ALEXANDRIA, Va. (WUSA) --"The first bite wasthere," says Wendy Standel as she clutches her right thigh. "And then there is a small circular scar there."
Standel was 7-years-old when a babysitter's dog, totally out of the blue, attacked her. "It was really bloody and vicious."
Standel required almost 20 stitches. The dog's owner was forced to pay a hefty sum of money following a lawsuit.
"Paid for college," says Standel.
According to numbers released in 2011by the Insurance Information Institute, the average pay out to dog bite victims in 2010 was $26,166. One-third of all homeowner insurance liability claims was because of dog bites.
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"I think genetically she came this way," says Carlos Mejias, as he holds 5-month-old Shatzi, a puppy with a serious biting issue. Mejias, along with his wife, Sandy, own the Olde Towne School for Dogs in Alexandria. For 36 years they have been working with biting and nipping dogs.
Shatzi bites out of fear. She also was not socialized around a lot of different people and circumstances.
"Some of us [humans] are born aloof. Some of us are born outgoing. Some dogs are born either fearful or aggressive. And that leads more to biting. So you have to work with the temperament that you get," says Sandy.
Teaching the dog impulse control is key. You do this through obedience training.
"Something triggers and they don't think and they snap. By doing the obedience training you help them get control of their impulses and learn to look to you for direction instead of thinking for themselves," says Sandy. "So the more control you can get, the more you can get the dog to look to you for leadership instead of making bad decisions. Such as biting."
Training is also good for dog owners says Sandy. Especially owners of biting dogs. "A lot of times people send fear down the leash because they are worried about what their dog is going to do. And the dog thinks they are worried about the situation so they become more protective. So we do a lot of work with the owners about how to look at the dog a little differently and get control."
Carlos also cautions dog owners not to inadvertently reinforce bad behavior in their aggressive or scared pets."When they see a dog showing signs of aggression....such as a growl or nip....and say, 'Oh, they are being protective of me.' They [owner] don't know what they are going to create....So when the dog goes after someone they would say, 'Oh, it's okay.' Thinking they are calming the dog down. But they aren't. They are just reinforcing that behavior."
Other suggestions for dog owners. Play non-aggressive gameswith your pet. Fetch versus tug-of-war which encourages aggressive behavior. And socialize your dog early and often!
"Not just socialize them around grownup people," says Carlos. "But children, traffic, other dogs. They really need that early on....between 8 and 12 weeks."
Pet owners should also consider neutering and spaying their animals.
RECOGNIZING A DOG'S BODY LANGUAGE
We all recognize growling and snarling as a possible sign a dog may become aggressive. But some dogsexhibit more subtle signs and it's important to know how to read a dog's body language.
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Carlos says a sure tale sign is if a dog pulls away from you and shows the whites of their eyes. Their eyes can also get smaller and their face will be tense.
A dog's ears can alsobe a warning sign. According to the ASPCA website, "Your dog will also raise his ears up and forward when he's feeling aggressive. If your dog has his ears pulled back slightly, he's signaling his intention to be friendly. If his ears are completely flattened or stuck out to the sides of his head, he's signaling that he's frightened or feeling submissive." Remember a scared dog is just as likely to bite as an aggressive natured one.
Watch the hair on the back of a dog, the hackles. If it's standing up this is a sign a dog is disturbed.
AVOIDING DOG BITES
First and foremost you have to assume any dog will bite. No matter how cute and fluffy, any dog is capable of nipping or biting. This is one reason why the experts say a child should never be left with a dog alone.
One should also avoid disturbing an eating, sleeping or dog tending to its puppies.
One should never approach a dog unless the owner gives the go-ahead. Once you have been asked, and you know the dog is under the owner's control, let the dog smell you first. If the dog cowers or pulls away, give the animal space.
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If a strange dog approaches you, stand still until the dog leaves or back away slowly.Avoid eye contact. Don't run or scream.
If the dog becomes aggressive, put something between you and the animal--such as a backpack or a jacket.
If you are knocked down, curl into a ball and protect your face with your hands.
As for Shatzi. She has come a long way in her training. However, Carlos Mejias of Olde Towne School for Dogs warnsShatzi's owner must be diligent about training and reinforcement for the rest of the dog's life. Shatzi is not cured. "I've had people come in and say 'Fix my dog.' And I say he is always going to be a biter. I tell them it may be 5-years down the road, but it can happen. I had a dog that was good for 3 years. He never bit during that time. But he finally bit a child because the owners lowered their guard."