People getting bitten by dogs during domestic violence is more common than people think, says Wanganui Animal Control team leader Bernie Compton.
Over the Christmas period in Wanganui more than six domestic incidents and call outs also involved serious dog bites.
Mr Compton said noisy arguments and violence made dogs insecure and more likely to bite. He said Animal Control was called out to several incidents over Christmas by the police, the dog owner or victim, or Wanganui Hospital staff.
Mr Compton said dog control was not always called during the incident, but could be called in afterwards, usually within a couple of hours of the dog bite.
Public awareness needs to be raised about dog attacks and bites, especially when it's a domestic situation, he said.
"People just don't realise how threatened their dog feels when a domestic erupts between its owners. Throughout the year Animal Control officers deal with a range of domestic call-outs involving dog bites and in quite a few of these situations the whole incident could have been avoided."
He said when his team got involved in domestic violence incidents, dog owners often got more riled up.
"We get told to get out that it's none of our business. But it is our business - we know dogs and we can help. In some cases a child gets in the way, they get bitten and that can be really serious."
Last year he visited a woman in hospital who had been badly bitten about the head by a family member's dog, but the family were furious and told him to back off. "They really need to understand that we are experts with dogs. They need to hear what we have to say and take the advice we can offer about their dog. It would be great if all dog owners were able to follow these few simple guidelines when dealing with their animals, which would lead to far fewer dog bite victims in our community."
Mr Compton said dog bites usually occurred when a dog was feeling threatened or thought their "pack" - or human family - was being threatened.
"Dogs do not have many options when trying to warn someone or tell them to go away and unfortunately one reaction can be to bite."
Animal Control advice
• Make sure your dog clearly knows where it can and can't go within the home and garden. Your dog should not have access to all areas at all times as this will encourage your dog to feel it must protect the whole house and garden.
•Give your dog its own special area which is secure and comfortable where your dog can rest and/or sleep. Make sure everyone who lives in your home or visits knows this is your dog's special space and encourage them not to invade the space. This is particularly important if you have children around. A dog needs to know it can go somewhere quiet to get away from activities.
• ALWAYS supervise children (especially young children) around a dog regardless of whether an owner says the dog will be fine.
•When a dog is eating or sleeping leave it alone. If you approach an eating dog it may think you are trying to take its food and become defensive.
• Avoid eating around your dog and never tease a dog with your food. You know that you are not offering the dog something to eat but your dog might not. Trying to snatch food from your hand could easily result in a bite.
• Playing with your dog is an important part of its development but don't tease it. This can lead to aggression and injury.
• When you have visitors to your home introduce them to your dog so it knows that the visitor is not a threat.
• As dogs age they can suffer from aches and pains just like the rest of us. You should take care to be gentle when you play and interact with an older dog as you don't want to cause it pain and result in it snapping at you.
• If you do get bitten by a dog, even if it is not serious, it's important to wash the wound out thoroughly and see a doctor as you may need antibiotics. Don't leave a dog bite as it can easily become infected.