The Bite Stuff: Dogs Not Always a Worker's Best Friend

"Excuse me, does your dog bite?"

Although a familiar line from a very funny Peter Sellers movie, the underlying subject matter is of real importance to those industries exposed to potentially aggressive dogs.  According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, 4.7 million people are bitten by dogs each year accounting for five percent of all emergency room visits.  Children are the most common victims, but workers who visit homes to perform their jobs are certainly at risk.  There are more than 43 million households who own dogs, representing 38 percent of the homes in the country. 

If your employees conduct business at private homes or other locations where dogs may be present, it is appropriate to have consistent policies in place to protect them.  Workers at risk include package delivery personnel, visiting nurses, utility workers, and, yes, mail carriers.  In fact there are 5,700 mail carriers bitten each year.  So what are the prevention steps? 

Knowing the household owns a dog will give the worker a step up.  Pre-work questionnaires or work orders can include this information.  Requiring dog owners to keep their dogs restrained during scheduled visits is a good solution to the problem. 

If the above is not possible then ensure employees follow these steps:

  • Dogs are protective of territory. Be aware of their presence and do not advance if the dog appears to be threatening or agitated.  Delay the visit if the dog has not been properly restrained.
  • If threatened, don’t scream or yell.  Avoid eye contact and back away slowly until the dog is out of sight.  Never turn your back and never run.  The dog’s instinct is to chase and catch.
  • If a dog is about to attack you, try to place something between you and the dog such as a purse, a backpack, or a tool. 

Don’t be fooled by the standard statement, “My dog won’t bite”.  Any dog will revert to instinct if threatened or scared.  Treat dogs as you would an electric power line or a loaded firearm; never assume they are safe.  

The education of dog owners is critical to the protection of any worker entering the property.  Owners should be caring for these animals appropriately to reduce the likelihood of aggressive behavior.  Check out the resources below for tips on proper dog care that can be shared with your customers or clients who own dogs.  Dogs are “man’s best friend” and can be wonderful companions for life.  However, they can also present a very real threat to workers who are unknown to them and who trespass on their territory. 

The Center for Disease Control:
The US Postal Service:
Prevent the Bite, a non-profit dedicated to preventing dog bites:
American Veterinary Medical Association: