In 2011, seven-month-old Annabelle Mitchell was bit and killed by the family’s Rottweiler while her mother passed out on the couch of their Frankfort home. State officials noted at the time that the incident was the first dog bite-related fatality in Maine in 40 years. Cases as severe as Annabelle’s are rare. However, the likelihood of a person being bit is not.
The Center for Disease Control reports that 4.5 million people in the United States receive a reportable dog bite each year. About 800,000 Americans, half of whom are children, seek medical attention for a dog bite. Yet, only 16 people die from dog bites, the CDC reports.
“This means there’s a lot of room for prevention,” Green Acres Kennel Shop owner Don Hanson said.
May’s a great time to learn prevention because it’s dog bite prevention month. There’s no doubt that dog bites are scary. They cause physical and emotional scars. The after-effects for the dog can be fatal. Any dog of any size and age can bite.
Hanson is a certified dog trainer, a pet behaviorist, and owner of the kennel located at 1653 Union Street in Bangor. His experience working with pet owners and as the past chair of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers gives him insight into the tremendous, tenuous relationship dogs have with their people.
“Kids don’t inherently know the signs for when a dog is uncomfortable,” Hanson said. “Dogs communicate tons. It can be with their eyes, ears, or growling. If the dog is growling, most people recognize this is something to pay attention to.”
The relationship between kids and dogs can leave a lot of room for education. After all, kids are dog-sized humans. Dogs use their bodies, from eyes to tails, to communicate how they’re feeling. The way a dog’s mouth appears, their eyes look, their tail is being held, and their stance give important clues.
Snapping or biting aren’t the first clues a dog gives when they feel uncomfortable, intimidated, or unhappy. Even more, growling is not a punishable offense. It’s a warning.
“There are four victims in a dog bite,” Hanson said. “The person who was bit, their family, and the dog. Most dogs go out of their way not to bite. They give lots of signals. However, usually, the dog is singled out and pays serious consequences with their life.”
Locally, there are several opportunities to learn about what dogs try to communicate and how to prevent dog bites in the first place. Paws Down Training Service, housed at For Dogs Boutique at 251 Main Road, Holden, will hold a Canine Body Language Seminar on Saturday, May 4, from 10-11 a.m. for Dogs. Jack and Diane Cunningham teach adults about cues canines give and how to understand what they’re saying.
“We give an overview of canine body language in general, then an overview of dog to dog behavior,” Diane Cunningham said, “It’s also a fundraiser for the Bangor Dog Park.”
Paws Down Training Service has offered this type of workshop before. They decided to do another one due to requests from their clients using the Dog Park who wanted to be better educated about what their dog and others were “saying.” The seminar is $5, which benefits the Bangor Dog Park. Advanced registration is requested. Call 207-989-7297 to reserve your spot.
Green Acres Kennel Shop, 1653 Union St. in Bangor, is offering “Be a Tree” programs on Saturday, May 18 at 2 p.m. and Sunday, May 19 at 1 p.m. The seminars are aimed at children ages 5-9, their parents, and caregivers. It discusses when a dog is safe to approach and how to avoid dog bites.