NEW YORK (RUSHPRNEWS)AUGUST 7, 2008–Each year in the U.S. alone, an estimated 5 million people–nearly 2% of the population–are bitten by dogs. About 800,000 of these people require medical attention as the result of the bite or attack, and about 15-20 die from their injuries. These numbers, however, while alarming, are not particularly shocking, given that there are an estimated 65 million dogs in the U.S.
What may be more surprising is that most dog bites are preventable if owners train and care for their dogs properly and if potential bite victims–that is to say, nearly all of us–know how to behave around dogs.
StepsKeep your distance from dogs you don’t know. Some dogs are so cute it’s almost impossible to resist petting them. Think twice before you try to make friends with an unfamiliar dog, because some dogs simply aren’t very friendly, and many otherwise pleasant dogs may be skittish around strangers.
Never try to pet an unfamiliar dog that’s behind a fence, tied up, or in a car. Dogs can be very protective of their territory, and if you enter their space you’re just asking to be bitten.
Avoid loose dogs. If you’re walking and you see an unfenced, untied dog up ahead, try to avoid it. Cross the street or go around the block. Stay out of reach of dogs on leashes, as well.
Ask the dog owner’s permission before you pet a dog. If a dog doesn’t handle strangers well, the owner usually knows.
Allow dogs to investigate you before you touch them. Dogs are naturally curious and may want to sniff you or approach you slowly. This is usually not threatening behavior, but if you don’t allow a dog to investigate you before you try to touch him, he’s liable to bite in self-defense. By the same token, never surprise a dog and touch him when he’s not expecting it.
Be gentle. Don’t play rough with a dog, or the dog may play rough back, which may result in you getting bitten. An excited dog is an unpredictable dog.
Let sleeping dogs lie. Don’t rouse a dog that’s sleeping, especially if it’s not your dog. In addition, avoid disturbing dogs while they’re feeding, chewing on a bone or chew toy, or caring for their puppies.
Stay away from mad dogs. Dogs frequently will tell you if they don’t want you around. If a dog growls, bears its teeth and wrinkles its nose in a snarl, or if the hair on a dog’s back is raised, keep away.
Stand your ground. Don’t run away from a dog, especially a threatening one. Turning your back on a dog and running may awaken the dog’s instinct to chase prey, and you don’t want to be prey. If you encounter an unfamiliar dog, keep your cool, and walk slowly away without turning your back. Stand still if the dog appears ready to attack you, and keep your hands close to your sides with your fingers curled in to prevent getting them bitten.
Avoid eye contact with a dog. Don’t look a strange dog right in the eyes. The dog may see this as a challenge.
Teach children how to act around dogs, and don’t leave children unattended with dogs. Children are small and vulnerable to bites, and they also tend to want to play with dogs even when dogs aren’t feeling up to playing. This can lead to situations where a child is in fact harassing a dog, and the dog may become aggressive in order to get the child to stop. If you are leaving the room with a dog and a small child, take the dog with you. That way, if the child has a scratch or a bruise, you know it was not caused by the dog.
Do not HUG dogs. Dogs do not hug each other. Dogs mount each other to mate, show dominance, or to try to get a reaction from another dog.
Hugging a dog might get a reaction you do not want, a nip or a bite. Hugging a dog is rude. It is much kinder and more polite to simply stand there, or stroke the friendly dog under its chin.
Be careful when moving an injured dog. A dog in pain may lash out even at a friendly person.
If you do want to help move a dog that has been injured, either be prepared to receive a minor bite or put on heavy gloves and a heavy coat to protect yourself. If the owner is present, ask him or her to handle the dog’s head while you help lift the body. Covering a dog’s head with a coat or shirt might help to prevent the dog from seeing you and might block the bite.
Be careful when splitting up dogs that are fighting. If possible try not to physically touch the dogs at all. Spraying with a hose or pepper spray may work. If the fight is not too serious, human breath spray (Listerine or Bianca)is disgusting to most dogs, but not harmful. If you have to touch them, grab them by the hind legs to pull them apart.
Don’t touch them near their collars, heads or shoulders. If both dogs seem to want to keep fighting, try to drag one thru a doorway or gate, and use the door/gate to separate them.
 For Dog OwnersSpay or neuter your dog. Having your dog spayed or neutered can reduce aggressive tendencies that can spark dogs to get into fights with other dogs and to bite people.
Begin socializing your dog early. Dogs that feel uncomfortable or threatened around new people or other dogs are more likely to bite. Introducing your dog to other people and critters first in a non-threatening environment (your home, for example), and then by bringing him out into new environments will ease your dog’s fears and improve his behavior around others.
Get your dog accustomed to eating around people. Since most bitings occur when someone tries to pet a dog who is eating, distract your dog when it is a puppy. push it’s head away from the bowl, take the bowl, push or rub it, do things that you normally shouldn’t. This will socialize the dog to people being around it while it is eating, effectively reducing the risk of a biting.
Train your dog basic commands. Training your dog to sit, stay, and drop his toys on command will give your dog the discipline he needs in order for you to help him stay out of trouble.
Play non-aggressive games with your dog and don’t encourage biting. Games like tug-of-war can strengthen a dog’s instinct to bite and can make him feel that biting is acceptable behavior. The same can be said if you allow your puppy to nip your hands. That behavior can mean trouble when the puppy gets bigger.
Keep your dog’s vaccinations up-to-date. A sick dog, particularly one with rabies, is a dangerous dog, no matter how gentle or well-trained he normally is.
Be a loving and responsible owner. While it’s important to discipline your dog, do not discipline him by hitting him or by other violent means. Give your dog plenty of attention and make sure he knows that people are his best friends. Neglected or abused dogs are much more likely to bite people than are dogs that are showered with love and attention. Besides, animal abuse and neglect is reprehensible, and it’s a crime. If, for whatever reason, you can’t care for a dog properly you should not have one.
Keep your dog on a leash when out and about. A leash is the most effective bite-prevention device available. Without a leash you don’t have any way to make certain your dog doesn’t run after a dog or another person. Besides, leash laws are common, so if you don’t have your dog leashed, you may be breaking the law. If you know your dog gets nervous around strange people and animals, consider also using a soft muzzle on walks to prevent aggressive behavior such as barking and nipping.
Keep your dog away from trouble situations.
If you know that dog doesn’t interact well with other dogs, don’t bring him to the neighborhood dog park. If your dog gets aggressive around delivery men, keep your dog in another room when you answer the door. As a pet owner, you know your dog’s personality and dislikes, and you are in the best position to keep him or her out of trouble.