When animals attack

Q&A on how to prevent dog bites

Now that the kids are out of school, we want them to get outside and have some fun. As cautious parents though, we see dangers everywhere including around stray dogs, at the doggy park, and yes, even the pets of our friends and neighbors. The hard truth is that one can never be sure whether an unfamiliar dog is trustworthy – especially around children.

The most recent data available from the Office of Injury Prevention at the Florida Department of Health shows that there was a 62 percent increase in 2009 over the previous year of dog bite injuries resulting in non-fatal hospitalizations in Polk County.

Mary E. Quillinan, DO, a board-certified internal medicine physician at Clark & Daughtrey Medical Group P.A., answers two fundamental questions and provides essential guidelines to preventing a dangerous encounter with a dog.

Q: As a doctor and a parent, what prevention tips do you have for protecting children from animal bite?


  • Do not approach an unfamiliar dog.
  • Do not run from a dog and scream.
  • Remain motionless (e.g., ‘be still like a tree’) when approached by an unfamiliar dog.
  • If knocked over by a dog, roll into a ball and lie still (e.g., ‘be still like a log’).
  • Children should not play with a dog unless supervised by an adult.
  • Instruct children to immediately report stray dogs or dogs displaying unusual behavior to an adult.
  • Avoid direct eye contact with a dog.
  • Do not disturb a dog that is sleeping, eating, or caring for puppies.
  • Do not pet a dog without allowing it to see and sniff you first.
  • Teach your children, if bitten, to immediately report the bite to an adult.

Q: What safety advice would you give to pet owners whether or not they have children?

A: Spay or neuter your dog. This important and routine procedure will reduce your dog’s desire to roam and fight with other dogs, making safe confinement an easier task. Spayed or neutered dogs are much less likely to bite.

Socialize your dog. Introduce your dog to many different types of people and situations so that he or she is not nervous or frightened under normal social circumstances.

Train your dog. Accompanying your dog to a training class is an excellent way to socialize him and to learn proper training techniques. Every member of your household should learn the training techniques and participate in your dog’s education. Never send your dog away to be trained; only you can teach your dog how to behave in your home.

Teach your dog appropriate behavior. Don’t teach your dog to chase after or attack others, even in fun. Your dog can’t always understand the difference between play and real-life situations. If he exhibits dangerous behavior toward any person, seek professional help from your veterinarian, an animal behaviorist, or a qualified dog trainer. Your community animal care and control agency or humane society may also offer helpful services. Dangerous behavior toward other animals may eventually lead to dangerous behavior toward people, and is also a reason to seek professional help.

Be a responsible dog owner. License your dog as required by law, and provide regular veterinary care, including rabies vaccinations. For everyone’s safety, don’t allow your dog to roam alone. Make your dog a member of your family: dogs who spend a great deal of time alone in the backyard or tied on a chain often become dangerous.

Err on the safe side. If you don’t know how your dog will react to a new situation, be cautious. If your dog may panic in crowds, leave him at home. If your dog overreacts to visitors, keep him in another room. Work with professionals to help your dog become accustomed to these and other situations. Until you are confident of his behavior, however, avoid stressful settings.

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