Reducing the Risks Associated with Dog Encounters

Like many of you reading this, I love mydogs, and dogs have always been a big part of my life. I may have downsized inbreed type from Newfoundlands and black labs to a pug and a terrier, but myaffinity for a dog’s unwavering love and loyalty has only grown.

Dogs are pack animals by nature, and ourdogs undoubtedly accept us as a part of their pack. We offer companionship,food and shelter to our dogs, which gives them more than enough reason toprotect us — fiercely at times.

By simply understanding the pack nature ofdogs, we can prepare for and avoid most of the incidents and injuries that area result of dog encounters.

Many of the positions within our industrypresent a daily opportunity of exposure to dogs and this is a continual concernto employers and employees alike. As such, positions like field services, meterreading and customer notification should place significant importance on dogbite prevention training.

Nearly 5 million people in the U.S. arebitten by dogs each year. Approaching any dog can have the potential for injury,but aggressivedog encounters are often serious, with the potential for much worse.

While there are tools and training available toteach the best techniques to avoid being bitten, there isn’t always a clearchoice. I’ll offer some of my best management practices and in most cases,you’ll find aggressive dog encounter incidents can easily be avoided if we usecommon sense and practical judgment before entering a site where a dog might befound.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), in2018 39% of U.S. homes had dogs, which equates to over 48 million of the homeswe visit to complete our work.

When approaching or entering propertieswhere there are known dogs use your training to make a plan.

Whenever possible, property ownersshould be notified before arrival, and after you depart. Explaining in detailthe work you are performing and the length of time you’ll be present will also reducethe likelihood that the dog is unintentionally let out while you are still onthe property.

Homeowners are understanding andappreciate the communication, as dog-attack incidents are an unwantedexperience for them as well. If you’re approaching a home or yard, the bestpractice is to ask homeowners to secure any dog on the premises before youenter.

As dog lovers and owners — or simplybecause we are confident at our job, skills, and our ability to controlsituations — this can be a difficult step for many employees to take. Learntactful ways to ask individuals to restrain their dogs and remember this stepisn’t about your ego — it is about your safety.

Another challenge presents itselfwhen we see dogs while on the job, such as passing on a sidewalk. Don’t pet orattempt to pet any dog, even if you think it may be friendly. Dogs often react quicklyand may bite a hand before the hazard is realized. Always presume that anunfamiliar dog may see you as an intruder or threat.

In almost every dog bite prevention training,step 1 is recognizing the threat and seeing the hazard. This step can bechallenging for several reasons, dependent on your role. These challenges includerepetitive tasks, mindlessly following procedures, habits and assumptions, andoverconfidence.

Reducing the Risks Associated with Dog Encounters

When we perform root-cause analysis after adog-encounter incident, the four precursors previously mentioned areconsistently present.

Throughout the workday, it takes acommitment to expending time and energy at every property, and that expense inour minds can come at the cost of productivity.

Evaluate any site you enter for the presence of a dog. If you’reunsure if there is a dog on-site, check for the telltale signs: “Beware of Dog”signs, food and water bowls, toys, chains or ties and worn trails in the yard.

It is usuallyeasy to identify the items mentioned above, but hereare a few of the less obvious signs to be aware of:

Many homes with dogs are like my own, where there are no outward signsof dog presence. If you can’t research a property before arrival, sound yourvehicle horn and listen for barking, or use a safety whistle, in the samemanner, to alert potential dogs to your presence.

Never approach a strange dog,especially. After years of barking at passersby from behind a window or fence,dogs can experience barrier aggression. They act aggressively primarily becausethey are scared, excited, stressed or anxious.

Humans are a trigger that they arereacting to, and they can’t reach us due to the barrier. Dogs may even gain afalse sense of confidence because most times we pass by as they bark, so whenwe unexpectedly don’t, or even walk into a property, the fear increases and anattack may ensue.

When aggressiveanimals are known or suspected:

When aggressiveanimals are unknown:

Just as we do,dogs rely on body language to express themselves and communicate, according to the AVMA. Being able to decipher dogs’ body language canprovide context clues as to whether a dog is feeling stressed, frightened, orthreatened.

Signs ofaggression include efforts to make the dog look bigger:

Signs of fear oranxiety include efforts to make the dog look smaller:


Rabies is a disease caused bya virus found in the saliva of infected animals and transmitted to pets andhumans through a bite or contamination of an open cut.

Local treatment

Rabies is a medical urgency, not an emergency — but treatment shouldnever be delayed. One of the best ways to reduce the chance of infectioninvolves washing the wound with soap and water (with thorough flushing) for aminimum of 15 minutes.

Medical attention should be consulted to determine whether vaccinationsshould take place. Decisions to vaccinate often depend on the type of exposure,the animal you were exposed to, and surveillance information on the area wherethe exposure occurred.

In the U.S., 1 in 5 people bitten by dogsrequires medical attention. If bitten by a dog, the AVMA provides a checklist of things youshould do.

Having a dog charge at and bite you can be afrightening experience but is also a preventable situation. Protect yourselvesby reviewing best prevention practices and taking additional dog biteprevention courses throughout your career.