If Aggressive Dog Threatens You, Know What to Do

Would you know what to do if you suddenly came upon an aggressive, threatening dog?

And what if you got bitten?

On "The Early Show" Tuesday, resident veterinarian Dr. Debbye Turner Bell offered important pointers on preventing -- and treating -- dog bites. She also had words to the wise about keeping your dog from becoming aggressive.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 4.7 million people are bitten by dogs in the United States each year, and one-in-five bites requires medical attention - some 800,000 a year.

Not only that, but children are most at risk, especially those between the ages of 5 and 9.

WHY DOGS BITE

There are several reasons a dog will bite, and many of them have nothing to do with being mean. More often than not, a dog will bite out of fear, rather than aggression. Dogs that feel threatened, unsure, or challenged will respond by biting as a self-defense mechanism. Dogs that haven't been spayed or neutered may display aggressive behavior related to their sex drive. Dogs are territorial creatures and will protect their turf. So a dog might bite if its food, toys, or pups are bothered. A surprised dog will bite. If you approach a dog unexpectedly or he doesn't hear you coming, his instinct might be to bite out of fear. Dogs that haven't been properly behavior-trained and socialized are more likely to bite.

BREEDS THAT WILL MOST LIKELY BITE

In short, ALL DOGS are capable of biting. There's no one breed or type of dog that's more likely to bite than others. Biting has more to do with circumstances, behavior, training (or lack thereof), and ignorance on the part of human beings.

According to HealthyPet.com: "A study performed by the American Veterinary Medical Association, the CDC, and the Humane Society of the United States, analyzed dog bite statistics from the last 20 years and found that the statistics don't show that any breeds are inherently more dangerous than others. The study showed that the most popular large breed dogs at any one time were consistently on the list of breeds that bit fatally. There were a high number of fatal bites from Doberman pinschers in the 1970s, for example, because Dobermans were very popular at that time and there were more Dobermans around, and because Dobermans' size makes their bites more dangerous. The number of fatal bites from pit bulls rose in the 1980s for the same reason, and the number of bites from Rottweilers in the 1990s. The study also noted that there are no reliable statistics for nonfatal dog bites, so there is no way to know how often smaller breeds are biting."

THE CORRECT WAY TO APPROACH AN UNFAMILIAR DOG

1) First get the "OK" from the owner!
2) Hold out your hand, fingers closed, palm down, slowly toward the dog. Allow the dog to approach your hand and sniff it.
3) Wait for the dog's "OK." If he wants your affection, he will lower his head, perk ears, or even come closer to you. If the dogs puts his ears back, flat on his head, or growls, or cowers, don't pet him!
4) Pat the dog on the top of his head, or along his back. Avoid touching his belly, tail, ears, or feet.

THE WRONG WAY TO APPROACH A STRANGE DOG

1) Running toward an unfamiliar dog.
2) Getting eye-level, very close, and smiling. When you smile at the dog, he thinks you're "bearing your teeth" at him. That's an invitation to fight!
3) "Surprising" a dog (sneaking up on her or startling her while she's sleeping) Often, the dog's defense mechanism will kick in, and she will bite in self-defense.
4) Ignoring their warning! If a dogs barks ferociously or growls when you approach his territory, bed, etc. and you continue, that is an engraved invitation to get bitten. They are warning you that they don't like that and to stop. Listen!!
5) Inappropriate touching: Dog's generally don't like their ears, tail and feet tugged. Some don't like being inverted and rubbed on their belly. This is a position of submission and an aggressive dog will resist this "challenge" vigorously.

WHAT TO DO IF THREATENED BY AN AGGRESSIVE DOG

1) Remain calm and still. Don't run. This is a race you will not win. If you are alone, back away slowly. Do not turn your back.
2) If you are on the ground, curl into a fetal position, cover your head with your arms, and keep your fingers curled in a fist.
3) Avoid eye contact. Remember, staring an aggressive dog in the eyes is a challenge.
4) Do not smile at the dog
5) Use a soft, soothing tone of voice. Loud, angry-sounding words and screaming only spur on the dog.
6) If he bites you, DO NOT PULL AWAY. This only spurs the dog on. Remain calm. Try to put something between you and the dog like your purse, jacket, bicycle, backpack, etc. Don't hit the dog. Again, just makes the situation worse.

WHAT TO DO IF YOU GET BITTEN
1) If the bite is serious, call 911.
2) Wash the bite wound thoroughly with soap and water. If the wound is deep, painful, discolored, or swollen, contact your medical professional.
3) If possible, confirm the dog's rabies vaccination status.
4) Report the bite to your local authorities and veterinarian.

WAYS TO PREVENT AGGRESSION IN YOUR PET

1) Spay or neuter your animal. This is not only good for the health of your dog, it can decrease the dog's drive to roam, and compete for the affections of the opposite sex. Often, intact dogs (those that have not been spayed or neutered) are more territorial, aggressive and protective.
2) Avoid playing "tug of war" with a dog. Many dogs interpret this as aggression. If they "win," they feel empowered. If they feel threatened, they may try to retaliate.
3) Avoid "roughhousing" with, or other sudden movements toward the dog's owner. Many dogs will see this as an attack on their owner, and will attack you to defend the owner.
4) Socialize and behavior-train your dog.
5) Do not try to take food or toy away from a dog. NEVER bother a dog while he is eating. The most common situation where a dog bite occurs is while a dog is eating!
6) Have enough toys for your multiple dog household, so that the dogs don't have to share. They also should not share food and water bowls.
7) Do not allow your dog to roam unsupervised or off-leash.

For much more on dog bites, click here and here.

The dogs seen on the show:

Pablo (A863679) -- 3 yr. male Chihuahua. 7 pounds. Came in as a stray. Very nice.

Coco -- 1-and-a-half-year-old female pit bull.

Madison -- a Blue Merle Pit Bull Mix. Age: 6 years.

If you're interested in adopting Pablo or Coco, contact New York Animal Care and Control. The phone number is 646 235 8127.
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