While on assignment, whether you are an investigator, process server, on a repossession job or enforcing bail, it is not uncommon to have a less-than-pleasant encounter with “man’s best friend.” Just last week I was serving some documents at a residence and I was greeted in the yard by a very large pit bull… lucky for me the dog was friendly and not threatened by my presence. I am a huge dog lover but that does not mean that every dog is going to necessarily love me.
It really does not matter if you are working in a rural or urban area, I guarantee you will have, or already have had, many dealings with dogs. Caution should be taken with every dog you encounter, no matter where you are and no matter what breed they may be.
The Humane Society, animal control officers and personal injury attorneys continue to warn of the dangers on exactly how aggressive dogs can be; millions of people are attacked by dogs every year in the United States.
According to the Centers for Disease Control:
• Each year about 4.7 million people are victims of dog bites; of these, 800,000 people receive medical treatment and 6,000 are hospitalized.
• 10-20 people a year die as a result of dog bites.
• Between 1979 and 1998, there were 238 reported fatalities where breed of dog involved was noted.
• 58% involved unrestrained dogs on the owner’s property.
• 24% involved unrestrained dogs off the owner’s property.
• 25 different breeds and mixes were involved in these attacks.
• Pitbulls and Pit-mixes were responsible for 76 deaths.
• Rottweiler and Rottweiler-mixes are responsible for 44 deaths.
• Pits and Rottweiler breeds are responsible for 67% of all fatal dog attack
In order to prevent becoming a dog bite statistic it is important to be prepared in the field by understanding a dog’s body language, why they attack and how to avoid an attack.
Many people are bitten or attacked by dogs because they tend to misread the dog’s intentions, body language or simply react the wrong way when the dog approaches them. When a dog feels threatened this is really a natural defensive instinct. Dogs defend their territory, plain and simple. They feel threatened when you come into their personal space.
What can you do to prevent being bitten?
Again, reading and understanding a dog’s body language is vital and can tell us whether or not they are being friendly or playful, fearful, submissive, dominant, aggressive or predatory.
Here are some great tips on preventing a dog attack:
• Don’t sneak up or a surprise a dog.
• When approaching an area where a dog may be, announce yourself and make some noise.
• Always check the area for signs that a dog may be living there: look for a doghouse, chain, rope, dog toys or the popular BEWARE OF DOG SIGN.
• Approach the premise in a deliberate and non-threatening manner.
• If the dog approaches you turn sideways to the dog.
• Never reach out or lean over the dog.
• Don’t make direct eye contact; this is threatening to a canine and an act of aggression.
• Attempt to give the dog some sort of command. In a calm, firm voice try saying “go” or “sit.”
• If the dog eventually loses interest in you, back away slowly until you are at a safe distance from the dog.
• Of course, doing anything stupid to provoke or intimidate the dog will guarantee aggressive behavior from the dog. Do not “challenge” the dog or taunt it.
• Never put yourself between the dog and its escape route or your possible escape route.
All dog bites are not the same! To measure the degree of severity of the bite, Dr. Ian Dunbar a veterinarian, animal behaviorist and writer has created the following chart/guide on bite “levels:”
• Level 1: This bite does not touch the skin. The dog is air biting or snapping.
• Level 2: This bite makes contact with the skin, but doesn’t break the skin. Pain and bruising may result, but no abrasions will be visible.
• Level 3: This bite ranges from a one to three punctures in a single bite with one puncture less than ½ the depth of the eye-tooth (fang) with or without some tearing.
• Level 4: The dog is putting great pressure into the bite. 1 to 4 puncture wounds with or without tearing, more than ½ the depth of the eye tooth. This is usually accompanied with bruising and likely to require medical attention. These injuries suggest the dog grabbed and shook what was in its mouth.
• Level 5: Multiple level 4 bites. This dog is usually beyond the ability to reason and may feel his/her life is threatened.
• Level 6: The dog has killed.
If you are being attacked:
• Attempt “feeding” it anything you may have on you: your jacket, clipboard or a treat. I carry dog treats in my car at all times!
• Don’t yell, scream or run. This will alarm them and may provoke a greater level of aggression.
• If possible, find a safe place to retreat- like your vehicle, behind a fence or in a tree.
• If the dog knocks you off your feet and onto the ground, curl into a fetal position and protect your face and head. Use anything that you may have in your possession to barrier yourself between you and the dog. Do not fight back or antagonize the dog.
• Remain as frozen or motionless as possible until the dog loses interest in you.
After the Attack:
As with any other injury, applying first aid techniques quickly are essential and having a first aid kit in your car is vital.
• Wash the bite wound with soap and water.
• If the dog broke the skin and you are bleeding, stop the bleeding by putting pressure on the wound and then clean the wound.
• Disinfect the bite wound by applying hydrogen peroxide, iodine or alcohol and cover the wound with a bandage.
• Visit your doctor or go to the emergency room within 24 hours of the initial dog bite.
• If your skin was broken you are more than likely going to have to get a Tetanus shot.
• Your doctor may also prescribe an antibiotic to ensure you do not get an infection.
• The possibility of contracting Rabies will also have to be considered and may involve a report to Animal Control Officers.
If your wound is not properly treated a dog bite can develop into an infection or even something more serious. Report the bite immediately to the local animal control shelter so they can investigate the incident.
The bottom line is… BE CAREFUL! The hard truth is that not every pet owner treats their pets the way they should; have you ever watched “Animal Cops” on television? There are thousands and thousands of underfed, abused and aggressively raised dogs. Even the cutest teacup sized dog might try to bite your hand off.