Auburn veterinary professor: education, awareness key to preventing dog bites

AUBURN UNIVERSITY – Education and awareness can be the key in preventing a bite from man’s best friend, says Auburn University veterinary professor James Wright, who has some common sense suggestions for keeping everyone, including your animal, safe.

The American Veterinary Medical Association observed the third week of May as National Dog Bite Prevention Week to focus on educating people about preventing dog bites. It reports that small children, the elderly and Postal Service carriers – in that order – are the most frequent victims of dog bites.

“There are many things you can do to avoid dog bites, ranging from properly training and socializing your pet to educating children,” said Wright, a professor in the Department of Pathobiology in Auburn’s College of Veterinary Medicine. “It’s always important to know how to approach a dog, especially if you do not own it. Information and education are the best solutions for this public health problem.”

For instance, a person can make a gesture a dog perceives as threatening, even if the person doesn’t mean it that way. “Actions that can frighten a dog, potentially resulting in a bite, include running from a dog, screaming or making frantic gestures, making direct eye contact, directly facing or standing over a dog or reaching out to make contact,” he said.

“Canines often communicate anxiety or fear by wrinkling the muzzle, growling, tensing lips or facial muscles, freezing and holding their breath, directly staring or holding their tail up in place,” he said. “Understanding these cues could prevent a bite.”

With an estimated 70 million dogs living in U.S. households, millions of people – most of them children – are bitten by dogs every year. The majority of these bites, if not all, are preventable.

Wright, whose primary teaching interests at Auburn involve public health, disaster medicine, wildlife diseases and epidemiology, says taking the time to educate yourself about how to treat and respect an animal can prevent most incidents.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association:

  • More than 4.5 million people in the United States are bitten by dogs each year.
  • Almost one in five people bitten by dogs require medical attention.
  • Every year, more than 800,000 Americans receive medical attention for dog bites; at least half of them are children.
  • Children are, by far, the most common victims of dog bites and are far more likely to be severely injured.
  • Most dog bites affecting young children occur during everyday activities and while interacting with familiar dogs.
  • Senior citizens are the second most common dog bite victims.

For more information about the Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine, go to the website at

(Written by Janet McCoy.)

Contact: Janet Mccoy, College of Veterinary Medicine, (334) 844-3698 (, or Mike Clardy, Office of Communications and Marketing, (334) 844-9999 (