News // July 18, 2014

BARK - Be Aware, Responsible and Kind: Dog Bite Prevention Program

Few things give us a better feeling than seeing kids and dogs playing and romping together!  The Humane Society of the United States estimates that more than 47% of households own at least one dog.  Studies show that children who live with a pet receive physical, social, and psychological benefits.  Although dogs are important to our lives, any dog has the potential to bite.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that almost 5 million people are bitten each year by dogs and 800,000 of those bites, half of which are children, require medical attention.  Of the 2,500 bites reported to the County of San Diego Department of Animal Services this past year, 374 were for children under the age of 12.  Dog bite-related injuries in children are the highest between the ages of 5 and 9. Most dog bites to children are from a dog the child is familiar with and result from the dog feeling fearful…and they are preventable.
In an effort to make our communities safer and to reduce dog bites, County Animal Services educates parents and children on dog bite prevention.   The Department’s innovative program, called “BARK,” (Be Aware, Responsible and Kind), delivers presentations to school-aged kids throughout the county.
“We believe our program is making a difference to reduce the incidents of dog bites within the county,” said Dawn Danielson, Director of Animal Services. “Even one bite is too many.”

In this fun and upbeat class, children and adults learn how communication is different between people and animals.  They also learn that dogs and humans experience similar feelings, such as fright when a stranger runs up to them, touches or hugs them.  Dogs can also get scared when someone stares at them or when they hear a loud noise.
Learning to respect and understand a dog’s language, which is spoken through their body language, is the key to preventing dog bites.  BARK teaches how a dog uses its eyes, ears, tail, fur, mouth, body movements, and vocalization to communicate in many ways.  Knowing how dogs show signs of stress, discomfort, fear or being at ease can make a difference on how we interact with them.  Whether being approached by an animal on the street or playing at home, children are taught how to behave around an animal and the warning signs a dog may give you if it’s not comfortable with how you’re behaving around it.

For human-animal bonds to be successful and for our communities to be safe, dog owners must be well-educated and responsible.  This means learning and understanding how dogs communicate, training people to understand the messages we may be communicating to a dog, and respecting how a dog’s interpretation of our behavior will affect its response to us.

“It is amazing how quickly kids catch on to these concepts,” said Danielson.

To book a BARK presentation, please email County Animal Services.

For more information about dog bite prevention and other services provided by the County Department of Animal Services, visit their website.

How to prevent dog bites and be a responsible dog owner:

  • Keep your dog in an adequately fenced enclosure which is locked to prevent unauthorized access. Do not keep your dog on a chain.
  • Control your dog with a hand-held leash when away from home.
  • Spay or neuter your dog. Altering will reduce your dog’s desire to roam, making confinement an easier task. Unaltered dogs are up to 3 times more likely to bite than dogs that have been spayed or neutered. (Low-cost spay/neuter referrals are available from the Spay Neuter Action Project at 619-525-3047, or from Pet Assistance at 619-544-1222 or 760-745-7986.)
  • Properly train and socialize your dog.
  • Don’t play aggressive games (e.g., wrestling, tug-of-war, allowing to play-bite a person, etc.) with your dog.
  • If you don’t know how your dog will react to a new situation, be cautious. Never leave your dog unattended with a small child.
  • Ensure that your dog is vaccinated against rabies and properly licensed.
  • Safety tips on how to avoid being bitten include:
  • Never approach an unfamiliar dog.
  • Never run from a dog and scream.
  • Remain motionless when approached by an unfamiliar dog.
  • If knocked over by a dog, roll into a ball and lie still.
  • Never permit a child to play with a dog without adult supervision.
  • Avoid direct eye contact with a dog.
  • Do not disturb a dog that is sleeping, eating, or caring for puppies.
  • Do not pet a dog without allowing it to see and sniff you first.