Don't get bit: Tips for reading body language to prevent dog bites
For the last three years Anchorage has averaged more than 500 reported dog bites a year, according to Anchorage Animal Care and Control spokeswoman Laura Atwood, and there may be more that are unreported.
Dog bites can happen any time of year, but the number of reports tends to go up in the spring and summer months when people and animals are more active outdoors.
"People and dogs are coming into contact more often," said Atwood. “People are outside on the trails, outside walking their neighborhoods, so we definitely see the reports go up."
According to Atwood, any dog has the potential to bite, under the right circumstances. The good news is that most animals will give humans signals that they are stressed or uncomfortable, so we know to handle them differently.
A stressed dog may put its ears back and its eyes could get big. It may tense its jaw or have a nervous pant.
A tail tucked between the legs could indicate fright. A relaxed dog may have a loose wagging tail, but a stiff wagging tail may signal uncertainty.
"A stiff wag is more, I'm not sure about this right now and I'm letting you know that," Atwood said.
Greeting unfamiliar dogs properly is also important to avoid making a dog nervous and possibly bite. Atwood recommends asking the owner's permission, allowing the dog to sniff your hand, then petting them under the chin, on the chest or on the side.
Surprisingly, Atwood said, one area to avoid petting is the top of the head.
"You never want to pet a dog over the head, which is what we do because the dog’s standing there facing us. That's really easy, but that hand reaching over them can make them nervous," Atwood explained.
Another issue that Atwood sees often is people getting too close to a dog's face by getting down on their knees to greet the animal. She said that may be fine if you know the dog well, but it isn't a good idea if you don’t.
Atwood said the key to avoiding bites is to pay attention to a dog's body language.
"Dogs really do do their best to warn us," she said. "It's our job to learn what they are trying to tell us and pay attention to it."
According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most dog bites happen inside the home with dogs that are familiar. The CDC offers its own tips to minimize the chances that someone will be bitten.
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