Friday, August 10, 2012

How the Veterinary Community Can Help Prevent Dog Bites

The coroner’s jury inquest into the 1998 mauling death of 8-year old Ontario resident Courtney Trempe produced a list of recommendations including some relating to the education of the public about safety around dogs and suggesting a role for the veterinary community. According the Canada Safety Council and the Health Canada more than 400,000 people are bitten by dogs each year, most of them children and most of them by the family pet or other familiar dog. Half of all children will be bitten by a dog by the time they are twelve. Veterinarians and veterinary technicians are well positioned to play a leading role in educating dog owners and the community about how to prevent dog bites.

On-Line Learning

Doggone Safe is a non-profit organization dedicated to dog bite prevention through education and it offers a number of resources to help others in this educational effort. One of these resources is an on-line course that teaches about canine body language. This course is beneficial in the following ways to veterinary technologists and other staff that handle dogs:

·     Knowing the subtle signs that indicate a dog is feeling anxious may prevent technologists and other staff from being bitten.
·     The course will give technologists ideas about how to educate clients about dog body language and how to know when their dog may be getting to the point of biting. This may save a child in particular from a bite.
·     Knowing the subtle signs that indicate a dog is feeling anxious will help staff know when to reduce or change their intervention and when to try to calm the animal before proceeding. This could result in a better outcome for the patient and reduced stress for patient, client and technologist.

The course goes from nose to tail, discussing all the body parts and how a dog uses them to communicate. It covers communication signals ranging from the subtle “half moon eye” to the very obvious “propeller tail wag” using many photos and videos to illustrate.

"I have reviewed the on-line Doggone Safe Basic Body Language course and found it both informative and easy to use.  The course would be appropriate for veterinarians, technicians and lay staff that are interested in learning more about fearful dog cues, and appropriate ways to approach unknown dogs." Teresa Hershey, DVM (former president, Minnesota Veterinary Medical Association) 

There is a free demo of the course and a link to the registration page at

Educating Children

Doggone Safe administers the Be a Tree dog bite prevention program that teaches children how to read dog body language and act safely around dogs. More than 700,000 children around the world have attended a Be a Tree session. The program is supported by the Be a Tree teacher kit, which contains everything required to deliver the presentation.

The key messages of the Be a Tree program are:

  • Be a Tree (stand still, fold in your branches, watch your roots grow and count to the highest number you know over and over in your head until help comes or the dog goes away) if a strange dog comes near, or any dog is acting too frisky or is bothering you.
  • Dogs communicate with body language and we can tell if they are happy and want to meet or interact with us, or they are feeling anxious and want to be left alone.
  • Always ask permission from your parent and the dog owner if you want to pet a dog.
  • Meet and pet a dog properly. Pet only happy dogs.
  • Respect a dog’s toys, resting place and bones.
  • Dogs don’t like hugs and kisses.
  • Don’t be afraid of dogs.
"Dog behavior is a field with more than its share of junk information, to the great detriment of dogs, their owners and the public at large. What an inspiration to see Doggone Safe do exactly the opposite: disseminate outstanding information. And, not only that, in an accessible manner to that group all of us want better to protect, children. Bravo!"
Jean Donaldson
Founder and Director
The Academy for Dog Trainers

Veterinary Community Support for Be a Tree in Canada

The Be a Tree program is supported by the Saskatchewan Veterinary Medical Association, the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association, the Saskatchewan Association of Veterinary Technologists, other provincial and the national veterinary technician/technologist associations. Dr. Bob Bellamy, former president of the Saskatchewan Veterinary Medical Association described the Be a Tree program as “a visual, informative, interactive and entertaining presentation that requires a minimal amount of preparation and can be delivered effortlessly” (SVMA News, August, 2007). “The Be a Tree program provides a great topic and loads of materials, making the program an ideal community outreach program which can easily be delivered by veterinarians or their staff” said Nadia Vercillo, the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association Manager of Communications and Public Relations (OVMA Focus, May 2008).

Promote Your Practice

Doggone Safe offers supplementary materials to reinforce its safety messages and promote community education. These in include a postcards, magnets, stickers, coloring books, story books and classroom posters. These materials can be branded with your logo to remind parents and children of the safety messages.

Visits to schools, boy/girl scout groups, church and other groups provide a great way to gain recognition for your practice in the community. Dr. Bob Bellamy, former president of the Saskatchewan Veterinary Medical Association said, "Dog bite prevention seminars have had an unexpected side effect. Without a doubt, DBP presentations have yielded more new clients than any initiative attempted by our office! In the the past two years new clients have increased by 30%!!!". Read Dr Bellamy's article from the SVMA News.

Other Resources

The Doggone Safe website has lots of information, articles and downloads available and encourages the distribution of these. Use or copy any of the information or articles found at the Doggone Safe website as handouts, in newsletters or at websites, with credit given to the source.

Doggone Safe also maintains a website dedicated solely to the Be a Tree program. This is a good place to send teachers or parents who want to know more about the program (

More Information

For more information about Doggone Safe, the on-line body language course or to order a Be a Tree teacher kit or other products please visit For more information about the Be a Tree program please visit

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