May is Dog Bite Prevention Month, and last week I flew to Atlanta to attend the first National Dog Bite Conference, presented by the State Bar of Georgia. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but was pleased to be able to go and learn more about people's perception of dog breeds and the way dog bites are handled by law enforcement.
There was a lot of great information packed into the one-day conference, and a lot of my fellow VSPDT’ers (Victoria Stilwell Certified Trainers) from across the country attended also.
The day began with an attorney, Claudine Wilkins, who has worked tirelessly for two years to change the dog bite law in Georgia. Along with a few others, including Dr. Gene Maddox, a state rep, lobbied and wrote and revised and re-revised and toiled until the law was changed to include a criminal penalty for dog owners who have dangerous or vicious dogs. From what I can tell, the law is similar to Colorado’s Dog Bite Law, passéd in 2004. The best news? The Georgia law was passed on May 3- the day before the conference, so Claudine was happy to announce that it passed, very unexpectedly!
Next up- Victoria Stilwell, whose focus was on dog bite statistics and education about the rise in dog bites in the past several years. The first video was of Kyle Dyer on 9News, and the footage of her being bitten by Max, the Dogo Argentino. She discussed all the signs Max was giving and how the entire thing could have been prevented. She also spoke about certain TV shows that promote forceful and punishment-based dog training methods and how dog bites to humans have increased since those shows have been on the air. Victoria expanded on breed bans, and the fact that since certain breeds have been banned, dog bites have actually increased exponentially (perhaps not coincidentally since certain forceful dog training shows have been on the air). In the UK, dog bites have gone up 150% since pit bulls have been banned! Another statistic I found shocking is 50% of children are bitten by dogs by their 12th birthday… 70% are bitten by dogs that they know!
• An estimated 4.7 million dog bites occur in the U.S. each year
• Nearly 800,000 dog bites require medical care
• Approximately 92% of fatal dog attacks involved male dogs, 94% of which were not neutered
• Approximately 25% of fatal dog attacks involved chained dogs
• Approximately 71% of bites occur to the extremities (arms, legs, hands, feet)
• Approximately two-thirds of bites occurred on or near the victim’s property, and most victims knew the dog
• The insurance industry pays more than $1 billion in dog-bite claims each year
• At least 25 different breeds of dogs have been involved in the 238 dog-bite-related fatalities in the U.S.
• 82% of dog bites treated in the emergency room involved children under 15 years old
• 70% of dog-bite fatalities occurred among children under 10 years old
• Bite rates are dramatically higher among children who are 5 to 9 years old
• Unsupervised newborns were 370 times more likely than an adult to be killed by a dog
• 65% of bites among children occur to the head and neck
• Boys under the age of 15 years old are bitten more often than girls of the same age
Reference- Humane Society of the United States
Next up was a victim of a horrendous dog bite attack, 8-year old Javon. He spent 9 days in the ICU and now has scars on his face and body. He and his sisters were playing on a playground, and 3 pit bulls, who were chained in their front yard 24 hours a day, got loose and went after Javon. The dogs were neglected, chained, frustrated, and had strong prey drive. This was a case of the owner being extremely irresponsible, not a case of dogs being inherently vicious. Javon is thriving and it was a pleasure to meet him!
Other speakers included Kevin Hearst, a DeKalb County Animal Control officer. Because many of the conference attendees were animal control staff from around the country, he presented information on how to prevent being bitten when going to a dangerous dog call. He was informative and hilarious and I hope he comes to the Denver Conference. Jim Crosby, a nationally known dog bite investigator also presented. I saw photos of bites I never thought were possible, including autopsy photos. So tragic- I will never forget those images.
Afterwards, the entire VSPDT group went out to eat and enjoyed some downtime. Even when we can socialize like 'normal' people, we still talk about dogs! We know that educating people about dog body language, calming signals, communication, and positive non-forceful training is key. We know that helping people understand how to set dogs up to succeed is imperative. We just have to figure out how to get the message out, and we'll keep trying until everyone understands- it's not about the breed. It's about how we interpret dog language, train our dogs with positive, non-forceful methods so they don't become aggressive, and how we educate parents and their children about dog bite safety. A great place for more information is http://www.doggonesafe.com/
I had a great time in Atlanta and look forward to the Denver Dog Bite Conference in October... Details coming soon!