Dog bites on the rise in U.S.

The recent incident in which a Philadelphia narcotics officer shot and killed a pit bull that attacked him upon entering the wrong home in a drug raid has sparked some conversation about dog bites.

Dog bites have been on the rise for a number of years. The number of dog bites in the United States almost doubled over a 16-year period from a reported 5,100 in 2003 to 9,500 in 2018. According to a report sponsored by a personal injury attorney in Albuquerque, an average of 866 people go to emergency rooms daily to be treated for dog bites. About 40 percent of those bitten are children and teens.

Many people consider their pets to be harmless, but the fact is that they are still animals. Despite extensive training, dogs’ behavior can still be unpredictable in certain situations. While most people might conjure up the image of a muscular pit bull or powerful Rottweiler when they think of a dog attack, often it is a family’s own pet that ends up biting someone.

A veterinary behaviorist at the University of Pennsylvania conducted a study of dogs that had bitten children to try to understand why the dogs acted forcefully. She examined numerous medical records and came to a number of conclusions, including the following:

• Most of the dogs did not have a history of biting

• Most bite victims were familiar to the dog, such as a member of the owning family

• Most bites occurred while children were showing affection like kissing or hugging

• Dogs tended to bite when scared, hurt, or when in possession of “valuable” things like food or toys

• Almost all dogs had been spayed or neutered

Dog bites can cause serious injuries and thousands of dollars in hospital bills. Some bite victims suggest that educating children on how to properly interact with dogs and other animals could go a long way toward bite prevention. While education can be a useful tool, ultimately it is the responsibility of the dog’s owner to make sure the dog does not bite others.