How to Keep Your Employees Safe From Aggressive Dog Encounters

It's estimated that 70-80 million dogs are owned in the United States. Approximately 37-47% of all households in the United States have a dog. (Source: APPA)  When an employee's work brings them to someone’s home, there’s a good chance they will encounter a dog. Has your organization assessed this risk and taken steps to help reduce the risk for an aggressive dog encounter?

Often we think of a dog bite as a minor injury, but they can be much worse. Sadly there is a website that lists the U.S. fatal dog bite details by year. In 2015, there have been many dog attack fatalities, from a baby boy, just 10 weeks old attacked and killed sitting in a bouncing seat, to an 87-year-old man attacked and killed while taking down his Christmas tree, and so many other heartbreaking stories.

There are many professions where employees are potentially exposed to dogs creating the risk of attack. A handful of jobs that come to mind are; home maintenance contractors, delivery personnel, home health providers, utility workers, cable installers, letter carriers, and real estate agents.

The cost of pain and suffering for the injured employee cannot be measured. Fingers can be amputated, puncture wounds can get infected and leave scars, some wounds can cause nerve damage and long-term loss of feeling or function, and the potential post traumatic stress (the fear of attack) may never fade.

When developing a dog bite injury prevention program, a great place to start is to conduct a Job Safety Analysis (JSA) where you list out all the steps of a task, list out all the potential hazards of each step, and then list the safe work practices and the required personal protective equipment. The folks at the United States Postal Service (USPS) provide a JSA template titled, Confronting a Dog, that can used as a guide to conduct your own JSA tailored to your organization.

The USPS also provides educational resources such as tips for avoiding attacks.

  • Never leave a baby or small child alone with a dog.
  • Don’t run past a dog. The dog’s natural instinct is to chase and catch you.
  • If a dog threatens you, don’t scream. Avoid eye contact. Try to remain motionless until the dog leaves, then back away slowly until the dog is out of sight.
  • Never approach a strange dog, especially one that’s tethered or confined.
  • Don’t disturb a dog that is sleeping, eating or caring for puppies.
  • Anyone wanting to pet a dog should first obtain permission from the owner.
  • Always let a dog see and sniff you before petting the animal.
  • If you believe a dog is about to attack you, try to place something between yourself and the dog, such as a backpack or a bicycle.
  • If you are knocked down by a dog, curl into a ball and protect your face with your hands.

Another resource is Bulli Ray Occupational Dog Bite Safety. Bulli Ray provides great employer resources. The following list is Bulli Ray’s 10 Commandments of Dog Bite Safety, each followed by helpful tips, written by Mitzi Robinson,  888-777-3647. Reprinted with permission.

  1. Never run away from a dog. It’s a fact that you can’t outrun a dog, and you should never, ever turn your back on one. This will make you appear submissive! You can’t keep a dominant dog from attacking, but you can dominate a submissive dog by taking an aggressive frontal posture. The submissive dog will try to circle behind you to attack, don’t allow the dog that opportunity.
  2. Be more aggressive than the dog. Dog adhere to a hierarchy, which mean someone must take the dominant position, it will either be you or the dog. You have to let the dog know that you will not back down. Stay forward, stay tall and stay big. Dogs read posture and react to deep voices. Almost every dog knows the meaning of the word “no.” Use it loudly.
  3. Use an object to steer yourself to a safe place. The dog will bite the first thing he comes to, don’t let that be your hand, arm or leg. Put a stick, a garbage can lid, an umbrella or any item between you and the dog. If the dog bites, it will bite the object and not your body. Use the dog’s natural backing up behavior (tug of war) to pull you to safety.
  4. Keep your back against something. This keeps the dog from circling behind you and attacking, which is what most dogs prefer. If you back up against a house or a fence, you should then be able to follow the house or fence towards an exit.
  5. Find anything to put between you and the dog. Most field personnel should carry something or should always be looking for something to feed to the dog. Remember, a dog will only bite something hard once (example: metal), then he will let it go and go after something he can compress. Any barrier is a good barrier.
  6. The most sensitive, vulnerable part of a dog is the paw. This doesn’t sound like a commandment, but it is important information that most people don’t know. Reaching for a dog’s eyes, head or nose is dangerous because of their proximity to the dog’s teeth, but stomping a paw can get a dog to back off.
  7. In a pack attack, pick one dog and hurt it. The other dogs will attack the injured dog and you can escape. This may sound strange, but it is true. In a pack attack, dogs are frenzied. In a frenzy, they attack any sign of weakness. When one dog yelps, the other dogs will go after it. Try to stay on your feet and if you are knocked down keep your face and neck covered.
  8. In an attack, face the dog from the side, not the front. A frontal posture is a dominant posture. This is what you show the dog to get them to back down. If the dog keeps coming, turn to the side to protect your vital areas and to get a better stance for the impact. A side posture gives you a better chance of staying on your feet and makes your abdomen and neck areas less accessible to the dog.
  9. Dogs are more likely to attack if the owner is present. Remember that dogs are part of a pack. The owner is usually the alpha member of the pack. Therefore, the dog will try to circle behind you and distract you by biting from the rear.
  10. Make noise before you enter an area. One of the worst things you can do is startle a dog. Before entering any area through a door or gate, make noise – such as jingling your keys or yelling “power company” – to let the dog know you are there and to give you a chance to see the types and number of dogs.
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