The nation is still mourning the death of a 13-year-old boy who was mauled and killed by two Pitbull dogs of a neighbour in Windhoek.
The horror of this deed will always be unthinkable and repulsive because we could never comprehend what really happened.
Most people now doubt that a dog is supposed to be “a man’s best friend”. That companion animal which takes care of our goats and sheep at the farm, that gentle soul which leads the blinds, that perceptive individual which seeks out criminals as police dog or narcotics sniffer, that clever being which knows how to hunt and help to bring food onto our tables, and that faithful animal which “securitates” our homes and properties and most importantly that tender being which grows up with our kids in our homes, which sometimes even shares our bedrooms, is indeed what I’m thinking about when I talk about dogs - A Mans’ Best Friend.
But let’s not comb all dogs with the same comb like those savage dogs which killed. Let us understand the reasons why dogs may attack people. Let us look at how we can recognize behaviour of a dog which might bite you, as well as ways to avoid being bitten by dogs. And let us look at tips on what to do when bitten by dogs.
The main reason dogs tend to charge at people is especially when they are threatened or are startled, like when cornered, for example when someone jumps into its territory, like in a yard.
Dogs which are sleeping, in pain or sick or eating will react aggressively if disturbed without prior warning. Bitches which gave birth recently tended to be protective over their young, and may react aggressively to “intruders”.
As canines, dogs are naturally hunters, and they tend to chase moving objects. You notice that dogs chase after cars, people on bikes and people who are running or exercising. Thus, their natural instinct is to chase after these moving objects, which they might end up biting. Dogs also hate being harassed, and they are clever beings who remember people or events which stressed them, and hence might ‘take revenge’ when they get a chance.
Since dogs tend to bite people as a way of a warning which says ‘get out of my territory’, they will bite one or two bites without savaging or holding on to their victims with their teeth sunken, or them shaking their heads while biting.
In fact, experts categorize dog bite wounds from scale 1 to 6, according to the severity of the bites. Category 1 is just a grab without touching the victim, and category 5 is biting while shaking their heads, whilst the very rare category 6 indicates dogs which kill or eat the flesh of their victims.
This last category is associated with savage dogs such as Pitbulls and Rottweilers, but normally it happens if the dogs were provoked or made angry. In some countries, people are prohibited by law to keep such dogs at their properties.
The last reason why some dogs might bite is when they have contracted the Rabies disease (“hondsdolheid”, “malsiekte”, “orundumba”). Rabies is that dangerous and fatal viral disease which people also get infected with when bitten by an infected dog (zoonotic disease).
The behaviour of a dog which intends to bite you is sometimes clear, and might save your life if you take notice. Dogs mostly give a warning by barking, but if you don’t heed the warning, it will progress to growling with its teeth bared outside.
It might also stand still at one place while doing this, or might go slightly backwards, but looking at you directly. On the other hand, a dog which might not bite will bark repeatedly, but go backwards with its tail and body moving sideways.
Having said the above, since most of the dog bite cases occur from known dogs of family or friends or neighbours, here are some tips on how to avoid getting bitten by dogs:
• NEVER disturb a dog which is sleeping, eating or caring for puppies.
• If a dog comes close to you in an aggressive manner, stand still, keep your arms down and your hands folded, look at your feet and keep quiet (in fact, imagine you are a tree). The dog will realize that you mean no harm to it, and will most likely leave you alone. And the sudden stillness of your pose will also distract him, and the aggression the dog came with will most likely turn into curiosity.
• Stay away from sick animals which are not properly restrained, or animals which appear aggressive and drool saliva.
• Do not tease dogs, such as stamping your feet close to a yard with dogs, or ramming your bike in front of dogs behind a fence. They will associate you with stressful actions, and “take revenge”.
• Stay away from animals which you do not know.
If the dog still charges at you to bite, never run! Go backwards gently until you can escape (hopefully!), but never turn your back on a biting dog.
Some experts advice that when a dog comes to bite you, you should quickly go down on your knees, put your hands behind your head and put your head between your knees and pretend you are a stone. Just like when you are pretending to be a tree when a dogs wants to bite, a dog which bites you gets confused by the sudden change in posture and becomes rather curious than aggressive. You might buy yourselves some precious moments while the dog starts to investigate “the stone”.
Whichever way, you should rather protect your face and neck, and sacrifice your hands or arm. Dogs also tend to bite the first thing they encounter on their victims. Thus, expose your arm at the elbow or preferably a piece of clothing like your cap or jacket so that it can be the first thing to be bitten whilst you are buying precious time to escape.
If bitten, you should quickly wash the wounds repeatedly, using soap or a disinfectant. Then seek medical attention immediately from the nearest clinic or doctor.
You will be given a recommended course of post-exposure prophylaxis anti-rabies’ injections which will prevent rabies from developing. It is very important that you complete the course of these injections because you can die if you don’t get all the injections. You should also notify your vet or police when bitten, who will investigate and if necessary destroy the animal.
I also urge our people to notify veterinarians immediately if you notice animals behaving strangely, and rabies is suspected.
Since we mention rabies’ dogs to be one of the main reasons why people get bitten by dogs, to prevent the disease, it is imperative that dogs and cats are vaccinated timely and regularly to reduce the risk to people and animals.
Pets are vaccinated twice in the first year, starting at three months. In Namibia, we recommend the vaccine to be repeated yearly, especially in rural dogs. But in the city, for dogs which are not usually exposed to other dogs or wild animals, the vaccine may be repeated every three years.
Finally, a last warning to dog owners is to keep their pets in a secure place behind a well-protected fence or wall without holes or uncontrolled exits.
Your property should be clearly marked with a warning sign “Beware of the dog” or “Pasop vir die hond”. Make sure your dog is secured on a leash when you are walking/running with your dog. And every dog in the city should be registered with the relevant municipality or town councils. Let’s not lose that belief that ‘a dog is a man’s best friend’ by not keeping dogs on the loose, and by protecting ourselves and others who get into contact with our precious dogs!.