Monday, May 16, 2011

My First Dog Bite

In honor of Dog Bite Prevention Week (or Irresponsible Owner Week, as my father likes to call it), I figured I would talk about my first dog bite.

I grew up with medium to large sized dogs. Despite German Shepherds and Rottweilers being popular in the 70s and 80s, I came from farm people in Oregon/Washington and blue bloods in Vermont. The dog of choice was the American Pit Bull Terrier.

Our dogs were incredibly patient with us. They put up with dress up, dental exams when we played doctor, being used as a horse when we pretended to be cowboys, just a whole host of different games. Our dogs didn't care. They just wanted to be a part of our day.

My dad was very good at emphasizing to us that not all dogs were like ours. "Don't think every dog is going to be okay with you using it for a pillow." We learned early on that most dogs weren't ours. Even in our own family.

My first bite was bad. And it was from the #1 biter on the latest list released by the Unniversity of Pennsylvania - the Dachshund. My grandma's dachshund to be precise. I was six years old. I was used to tolerant dogs. My fathers view of children was - you learn by doing. He took the same view of being bit by a dog. I came into the room with the adults, tears streaming down my face and my hand bleeding profusely (Dachshunds can do damage, people. Google Spork, the vicious biter who bit off the lips of a vet tech - she had to have reconstructive surgery.) Thirty some stitches later, my dad declared, "Well, you won't do that again, will you?"

That was trying to pet an obviously scared little dog. I had crawled under the bed after her. I know - horrifying. But where were my parents? My dad would say I was old enough to know better and I probably was. I had gotten the lecture about the dog many times. My dad's rule of thumb was - the smaller, the scarier. It boiled down to small dogs viewing us like the Stay Puft Marshmellow Man. We were large, loud, scary and had unpredictable movements.

My younger brother had to get bit a few times before he learned. Dad never said "Well, you won't do that again!" to Drew because 9.99 times out of 10, he was bound to try it one more time. With the same results. Drew was bit by the neighbor's Cocker Spaniel, a friend's "outdoor" Labrador Retriever and our aunt's Jack Russell. Oh, and that darned Dachshund. That little dog bit every single child in our family more than once and got several adults as well.

As we roll out Dog Bite Prevention Week, we need
1) Always supervise small children with dogs. ANY dogs. Small dogs can inflict just as much damage as large dogs. Small children can inflict pain. Better safe than sorry.

2) Teach our children when it is okay to pet a dog and when it is NOT okay to pet a dog. This is critical. Most dog bites are preventable.

3) Teach our children (and remember ourselves) not to run from any dog. A dog with no leash and no owner will give chase. It's a fun game. They have four legs. We have two. We can't ever outrun a dog. Surprisingly, many children tell me that they can. They haven't tried. They just think they run "fast as the wind", "faster than lightening", "mom says I run like a cheetah." Not around a dog. FREEZE. Stand still. Be BORING.

4) Small dogs are not safe. This is a common misconception. As many studies have proven, the top biters are all small dogs. Children need to be aware.

5) A breed does NOT make a dog dangerous. The danger in telling children there is only one or two breeds that bite is that they let their guard down around others that supposedly don't. ALL dogs bite. All dogs can be dangerous. Education is key.

What about you - have you ever been bit by a dog?


  1. Great tips! Hahaha! Stay puft marshmallow're so funny...and accurate!

  2. Fortunately, I haven't been bitten by a dog. But when do we actually know if it's a threatening situation or not, Jennie? It would be best not to get close to a dog you just met - it's normal for dogs to be submissive to people they know, but they don't react well to people they just met.

    Ethan Rehman

  3. Thank you for sharing those tips, Jennie. And I do agree that we must teach the kids the proper time and way of handling canines. As what you said, small dogs can also cause damage when not handled properly. We must equip our kids with knowledge in taking care of their pets, and what to do when certain circumstances occur, such as dog attacks and bites.

  4. I'm sorry about what happened to you, Jennie. :( There are three ways that you can sue: You may sue in civil court, criminal court, or dog court. Civil court focuses on awarding damages to the victim. Criminal court evaluates negligence and liability charges against the owner of the dog. Dog court is the one who determines the dog's future.