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jaws off

According to the Centers for Disease Control, nearly 5 million people are bitten by dogs each year, half of whom are children under age 12. All dog bites carry a risk of infection, but nearly 1 million annually require serious medical attention. Unfortunately, some dogs even end up being euthanized for biting. With that in mind, it makes sense to learn how to avoid dog bites, for the sake of both our two- and four-legged friends.

Read my body language

Recognizing the body language of a dog who is uncomfortable enough to bite is key to preventing bites. Many dogs will physically ask to be left alone, looking away or moving away from an unwanted human advance. Some dogs will use displaced behaviors to show they are stressed, such as yawning or scratching. There are also loud-and-clear “back off” signals, such as growling and lip curling. Dogs can be very effective at letting you know that they are reaching the ends of their limits — but we need to get the message.

If you see signs that a dog is uncomfortable, stop engaging him. Give the dog space, lower your voice and avoid eye contact to show that you are not a threat.

Be smart and safe

Teach kids and visitors the right way to interact with your own dog and with strange dogs they may meet at a friend’s house or on the street.
  • Get permission to pet: Some dogs are easily startled or may not react well to strangers, so always ask first if you can say hello.
  • R-e-s-p-e-c-t: Dogs like their personal space, so don’t crouch down to hug or kiss unknown dogs. Pet them gently under the chin, rather than on top of the head.
  • Be a tree: Teach children that if they are approached by a strange dog off-leash, just ignore him. Stand quietly with arms down, and avoid making eye contact. If the dog jumps up, try telling him to “sit.”
  • Finders keepers: If a dog steals a toy from a child, teach them to get an adult to help, rather than trying to take it back themselves.
  • One hard-and-fast rule: Never leave a dog alone with children, even those he is familiar with. Even the friendliest, most well-behaved dog can reach his limits and snap.

Proper pet etiquette
As a pet parent, there are ways you can help raise a dog who is less likely to bite:
  • Expose your dog to new people and different situations in a safe way, including activities that involve strangers and children, so that she will feel comfortable in the future. Teach basic commands, such as “sit,” “stay,” and “come,” and keep your dog on a leash.
  • Don’t encourage aggressive behavior, even during play. Train your dog not to mouth at hands or jump on people.
  • Spaying or neutering dogs before they become sexually mature can help reduce or avoid hormone-driven behaviors, including aggression.

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