A stray dog is more likely to bite than a pet dog with a home. Dogs bite people most often in the hot, muggy dog days of August. Males and females are equally victimized by dog bites. A person bitten by a dog must usually be vaccinated against rabies.


No, all of the above is false.

What is true is that more and more people are being bitten by dogs: An estimated million cases require treatment annually, with perhaps another million or more unreported.

Contrary to popular notion strays are not the real oulprits. Over 80 percent of the biting is done by dogs whose owners can be identified, according to Dr. Alan M. Beck, director of the Center on the Interaction of Animals and Society at the University of Pennsylvania.

Beck's studies also show that the incidence begins to increase in mid-April and reaches a peak in the middle of May that is sustained through August.

Only 3 to 4 percent of the cases occur in winter months. The most likely victims are children under 15, and boys are victims more than twice as often as girls. But provocation is usually to blame: There was no involvement with the dog prior to the bite among three-quarters of the people in one significant study.

The mention of dog bites, of course, raises anxiety over rabies (harbored in the saliva of an infected animal). Prompt vaccination usually prevents the rabies from developing, but if it deos, even the best medical care cannot halt its agonizing course, almost invariably fatal.

Luckily, rabies is a rarity in the U.S. because of vaccination of animals against the disease. On the average it occurs in about 15 percent of people who don't receive vaccination after being attacked by a rabid animal. In 1978 there were only four human deaths from rabies. Only one was known to be the result of a dog bite, and the victim was bitten in Mexico. Why Dogs Bite

Facing a barking, growing dog is scary unless you're on the safe side of a fence or door. Many dogs stake out their territory, which may be the owner's house, and sometimes extending to the street. The decision to bite or not to bite depends partly on how the dog is trained and partly on whether it perceives you as a threat.

Studies by Beck found that male dogs account for 70 percent of all bites. The reason may not be because they are meaner; they may simply have greater freedom. Mixed breeds were implicated 41 percent of the time, and in 37 percent of the cases German shepherds did the biting. (The latter may be getting a bum rap because people tend to call any dog that looks something like one a German shepherd.

A case can be made for using special caution near large dogs, which are often bred or trained for aggressiveness. An animal that stands head-high to a young child can inflict painful and disfiguring wounds.

When a large dog like a Great Dane is cooped up in a city apartment or confined to a tiny yard, it can become frustrated and is more likely to bite, according to public-health specialist Dr. David Harris, "Another disturbing trend," he says, "has been the cross-breeeding of dogs and wolves; the offspring tend to be extremely unpredictable and aggressive." To avoid being bitten

Here are some clues about dog befhavior:

Many dogs signal their intent to attack, but the signs can be contradictory and hard to judge. Assume that any barking or snarling dog may bite.

Looking a dog in the eye is a mistake. Stop and turn sideways. You might fend off an intended assault by shouting loudly, "Go home!"

Don't run past a strange dog or abruptly turn and walk away from it. Dog instinctively like to give chase. If the dog follows as you leave its territory, move away slowly, observing the animal, but not trying to stare it down. If you're bicycling, coast away or slow down, speak soothingly and get off the bicycle. Without turning your back on the dog, walk the bicycle away slowly.

Instruct children not to tease any dog or to disturb one while it is eating or sleeping. Also teach kids not to approach or pet a strange dog until the owner gives assurance that the animal is friendly. Impress on youngsters that sudden movements and shouts can make some dogs bite If you are bitten

Although the odds of a rabid dog biting you are low, it is natural to be worried. The crucial thing is to flush out the wound with plenty of warm water and soap. After that, take up the important problem of identifying the animal and its owner.

Consult a physician, either your own or in the nearest hospital emergency room. If the dog has not been located, try to recall its condition and behavior; anything that seemed abnormal. The accuracy of your recollection may help the doctor decide whether rabies shots are needed.

If the biting animal is obviously rabid, then prompt action is required. "The longer treatment is delayed," warns Dr. George Podgerny, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians, "the less likely it is to be effective."

If the dog's behavior appeared normal except for the attack, but the animal can't be found, a different evaluation is in order; mainly on whether the dog was provoked into biting and whether rabies has been found recently in other dogs or wild animals in the area.

Vaccination may or may not be ruled out. The surest bet is to locate the dog and hope the owner can confirm that its antirabies shots are up-to-date.

Report the incident to local health authorities, who should require the owner to observe the dog for at least 10 days. If the dog develops no symptoms of rabies, the doctor can safely withhold rabies vaccine from the bite victim.

Even when rabies is ruled out, it is important for a doctor to cleanse the wound, to start antibiotics and to decide whether suturing or regular dressing is required.

Finally, there is the possibility of tetanus, a disease that can result from any deep puncture wound. If your defense against tetanus is lacking, ask for protection.