Having recently been called out to attend to patients who were attacked by dogs, ER24 is urging pet owners to take good care of their dogs by ensuring they are well socialised and trained from a young age, and kept safe in their property. ER24 is also urging people to avoid approaching unfamiliar dogs and to report stray dogs to the relevant authorities.
Children should also be educated about how to act around and take care of their dogs. According to Samantha Walpole, the secretary of Animal Behavioural Consultants of South Africa, children are the most at risk of being bitten by dogs.
“Children are generally drawn to dogs. Wagging tails are attractive to children. Unfortunately, the public is ill informed that if a dog’s tail is wagging, it means that it is happy and is safe to approach. This is far from the truth. Children are also taught that hugging and kissing is an acceptable form of affection. To human’s it is but to canines this is perceived as confrontational.
“Fundamentally, humans and dogs speak a different language. When communication is misunderstood, people get bitten,” said Walpole, who is also a dog behaviourist and trainer.
Dogs turning on their owners:
Dogs could turn on their owners as a result of a number of reasons. Walpole said dog’s that bite their owners, or anyone else, could have an underlying medical condition.
The dog could also be pushed to a point where it has no choice or could feel that its life is being threatened. Harsh and confrontational training methods could also be a contributing factor with regards to human-related dog aggression.
Walpole said that people should purchase dogs from reputable breeders to minimise the risk of being bitten. “If you want to purchase a puppy, do your homework to match the right breed with your lifestyle. Join a reputable positive reinforcement socialisation school. There should be continued training to build a good bond between you and your dog. You should seek assistance immediately if there are any early signs that make you uncomfortable,” said Walpole.
Further tips provided by Walpole include the following:
- Be respectful to your dog.
- Research and learn how to ‘speak dog’. There are a number of body signals that a dog displays to indicate that it is uncomfortable and needs space or that it likes what you are doing. By watching your dog’s body language and understanding what your dog is saying, you are able to stop or change the reason for your dog feeling uncomfortable.
- Learn what your dog likes and dislikes and respect these needs.
- A dog should not be treated like a toy or tested to see how tolerant it is. Do not poke, push or sit on a dog or pull its tail.
- Stop what you are doing if a dog shows discomfort. Signs of discomfort include when the dog turns its head away from you, when the dog yawns, flicks his tongue out of his mouth or licks his nose, when the dog’s body freezes, when it moves away, lifts its lips or growls. Also stop what you are doing when the dog shows whale-eye (pronounced whites of the eye). This is often misunderstood as a ‘guilty look’ when it is actually an appeasement gesture in response to the stimulus.
- Never corner a dog.
- Do not reprimand a dog when it growls. This is a language prior to a bite. Growling means that a person should leave the dog alone.
- If your dog bites someone, do not place the dog in a similar situation. If necessary, temporarily confine the dog in a safe area with water and shelter. Immediately seek the assistance of a qualified trained professional. Ensure the behaviourist has the correct credentials and is affiliated with a reputable organisation. Organisations such as Animal Behavioural Consultants of South Africa or COAPE SA can be contacted.
What should you do and not do when you see an unfamiliar dog close by? Walpole says that an unfamiliar dog should be ignored. “Do not encourage an unfamiliar dog to approach you. Quietly and calmly walk away. Do not turn your back on the dog but rather try to have your body facing sideways toward the dog,” said Walpole.
If the dog approaches to attack you, do not scream, run away or turn your back on the dog. Do not make eye contact as this is often perceived as confrontational. Keep your hands close to your body and stand still until the dog has backed away or is preferably out of sight.
“If you have food on you, break it up into small pieces and underarm toss the food toward the dog’s head. If the dog eats, continue to toss the food while slowly backing away to a safe place,” said Walpole.
You can also place something such as a chair or backpack if available between you and the dog. If you are unable to escape an attacking dog, place yourself in a foetal position with your head tucked toward your chest. Cover your head with your hands.
If a person is bitten by a dog, the incident should be reported to the police. If the dog is being ill-treated or neglected, the SPCA can be contacted.
ER24’s Dr Kumeshan Moodley, who has treated numerous people for dog bites, said that anyone bitten, even if minor injuries, should visit a medical practitioner. He said that one of the main reasons for this is the possibility of a person developing infections or rabies.
Rabies, which is a viral and almost always fatal disease, is mainly transmitted by the bite of an infected animal. The virus exists in the saliva of a rabid animal such as a dog.
People who develop rabies could experience anything from headache, fever, vomiting, muscle pain, difficulty swallowing, anxiety, profuse salivation, paralysis, restlessness, fear of water and seizures.
Dr Moodley said that a person will not necessarily develop symptoms immediately. It is possible to only experience symptoms later in life.
There is no effective treatment for people (and animals) once they develop rabies symptoms. Hence it is important to seek medical attention immediately after being bitten.
“Treatment of bites depends on the severity of the injury as well as whether the dog was a stray, a pet that was immunised or not immunised.
Where it is unknown if the dog was immunised, as a precaution, the patient would be treated based on assumption that the dog was not immunised,” said Dr Moodley. He stressed that proof would have to be provided that the dog was immunised. Otherwise treatment will be administered as if not immunised.
Dr Moodley explained further that treatment is broken up into three categories:
- Category 1: – Scratches that are on the surface of the skin. If the dog is immunised the patient is given a tetanus vaccination and the wound is cleaned and dressed with dry dressings (simple bandage or gauze. Plasters should not be used as this would close the wound completely and as a result, could lead to infection). If the dog is not immunised or if it is unknown, a tetanus and dose of the anti-rabies vaccine is administered.
- Category 2: – Minor injuries or puncture wounds. The wound should be washed with tap water and dressed with dry dressing. A medical practitioner will give the patient a tetanus vaccine and antibiotics to prevent infection. In cases where the dog was not immunised or where it is unknown, a full set of the anti-rabies vaccine will be given as well.
- Category 3: – Deep wounds. The same treatment as category 2 but depending on the deepness of the wound and the location, a patient can be admitted to hospital for further treatment.
He added that whether or not a person received the rabies vaccination while still a child, they should be immunised again as a precaution. He urged people to take care of their dogs, to feed and love them. “Also remember, you take your children for their vaccinations.
You should also take your dogs for their vaccinations. Remember to supervise your children when they are around animals,” he said.