GMA: Avoiding Dog Bites

Feb. 5, 2001 -- Even your fluffy pet poodle might be harboring some wild instincts that prompt her to bite people.

Dogs bite for many reasons. They bite out of fear, to protect their territory or to establish dominance over the person being bitten, according to the Humane Society of the United States.

Some dog owners also teach their dogs that biting is an acceptable form of behavior. Each year, a number of newborns die because of dogs who see them as prey.

And just last week, a San Francisco woman was killed when a neighbor's 120-pound Mastiff-Canary Island mix dog attacked her and bit her in the throat.

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that nearly 2 percent of the U.S. population, or 4.7 million people, are bitten by a dog each year. Most of the victims — about 60 percent — are children, and annually, 10 to 20 people die every year as a result of dog bites.

Dodging Dog Bites

How can you avoid being bitten and what can you teach your child?

First off, never leave a baby or small child alone with a dog. Teach your children not to approach strange dogs, and to ask permission from a dog's owner before petting the dog.

When you do pet a dog, avoid the area on top of the head and the back of the neck, because a dog might perceive this as a threat. Instead go for the underside of the dog's neck.

It's a bad idea to run past a dog, or to bother a dog that is caring for puppies, sleeping or eating, the American Veterinary Medical Association advises. If a dog approaches to sniff you, stay still because in most cases the dog will determine you are not a threat and will walk away.

When a dog begins growling and snarling and does threaten you, stay calm. Do not scream, and if you must say anything at all, use a calm, firm voice and avoid eye contact. Back slowly away from the dog, or stand still until it turns away, but do not run.

If you do fall or are knocked to the ground, curl into a ball with your hands over your head and neck, and protect your face.

When a dog exhibits aggressive behavior such as nipping, growling or biting, the dog's owner should seek advice from a veterinarian, animal behaviorist or a skilled dog trainer.

The most effective dangerous dog laws are those that place the legal responsibility for a dog's actions on the dog's owner rather than on the dog, the Humane Society says. Such laws hold the dog owner accountable for the victim's pain and suffering, and mandate certain corrective actions, such as spay/neuter and proper confinement of the dog.