New York City graduate student Lacey Brown was walking her roommate's German shepherd last fall when the dog lunged and bit an elderly neighbor on the wrist. "The dog had been growling at people when we were out together, something he never did when he was with his owner," she laments. "I should've stopped walking him when the growling began."
Dr. Katy Nelson, an emergency veterinarian in Virginia, concurs: "You have to know your dog and what it's capable of. This dog probably viewed his owner as the alpha, and the roommate as the beta -- the dog was protecting Lacey, whom he considered to be his. You have to make sure your dog knows you're higher in rank to prevent incidents like this one from happening."
The Facts on Dog Bites
According to the Centers for Disease Control, over 4.5 million Americans are bitten by dogs each year. Of those, one in five requires medical attention. Additionally, around 31,000 people need reconstructive surgery each year as a result of a dog bite.
Children are most likely to be the victims of dog biting incidents, as are people with multiple canines in their home. To raise awareness and combat dog biting, the American Veterinary Medical Association sponsors National Dog Bite Prevention Week each May.
Protect Yourself and Your Pet
In honor of National Dog Bite Prevention Week, Nelson offers the following advice on protecting yourself and your pet from strange dogs -- and protecting strangers from your best friend:
Protecting Others From Your Dog
Lucky for Lacey Brown, her roommate's shepherd only broke her neighbor's watch -- and not his skin. "The man was angry, and I felt horrible, but it could have been worse," she says. With Nelson's advice, Brown doesn't have to worry about the shepherd's bad habits any more.
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Darcy Lockman is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times and Rolling Stone. She lives in Brooklyn, with the prettiest pug dog in the five boroughs.
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