Preventing dog bites

In recognition of National Dog Bite Prevention Week, the U.S. Postal Service is urging pet owners to help reduce the incidence of dog bites to letter carriers.

“If our letter carriers deem your loose dog to be a threat, you’ll be asked to pick up your mail at the Post Office until it’s safe to deliver,” said Chuck Howe, U.S. Postal Service District Manager in Grand Rapids.

Nationwide in 2012, 5,879 postal employees were attacked.

In the Greater Michigan District (which covers zip codes 486-491 and 493-499) 98 employees were attacked by dogs for 2012 and so far for 2013, 17 employees have been attacked.

Howe noted that in situations where a dog roams the neighborhood, delivery to the owner’s neighbors could be curtailed as well.

Additionally, when letter carriers come to a customer’s door, pet owners are asked to place dogs in a separate room and close the door, as many canines have been known to jump through screen and glass doors.

Dog attacks are a nationwide issue and not just a postal problem.

Nearly 5,900 letter carriers were attacked last year, but that pales in comparison to the 4.7 million Americans annually bitten by dogs – more than half of whom are children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

As the nation’s largest property and casualty insurer in the country, State Farm Insurance understands the damage that a dog bite can do. In 2012, the company paid more than $136 million dollars as a result of nearly 4,500 dog bite claims.

The U.S. Postal Service, the medical community, veterinarians and the insurance industry are working together to educate the public that dog bites are avoidable by declaring this week, May 19-25, as National Dog Bite Prevention Week.

“Many dogs are cherished members of their family and people believe their dog won’t bite, but given the right circumstances, any dog can attack,” Howe said in a statement. “Dogs do not reason like people do and they will react to their instinct to protect their family and territory.”

“Parents, please don’t ever leave a young child unsupervised around any dog, even a dog well-known to your family,” said American Academy of Pediatricians President Dr. Robert Block. “Even very young children should be taught not to tease or hurt animals. And with school almost over for the year, children will be spending more time in parks, at friends’ homes, and other places where they may encounter dogs. They need to know what to do to minimize the risk of being bitten.”

“Most children love dogs and like to put their face up close to the dog’s face. Parents should never permit this,” adds Dr. Joseph Serletti, president of the American Society for Reconstructive Microsurgery. “Even the friendliest dog may bite when startled or surprised. Be cautious, once a child is scarred, they are scarred for life. We hear this line all the time ‘The dog has never bitten anyone before.’ A dog’s reaction to being surprised or angered is not predictable.”

“Working with animal behavior experts, the Postal Service has developed tips to avoid dog attacks, and for dog owners, tips for practicing responsible pet ownership,” Howe said.

How to be a Responsible Dog Owner

– Obedience training can teach dogs proper behavior and help owners control their dogs in any situation.

– Dogs can be protective of their territory and may interpret the actions of a letter carrier as a threat. Please take precautions when accepting mail in the presence of your pet.

– When a letter carrier comes to your home, keep your dog inside, away from the door, in another room or on a leash.

– Dogs that haven’t been properly socialized, receive little attention or handling, or are left tied up for long periods of time frequently turn into biters.

The National Dog Bite Prevention Week partners offer the following tips:

Avoiding Attacks

– Never leave a baby or small child alone with a dog.

– Don’t run past a dog. The dog’s natural instinct is to chase and catch you.

– If a dog threatens you, don’t scream. Avoid eye contact. Try to remain motionless until the dog leaves, then back away slowly until the dog is out of sight.

– Never approach a strange dog, especially one that’s tethered or confined.

– Don’t disturb a dog that is sleeping, eating or caring for puppies.

– Anyone wanting to pet a dog should first obtain permission from the owner.

– Always let a dog see and sniff you before petting the animal.

– If you believe a dog is about to attack you, try to place something between yourself and the dog, such as a backpack or a bicycle.

– If you are knocked down by a dog, curl into a ball and protect your face with your hands.

If you are dealing with a dog with aggressive behaviors, the Association of Pet Dog Trainers recommends:

1. Consult with your veterinarian to determine if your dog may have an underlying internal or medical cause that is creating or exacerbating the aggression.

2. Contact a professional experienced with aggression to work with you and your dog. Only use professionals who use positive methods and are familiar with the science of behavior modification.

3. Manage your dog’s interactions with household members, especially children, and with strangers while working with a professional to ensure that your dog is not put in a position where he feels he must resort to aggression.

4. Modifying a behavior problem takes time and effort. Many popular television shows create the illusion that aggression can be cured quickly through techniques based on mental and physical intimidation of the dog. These methods will not alleviate the problem and will likely increase the probability of more bites. Owners with an aggressive dog must realize that solving the problem takes patience, an understanding of your dog’s behavior and needs, and the use of humane training methods.