Spike. Cujo. Boozer. Lucifer. Or just plain Ankle Biter. U.S. Postal Service Letter Carrier Kenny Kemp says no matter what you call them, dogs can be biters and need to be respected.
This week is National Dog Bite Prevention Week, which focuses on educating people about preventing dog bites. According the State Farm Insurance, Illinois has the 2nd highest number of dog bite claims in the nation.
As a letter carrier, Kemp has been bitten three times by man's so-called best friend.
"The first time, I saw the dog, I thought it was chained in the yard," Kemp said. "So I went up to the porch and dropped off the mail. Then when I felt this breath on the back of my neck, I realized the dog probably wasn't chained. It was a German Shepard, and as I turned around he lunged at me. I had a handful of mail and I shoved the mail in his mouth, hopping he wouldn't grab any of my other extremities."
Kemp said the dog caught the top of his hand and peeled back the skin. At that time, the owner came out and gave Kemp the proverbial 'oh, he's never done that before.' He said he tries to watch closely as he approaches a house or another individual who has a dog leashed.
Kemp says he's developed mailman's intuition about dogs, and knows to stay clear of dogs on his route. For owners who can't be bothered to restrain their pets, the Postal Service has a way to help keep their workers safe.
"One of the tools we have is to hold the owner's mail. They have to come to the post office to pick up their mail. And for the most part, that seems to do it," said Kemp.
It's not just letter carriers that attract unwanted canine attention. Bicyclists endure attacks from dogs, as well. Joe Culpepper is a long-time cyclist who was recently attacked by a couple of dogs on a rural road near Bloomington.
"I came up close to a farm house and these two big yellow lab mixes came bolting out of the yard," Culpepper explained. "They meant business. One of them bit me on the left calf. I washed the wound with my water bottle and continued my ride. I called the sheriff's department and they took a report, which they said they would give to animal control."
When Culpepper visited his doctor, the physician warned him that dog bites can be very dangerous and put him on a course of antibiotics, was well as giving him a tetanus shot. Animal Control was able to determine that the dog that bit Culpepper was up-to-date on its rabies vaccination, sparing the cyclist from having to receive treatment for rabies.
"I love dogs, so I don't blame the dogs. They're just doing what they do about their territory. It's the owners that are at fault. They shouldn't let their dogs run loose."
Bob Ryder from Pawsitive Transformations has years of experience training dogs to be good canine citizens and not bite. He noted that the most common reason why dogs bite is that they're afraid. "They're afraid of somebody coming on to their property, or something that looks unfamiliar or scary, like a bike. Lots of toddlers and babies are bitten because dogs don't know what to make of this little creature that moves strangely."
Resource guarding is another reason for dog bites. Dogs can be possessive about a food or water bowl or favorite toy, or perhaps a favorite place to sit. It's possible to train a dog to not be a biter, Ryder said.
"Good environmental control is a good start, like keeping the dogs in the house. The best training to try is positive reinforcement, teaching the dog to do what the owner wants to do for food rewards or an opportunity to play with a toy. It's a low stress, gentle technique," said Ryder. "Aggression is often a response to stress."
Ryder added he's 100% against any training technique that employs punishment as a way to control behavior.
There are signs that a dog might be ready to attack and bite. A dog that becomes very still,with a leaning forward posture with puckered lips is not in a friendly mood, said Ryder. A dog with relaxed posture and enthusiastically wagging tail is in a good mood. Regardless of a dog's mood, Ryder added that all children should be properly supervised around dogs, and that hugging should be discouraged, as dogs are typically not fond of that expression of affection. a combination of good training and proper respect for the canine can help make sure your dog never becomes a biter.