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Column: Tips to avoid dog bites

Thursday - 7/11/2013, 5:32am  ET

This canine companion may seem adorable, but there is a risk that it could bite (WTOP).
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Editor's Note: David Burd is an absolute dog lover. He owns a kennel in Urbana, Md. The opinions below are his.

URBANA, Md. - It's no secret to my friends and co-workers that I love dogs and have operated a dog kennel for more than 12 years. During this time, I have seen hundreds of dogs in all shapes, sizes and dispositions.

Have I ever been bitten, you ask? You bet I have.

Now if someone like me can be bitten by a dog, you most certainly can too! This is why I asked a good friend of mine, Dr. Hooman Pooya, the chief of surgery with Greenbriar Veterinary Hospital as well as the operator a mobile surgery practice in Maryland and Virginia, for some tips to keep safe from dog bites.

Here are some tips from Dr. Pooya:

  • Never ever approach a dog (with owner present) and try to pet them without the owner's permission. Ask the owner first. I've done this many times and sometimes the owner will tell me it's not a good idea because "Duke" doesn't like men with deep voices. Dogs can be quirky. For example, my dog Diesel will attack anyone wearing a baseball cap. Why? Prior to coming to my house, he was abused by someone who wore a baseball hat. So I tell anyone who comes to my house to never wear a baseball cap. The point of this is you don't know what can, and will, set off a dog.

  • Never approach a dog you don't know

Signs that a dog may bite you:

  • Extended neck into a straight line.

  • Hair raised on back.

  • Exposed teeth. Some misjudge this to be smiling. Trust me, they are not smiling.

  • A low growl. This is the prelude to being bitten.

  • Wagging tail. It does not mean they are happy to see you. Dogs that are about to bite wag their tails because their adrenaline is maxing out.

  • Ears that are in a straight back position.

  • Tails that are tucked under.

Has a dog ever puts your hand in its mouth? What does this mean?

Dogs manipulate the world with their mouths, it's how they communicate. It can be a gesture, such as a request for a walk, or a plea to show you something. Sometimes it's their way of saying "stop."

Here is an example: I was at my aunt's home in Atlanta, Ga., years ago. My aunt was ill and she had two gigantic German Shepherds in a fenced-in back yard: one named Titan and the other named Zeus. I was told that they only respond to my aunt…they were one-woman dogs. The problem was they hadn't been checked on in a couple of days because of my aunt's illness. Someone had to check on these guys and the responsibility fell on dog-boy, or me, for the job.

I approached the chain-link fence and sat down across from the dogs. I wanted them to smell me and get used to my presence. After about 10 minutes of speaking softly and lovingly to these giant dogs I decided to step over the fence — slowly and deliberately — telegraphing my every move. I did not want to frighten these dogs after all; I was a stranger coming into their domain.

Once I was on the other side of the fence, I stood completely still. Titan, the bigger of the two dogs, slowly came over to check me out. He moved toward me. He sniffed me out to make sure I wasn't a threat to him or Zeus. Then he did something that someone who isn't familiar with dogs might have been freaked out by: he took my left hand and gently put it into his mouth.

He didn't bite my hand, he was just holding it. Titan then started walking toward the lawn shed while still holding my hand in his mouth. Titan took me over to the lawn shed to show me that he and Zeus didn't have water in their bowls.

Titan released my hand so I could turn on the water faucet. After I filled both bowls, Titan took my hand again and walked me back to the fence where I'd made my entrance. Titan was now telling me it was time to leave, and that's exactly what I did.

To avoid dog bites, you have to know the signs. Hopefully these tips will help you stay out of the emergency room.

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Tags: david burddog bitedogs