Avoiding Injuries From Animals

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Injuries from animals are all too often caused by inappropriate actions by owners, children, neighbors, or passers by. Many injuries could be avoided if people were more aware of animal behavior. The Humane Society of Utah compiled the following information to educate clients to save them the suffering and costs associated with dog and cat injuries, and to save their animals from the stress of quarantine or being destroyed by animal control agencies following an incident.

The German shepherd and cross-bred shepherds, Chow Chow and cross-bred Chow Chows, Poodle, Fox terrier, Airedale terrier, and Pekingese have the highest record of biting. The least likely to bite are the Golden retriever, Labrador retriever, Shetland sheepdog, Old English sheepdog, Welsh terrier, Yorkshire terrier, Beagle, Dalmatian, and Pointer. This varies with each individual within a breed and can serve only as a general guide.

There are few truly vicious animals. When animals attack, it is usually for a reason. For instance, if you enter what they consider to be their property, they may defend it. Some dog breeds are more territorial than others. Uncastrated males and females with pups or kittens may be more protective than other animals. Dogs may protect their 'pack' (a human family or other animals on the property.)

Dogs are basically territorial, as they become protective of how-ever large an area is available and they can adequately protect from outsiders. This may be the length of a chain, or it may be an entire yard. It may also be a physically unmarked area that the animal marks with feces or urine. Any animal, including man, that enters this area becomes 'fair game' if the animal is aggressive or is startled.

In addition, animals have what are known as areas of 'flight or fight.' When an animal is in a stressful situation, it will usually stand up for its territory until an intruder enters this area. The animal must then decide whether to run or attack. If the animal is chained or restrained in a small area, he is forced to take the aggressive approach. This is why many bites occur from chained, closely confined, or cornered animals.

Other dangerous situations include sleeping and eating animals, bitches with pups, queens with kittens, dog packs pursuing a female 'in heat', mating or fighting animals, injured or trapped animals, and animals that are surprised or startled. In each of these instances the animal may act aggressively.

Another common problem is the 'fear biter.' It lives a life of constant fear due to ill-treatment or poor breeding. It may demonstrate physically aggressive and submissive attitudes at the same time. It may raise its hackles, the tail is generally tucked between its legs, the ears are usually back and flattened, and it may show either aggressive or submissive facial expressions. The animal will probably urinate at the same time it demonstrates aggressive behavior. This animal should be avoided as its behavior is unpredictable.

There are several categories of animals which offer a threat to unknown visitors: a dog with a history of abuse that learned it can fight back when threatened; a cat that is mishandled by children without parental supervision, a dog that has been kicked and learned to react quickly to do damage to the kicker; the wild or 'feral' cat fed by area residents, but that will not permit handling; the small and insecure dog that sees everything larger than itself as a threat, and the panic-stricken dog.

Stress or threats to an animal may be real or imagined. Just because a person is on its territory may generate aggression. From the animal's viewpoint, you are much taller, a fact that is very threatening. If you move fast, the animal has a difficult time seeing what is occurring and may instinctively chase or attack the moving target. Direct eye contact, loud noises, or backing the animal into an area where you are blocking the escape route may trigger aggressive action.

Before entering someone's yard, you should try to determine if an animal is present. Talking, calling out, whistling, or singing will announce you and usually bring a dog to the point of entry, while a cat will either leave the area or move to a more secure location. If an animal does appear, note its ability to move about the yard in relation to your intended path to the home. Also note the animal's disposition and possible routes of escape in case of problems.

Both the dog and cat will usually advertise their intentions. The animal may growl or hiss and may bare its teeth. This display is used to make the animal appear larger-than-life by raising the shoulder and rump hairs, arching the neck, holding the head and tail high, and stiffly extending all four legs. Aggression may be shown by erect ears, raised hackles, and snarling.

If an animal doesn't come to the gate or fence, observe possible hiding or resting places before entering. Check under vehicles, under hedges and around porches. If you see a rope, chain, or leash in a yard, be sure the dog is securely attached. Look for signs that a dog or cat may be present: a doghouse or cat shelter, feed and water containers, animal droppings, or chew or scratch marks on gates, fences, and doorways.

If confronted, keep in mind: Relax and exude calm, if possible. Don't yell or scold. Talk as calmly and quietly as possible. If you think you can get away with it, try speaking to the animal with a confidently spoken "No" or "Sit."

Face the animal, but don't maintain direct eye contact, as this may be interpreted as a challenge by the animal. Don't turn your back, as many dogs take this opportunity to become acquainted with a your leg or heel. Slowly back away and attempt to leave the dog's territory.

Don't reach out with your fingers extended, as all ten may not come back. Don't reach directly over an animal's head or around its face, and don't bend over the animal, as these are seen as aggressive body language.

If you decide to try to make friends with a non-aggressive animal, squat down to its level and let it come to you. Speak in a high, happy, and soft tone. Don't walk between the animal and its owner or other animals on the property. Avoid sudden movements, especially around the animal's owner.

Never tease animals, including yelling, hitting, grabbing, and running. Don't throw objects or make threats to the animal's well being. A raised hand may be seen as a threat, as many dogs and cats have been incorrectly disciplined with hands or rolled-up newspaper.

Avoid jumping over fences from one yard to another, as this may startle a waiting animal and initiate an attack from an otherwise friendly pet. Don't show the fear you may feel, and never assume a dog or cat won't bite -- keep the animal in your field of vision.

Once in the yard, if the animal changes its mind and decides to attempt to bite, make use of anything you may be carrying to act as a shield or barrier between the animal and you. This is particularly effective with smaller dogs and cats. This gives a larger animal an object to take out its aggression on other than your body parts.

Often, the use of an overt, unusual behavior may baffle the animal until you are able to get out the yard or to a place of safety. This might include sticking your cap in your mouth, barking back at the dog, singing, or other type of action.

If the animal is right at your side and no safety area is immediately accessible, stand still and stiff and allow the dog to smell you and your clothing. Keep your fingers rolled up into your hand. The dog may move away in a few minutes and lose interest when the threat is removed. If necessary stand still until you can attract assistance from the home owner or passers by. Never turn and run -- you can't beat the dog in a race and you'll expose your weakest side to attack.

If a bite appears likely, offer the animal an object other than a body part to chew on. If nothing else is available, give the animal your forearm rather than a more vital area of the hand, face, head, or trunk. Throwing a jacket or other cloth item you may be wearing or carrying over the dog's head may blind it so that you can escape. Stay off the ground where you will be defenseless.

After an aggressive or biting episode, be sure to get a good description of the animal and notify your local animal control or law enforcement agency. This allows them to identify the animal and its owner for a follow-up investigation to determine the status of rabies vaccinations, as well as pursue possible judicial actions against the owner if improper care or abuse has taken place.

Rules for Children

Don't approach unknown pets without their owner's permission

If an owner gives permission to approach their pet

  • Don't run toward the pet
  • Don't scream and yell
  • Don't hug, jab, grab, pull, or hit the pet
  • Approach slowly and quietly
  • Allow the pet to smell your hand before touching it
  • Touch the pet gently under its chin or on its chest

Don't try to touch any pet which growls, hisses, snarls, or runs from you

Don't play roughly with any pet

Don't touch animals through fences, car windows, cages, or when it is tied up

Don't try to take anything [food, toys, bones] away from a pet

Don't frighten or startle pets, especially when they are sleeping

If an unknown pet comes up to you

  • Don't turn your back and run
  • Don't yell
  • Don't look directly at it
  • Stand perfectly still
  • Watch the animal out of the corner of your eye
  • Walk away slowly after a minute or two

Treat all animals kindly, the way you would like to be treated