Taking Risks with Your Dog (Part 3)
It's said that there's a dog bite epidemic. And trainers agree that any dog, even a friendly one, can be pushed into a bite. How much risk is there that your dog will bite your kid - or someone else's?
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Take them at face value, and dog bite statistics may sound terrifying: 4.7 million bites a year! 800,000 require medical attention! 386,000 require emergency room treatment! Better get rid of Dogalini, quick, before she rips your throat out. Alternatively, there may be dangerous dogs Somewhere Out There, but your Dogalini wouldn’t hurt a fly.
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What Do Bite Stats Tell Us? (Maybe Not Much)
Needless to say, neither panic nor denial is in order here. Take a close look at those bite stats, for instance. They date from the mid-2000s or earlier, when the U.S. population was a bit shy of 300 million. For the sake of discussion, let’s say 290 million. Assuming the stats are accurate, about 1.6% of those 290 million people were bitten by dogs each year. About 17% of those episodes, fewer than 1 in 5, required medical attention. Fewer than 1 in 10, that's 8%, required ER visits. Not to minimize, but I’m never sure what “required” means here. Some people will visit the doctor for a scrape, whereas others just stay home and pour peroxide on wounds that I would swear call for stitches. Your guess is as good as mine about how many dog bites result in serious injury.
Also, I’m often consulted by people whose dogs have inflicted half a dozen or more skin-breaking bites. Usually, almost all those bites are to family members. The statistics count the number of bites, rather than the number of dogs who bite, so a relatively few dogs may account for the lion’s share of damage done. And, if my clients are a reasonable sample of what’s out there, the same people may be getting bitten repeatedly. In that case, what I said about 1.6% of Americans being bitten every year could make it sound as if the average person is at much higher risk of a bite than they really are.
So when we look hard at the scary stats and compare them with personal experience, they might not seem as terrifying as all that. On the other hand, it’s axiomatic among dog trainers and behavior consultants that under the right circumstances, or the wrong ones, any live dog may bite. But whereas some dogs bite readily and often, others have to be pushed hard. To judge where your dog falls on this spectrum with respect to your kids and other people’s, consider the following factors.