Key signs to be aware of to avoid being bitten by a dog

Inspector Clouseau: Does your dog bite?

Hotel clerk: No

Inspector Clouseau: [bending down to pet dog] Nice doggie

[Dog bites Clouseau on the hand]

Inspector Clouseau: I thought you said your dog did not bite!

Hotel clerk: That is not my dog

 

Inspector Clouseau dog bite sketch
The dog bite sketch from The Pink Panther Strikes Again

The above quote and image are taken from “The Pink Panther Strikes Again” (1976) and it is one of the funniest skits that Peter Sellars played in his role of Inspector Clouseau.  In real life, dog bites are no laughing matter.  According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there are approximately 4.5 million dog bites occurring in the United States every year.  Regrettably, in 2016 there were 41 dog bite-related fatalities in the US. Even dog lovers who have grown up with dogs and are used to being around dogs are not immune to being bitten.  So what can you do to protect yourself?

Signs that a dog is about to bite

Just as with people, you can tell a lot about a dog’s mood by the body language he is using.  Dogs can bite in 1/40th of a second, so knowing what to be aware of in the lead up to that can be helpful. There are 9 key signs to look for that can indicate when a dog may be about to bite.  Some of them are subtle and may easily be confused with other moods.

Low growling

A dog may growl for a whole range of reasons, and not all of these are a sign of bad things to come.  If you start to hear a quiet, low growling sound, this can indicate that it is time to be concerned that the dog is going to be aggressive. If he is also snapping at the same time you need to take action.

Showing front teeth

When a dog bares his teeth, this may be for a variety of reasons.  Sometimes it is because he is being submissive, but other times it is because he is being aggressive.  An aggressive “smile” is often accompanied by other behaviors as given below, so look out for a combination of all of these things.

dog showing teeth

Rigid body

If the dog’s body suddenly stiffens and the tail raises slightly, you are being given a warning sign.

Direct eye contact and whales eyes

Whale eyes

The above image shows a dog whaling his eyes.  If a dog is showing more of the whites of his eyes than usual by turning his head away but is still staring at the thing that he feels is threatening him, it is a clear signal that the dog is uncomfortable.

Shaking and drooling

A dog may start shaking from the adrenaline rush from the stressful situation.  The stress can also cause a dog to drool more than usual.

Wagging tail

Commonly thought of as a sign of happiness, this is not always the case. If the dog’s tail is raised higher than the normal wagging position and his body is perfectly still, you know there is a potential for a problem.

Canine body language

Licks lips, turns away, and averts gaze

Dogs will tend to lick their lips when they are nervous. A combination of all three of the above movements can indicate trouble ahead.

Raised fur

The hairs on the back of the dog suddenly become raised erect and the dog may even smell differently as odors from glands are released.

Dog with hackles raised and other signs

Whiskers twitch

Due to tension in the body and the face, a dog’s whiskers will begin to twitch.

If you observe any of the above 9 behaviors in a dog, remain motionless, do not run or scream, and avoid direct eye contact with the dog. Especially if you are encountering a large dog, it is easy to get knocked over by the dog. If you are knocked over, it is best to roll yourself into a ball covering your ears and neck with your hands and arms.  Continue to avoid making eye contact with the dog.

 

How to prevent yourself from being bitten by a dog

Once you recognize the signs that a dog is about to bite, what can you do to prevent provoking this behavior in the first place?  One initial suggestion is not to approach a dog that is unfamiliar to you. Secondly, you should not run away from a dog, or appear to be panicked.  If you are approached by an unfamiliar dog, do not move, run, or scream, and make sure you don’t make direct eye contact.  Thirdly, you should never disturb a dog if she is eating, sleeping, or when caring for puppies.  Fourthly, don’t pet a dog before she has had a chance to sniff and smell you.  Following this, you should never pat her on the head, instead just scratch her under the chin. Finally, it is never advisable to engage in rough, aggressive play with a dog.

Steps to take to prevent your dog biting others

We’ve considered what to do about being bitten by someone else’s dog, but how can you stop your own dog from being a threat to you and your family or to others.  Before choosing a dog for your family pet, try to do as much research as possible and ask a professional such as a vet or a dog trainer, so that you can find the breed that best meets your family’s needs.  In addition to looking at dog temperament and exercise requirements, you should also consider that certain breeds have much stronger bites than others.  Bite strength is measured in pound-force per square inch (PSI).  Examples of breeds with the strongest bite are the Kangal and the Doberman.

 

Kangal
Kangal

 

If you are considering adopting a rescue dog, you may not know much about the dog’s history or whether it has aggressive tendencies.  In this case, it is better to spend plenty of time with the dog before adopting him, to make sure the dog is a good fit for your home.  This is especially important if you have young children at home or if you have relatives or friends with young children regularly coming to your home.

When you decide on a dog, make sure you exercise your dog regularly to build bonds, reduce excess energy, and to keep your dog mentally stimulated.  Ensure that your puppy has proper socialization with exposure to as many different people and different situations as possible.  Train your dog so that he understands and responds to basic training commands.

It’s important to educate children on how to behave with dogs appropriately so that they are not bringing out aggression in the dog. Don’t play wrestling games or tug of war games with your dog and don’t allow children to play roughly with him either.

Finally, spaying or neutering dogs helps to reduce aggression and is highly recommended if you are not a dog breeder.

 

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Why we Want US Healthcare to go to the Dogs

Have you ever had to spend any time in the hospital as a patient?  If you have, it is likely that you may have experienced periods of feeling low, anxious, stressed, and frustrated as a result of your illness or injury and because of being away from family, friends, and your home. If any of this sounds like your hospital experience, you were not alone, as it is not uncommon for hospitalized patients to experience a downturn in mental wellbeing, sometimes with physiological changes too.

