Wear your seat belt. Glop on sunscreen. Maybe you do these things even though you remember the “good ol’ days” when seat belts were optional, even though you dislike the feel of sunscreen (like yours truly), and even though there aren't any immediate, tangible benefits.

But you're trying to be responsible. When you wear a seatbelt or apply sunscreen, you could, ostensibly, add a check to the columns, ‘Working to Decrease Chance of Auto-Related Death or Injury,’ and ‘Working to Decrease Chance of Skin Cancer.’ While there are no guarantees, these and other risks are identifiable, and over time we've developed strategies to ward against them.

‘Avoiding Being Bitten By a Dog’ should also have its own column. As traumatic and upsetting and out-of-the blue as dog bites might feel, we actually know a lot about dog bites — particularly the conditions under which they are likely to occur. Like with car crashes and skin cancer, it’s possible to take preventative measures to keep human bodies safe from dog bites, and it starts with building up a dog-bite-prevention mindset.

The first step is usually getting past “BUT I LOVE DOGS AND DOGS LOVE ME!” While that sure sounds great -- and I’m so happy you love dogs and dogs love you -- dog bite prevention is not synonymous with loving dogs. Instead, a dog-bite-prevention mindset is about looking at contexts where a bite could be more likely. It could look like this: “Gosh. Even though that dog looks incredibly cute tied up all alone outside the store, and even though the tail starts going every time someone walks past and it looks like all that dog wants is to be pet, if my small child walks up to that dog, that dog could change his tune. Or if a skateboard goes by, or if a man walks past with a big hat, that dog could look very different. Heck, maybe that dog is actually looking for his person and doesn’t want to be touched by a stranger. Today is not the day to find out.”

We can also welcome a dog-bite prevention mindset into our homes. Maybe it looks like this: “Ten kids are coming over for the birthday party this afternoon. Sure, maybe it will be fine, but there’s going to be a lot going on, and I only have two eyes. Well, four eyes because another parent will be here, but we really haven’t caught up in a while, and I have to find out how that meeting last week went... So maybe I’ll separate the dog before the party even begins.” This, of course, is not the only dog-bite prevention strategy out there, and maybe yours will look a bit different, but hopefully it doesn't look like this: “I am 100% sure the dog will be 100% fine with 10 screaming kids running around the house for the next four hours (that is, unless we are talking about a stuffed dog, in which case by all means let him enjoy the party). Family dogs and children, particularly visiting children, don't always mix well, as the below articles highlight, and part of avoiding dog bites is acknowledging the contexts in which they are more likely to occur. As these articles point out, concluding that a dog is 100% fine or 100% dangerous is a 100% really bad idea.

As much as I don’t want anybody to get bitten, I don’t want dogs in situations where they respond with a bite. A frequently cited illustration by Kendal Shepherd (below) lays out how dogs often respond to a perceived stressor or threat. What is perceived as a stressor or threat can vary greatly from dog to dog but behavior is something you can always look for. Check out the green and yellow sections on the 'Ladder of Aggression.' Maybe these behaviors seem benign, but they can indicate discomfort, and if pressed a dog could escalate to what we consider "less desirable" behaviors.

If identifying these behaviors is hard, try this: Picture what a dog looks like happily greeting you when you come home. These behaviors are about decreasing space between the dog and you (the dog wants to be close to you, you just got home, this is amazing). On the other hand, the behaviors on the 'Ladder of Aggression' could indicate an interest in increasing space, often between the dog and someone or something else. Dog bite prevention is about noting often-subtle dog behaviors, and then, yes, giving a dog space and steering clear of behaviors in the orange or red zone.

Will reading the below dog-bite-related articles guarantee that you and your loved ones are never bitten? Will it guarantee that your dog never bites? Of course not. But armed with the when, where, who and why of dog bites, you can take steps to avoid or minimize these possibilities.

Dog Bites: The Basics

Dog bite prevention facts
AVMA, American Veterinary Medical Association
@AVMAvets #dogbiteprevention

Preventing dog bites when you don't have a hero cat
Do You Believe in Dog? Mia Cobb, BSc (hons)
@DoUBelieveInDog and Facebook

“Please don’t make me bite you”: A dog’s eye view of dog bite prevention
National Canine Resarch Council (NCRC)

Free dog bite prevention week resources
Sophia Yin, DVM
@SophiaYin and Facebook

Dogs bite when humans greet inappropriately
Sophia Yin, DVM
@SophiaYin and Facebook

Can fatal dog attacks be prevented?
Companion Animal Psychology, Zazie Todd, PhD
@CompAnimalPsych and Facebook

Dogs, Kids, and Babies

Why supervising dogs and kids doesn’t work
Robin Bennett, CPDT-KA
@robinbennett1 and Facebook

FAQ on kids and dogs
Blue Dog Program, Numerous researchers

An evaluation of the Blue Dog Project's influence on parents
Companion Animal Psychology, Zazie Todd, PhD
@CompAnimalPsych and Facebook

The kids are alright
The Science Dog, Linda Case, MS, IAABC
@ScienceDogBlog and Facebook

Active supervision required to protect kids from dog bites
AVMA and Ilana Reisner, DVM, Board-certified veterinary behaviorist
Reisner Veterinary Behavior & Consulting Services Facebook

The science surrounding children & dogs: Part 3 (The ugly)
Do You Believe in Dog? Mia Cobb, BSc (hons)
@DoUBelieveInDog and Facebook

Mixing kids & dogs: a 'how to' resource list
Do You Believe in Dog? Me
@DoUBelieveInDog and Facebook

Family Paws: Preparing families for dogs with life with children
Jennifer Shryock, B.A. CDBC
@DogsAndStorks and Facebook

Doggone Safe
Joan Orr, MSc
@DoggoneSafe and Facebook

“Cute” dog and baby photos feed the fantasy (Part 1)
Madeline Gabriel, CPDT

Should you share that cute dog and baby photo? (Part 2)
Madeline Gabriel, CPDT

Preventing dog bites in children
Companion Animal Psychology, Zazie Todd, PhD
@CompAnimalPsych and Facebook

Bites and Breed

Dog bite risk and prevention: The role of breed
AVMA, Literature Review
“The substantial within-breed variation…suggests that it is inappropriate to make predictions about a given dog’s propensity for aggressive behavior based solely on its breed.”

“Breed is a poor sole predictor of dog bites.”

The myth: Aggressive dogs bite. The truth: Dogs bite
Dog Spies, Me
@DogSpies and Facebook


What is your approach to dog bite prevention?

If you are a trainer, what do you wish people knew about preventing bites?

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Image: Philhearing, Flickr creative commons license