t pet a dog without first letting them smell you, don’t disturb a dog who is eating, sleeping or caring for puppies. Avoid petting even familiar dogs who are injured or sick. Tell your young children to be “still like a tree” if approached by an unfamiliar dog, and to never play with a dog on their own. Stress the importance of being calm around dogs, especially when approaching them on their own territory, or near things they may be protective of (like pups, their food, or even their owners).

Sixty one percent of dog bites occur in the home or in a familiar place. Because of this, the CDC recommends adequately preparing yourself before becoming a dog owner. This includes making sure the dog has no history of aggression, socializing and training your dog, and making sure they are submissive. You can do this by having your dog lay down and expose their belly. (Some trainers even encourage holding your dog overhead to enforce your superiority. But for those of us with larger breeds, best to stick to the ground exercises.) Even if you have an ultra family-friendly golden retriever (or your friend does) never leave children or infants unattended with a dog.

If you are approached by an aggressive dog, the  Dog Whisperer himself advises us to stay calm and assertive. We’ve probably all been told that dogs and other animals can sense when we’re afraid. Cesar Millan explains that an aggressive dog wants you to be stressed out and if you’re calm and in control of yourself, it slows the dog down and throws them off.

Millan recommends claiming your own space using an object like an umbrella or a walking stick – something you may have on you. Use the object in a non-threatening manner to make yourself bigger. By calmy claiming your own space, you’re using your body language to say that you don’t want the dog’s space, you just want the space you’re standing in. Avoid direct contact with the dog, and stand sideways.

Most dogs don’t usually attack humans unless they feel a threat to themselves, their pack or their territory. We can’t always avoid the problem because some dog owners are irresponsible and negligent, but we can educate ourselves and our children about dog behavior to reduce the risk of dog attacks. If you or a loved one has been the victim of a dog bite you’ve likely incurred costly medical bills and emotional trauma.  Please contact the law offices of Nelson Barry where a personal injury lawyer familiar with dog bites can guide you through the best course of action.

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