In order to counteract some of these multi-factor stressors that hospitalized patients experience, many hospitals have introduced a variety of therapeutic programs.  One program that you are increasingly likely to see on that list is animal-assisted therapy sometimes simply called pet therapy.

Why is animal-assisted therapy being used?

The idea of animal-assisted therapy is not new.  For many years, it was considered to be a “nice” thing for hospital patients to experience, but thanks to increasing amounts of research into the topic by clinicians, there has been proven to be a wider range of benefits.

boy-with-pet-therapy-dog

What are the benefits of animal-assisted therapy to patients?

An article by Cole, Gawlinski, Steers, and Kotlerman1 in the American Journal of Critical Care showed that when patients had only a 12-minute visit from a pet, there was an improvement in heart and lung function and a significant lowering of blood pressure, a reduction in the release of harmful hormones, and a decrease in anxiety.  The study was conducted with hospitalized heart failure patients. It indicated that there was far more benefit shown in those patients that received a visit from a pet than in those patients who were only visited by a human volunteer or those who were left alone.

Specifically, the benefits to patients of animal-assisted therapy include:

Mental health benefits

  • Reduced depression
  • Reduced problem behaviors for patients with dementia (less agitation, less verbal aggression, and more social behavior)
  • Reduced fatigue
  • Reduced tension
  • Reduced confusion
  • Improved self-esteem and self-acceptance
  • Increased socialization
  • Reduced boredom

Physical health benefits

  • Lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure when exposed to stress
  • Reduced serum epinephrine concentrations
  • Lower pain perception
  • Endorphins (oxytocin) released giving a calming effect
  • Reduced need for medication

man-petting-dog-in-hospital

What are the dangers for patients?

If patients are allergic to pets, animal-assisted therapy cannot be used. Guidelines from the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA) indicate that only dogs should be used, not cats. Cats cannot be trained in the same way as dogs, with more likelihood of scratches and bites from cats.  Additionally, people are more likely to be allergic to cats than to dogs.

There has been a lot of research done on the benefit of having dogs in the hospital, but not much research on the spread of bacteria from having dogs in the hospital rooms. The SHEA developed new guidelines for how hospitals can approach having pets visiting with patients at the hospital. Dogs used for pet therapy purposes and their handlers need to undergo specific training and be evaluated prior to having hospital access and ideally should be certified by a pet training organization. The American Kennel Club (AKC) lists the organizations through which it accepts dogs to have received their certification and to be given the official title of AKC Therapy Dog.

A study done in a Canadian hospital tested dogs’ paws and fur prior to hospital entry and then again after visiting patients.  Of the 26 dogs studied, one picked up C Difficile on his paws during the visit and one had MRSA on his fur and on the handler’s hands following the visit.2 This highlights that although sanitizing pets is difficult, there is a definite need for thorough handwashing by anyone visiting patients prior to visiting and following the visit. When visiting with multiple patients, handwashing between visits is essential.

Hospitals have very distinct protocols in place to ensure that the transmission of infection is kept at a minimum. The animals have to be clean, vaccinated, trained, and have a good temperament before being allowed into the hospital in the first place.  In some cases, such as patients in isolation units or patients in the intensive care unit, pet therapy can only take place with extra measures in place, but in certain situations it is unsuitable.

lady-receiving-pet-therapy

Examples of successful animal-assisted therapy?

There are two types of patient-pet interactions: animal-assisted therapy and animal-assisted activity. Animal-assisted therapy is specifically directed toward patients with cancer, heart disease, or mental health concerns and needs to have a credentialed staff member involved in the process.  Animal-assisted activities have a wider scope and are typically used to provide comfort and enjoyment focusing on mental health benefits rather than trying to achieve specific physiological outcomes such as reduced blood pressure, etc. This latter form of activity is typically staffed by volunteer handlers.

Memorial Sloane Kettering Cancer Center in New York City is an example of a hospital where canines have successfully been introduced in the Caring Canines program.

 

memorial-sloane-kettering-caring-canines
President of Memorial Sloane Kettering Cancer Center with Caring Canines employees

 

There are many programs of a similar type being introduced across the nation as the full benefits are increasingly being understood.  Dogs are not only being used in surgical and treatment settings but are being used for physical therapy and rehabilitation. Tasks such as brushing a dog can make for more interesting arm strengthening exercises for patients than just doing weight training.3  Dogs can also be used to encourage walking and other rehabilitative exercises.

More and more research is being done on the subject of pet therapy to ascertain the relative merits.  Here at Pet Barrier, we think the answer is simple.  If having a therapy or activity session with a dog can at the bare minimum brighten a patient’s day during difficult times, pet therapy is absolutely worth it. It has been clinically proven that animal-assisted therapy achieves far more than that, with benefits to patients’ mental and physical health being achieved across all age groups, from children through to seniors.  Animal-assisted therapy and activity should be available at all healthcare facilities across the nation. Is US healthcare going to the dogs? We welcome it!

We’d love to hear about your experiences with pet therapy – please share if you are able.

References

1.       Gole, Gawlinski, Steers, Kotlerman. Animal-Assisted Therapy in Patients Hospitalized With Heart Failure. Am J Crit Care. November 2007 vol. 16 no. 6 575-585

2. https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/05/11/therapy-dogs-and-hospital-infections/?_r=0 Tara Parker-Pope May 11, 2009

3. Haggard, A. (1985). A patient’s best friend. American Journal of Nursing. 85(12), 1374-1376

 

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