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Ask a Vet: Pay attention to dog to prevent bites
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Tomorrow, May 19, begins National Dog Bite Awareness week. Like most dates of celebration, it serves as a means to promote something we should remember year-round.

In the United States, an estimated 70 million dogs are pets. This year, it’s estimated more than 4 million people will be bitten by a dog. Nearly a million of those will require medical attention. The majority of bite victims are children, and the majority of dogs involved are familiar to the injured human.

Keeping this in mind, please educate yourself and your family regarding risk factors. Almost every dog bite is avoidable with forethought and recognition of the situation.

First, admit to yourself all dogs bite. No matter the default demeanor, dogs know how to use their mouth. They bite their food to break it down to begin digestion. And the survival instinct makes sure biting is in their repertoire if they feel threatened enough to take action.

Second, biting is a form of communication. Think of it as the last line of trying to get your canine point across.

First comes body language, second comes vocalization and third comes physical force. This is the progression of confrontation leading to a bite.

Please respect the first two forms of communication, so the dog isn’t obliged to use the third.

Third, if you don’t know a dog, steer clear.

Finally, if you do know a dog, pay attention.

Ears down and/or back means space is needed. Eyes diverted means the same thing. Eyes staring directly at you mean you’re not getting the idea, and the situation is worsening. A tucked tail or hunkered carriage of the body also indicates anxiety about what’s happening. Raised hair along the back means you’re too close.

All those portions of body language are important. But if you convince the dog you don’t speak body language, you’ll get vocalization. A growling dog is not feeling friendly. He may be a great guy on an average day, but the growl tells you today isn’t an average day.

To avoid being bitten do three things: Think, pay attention and educate.

Matthew Sisk is a practicing veterinarian from Habersham County. Have questions about your pet? He can be reached at