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How to Avoid Dog Bites

According to the American Humane Society, more than 4.5 million people in the United States are bitten by dogs every year, and the ASPCA reports that dog bites kill between 15 and 20 people annually. While the majority of dog bites don’t result in serious injury, they certainly cause pain and should be treated to avoid infection. Fortunately, there are practical steps you can take to avoid getting bitten in the first place.

A Dog Owner’s Responsibility

According to “Uncle Matty” of, a well-established dog trainer and dog aggression expert, owners of aggressive dogs are often “in denial” about the seriousness of their dog’s aggression. He notes that dog owners often try to reason with the animal in much the same way one would attempt to reason with a human.

Take Action to Stop Aggression in Your Dog

Uncle Matty warns that verbal cues are not enough to remove aggressive behaviors in dogs and that dog owners must take systematic action to alleviate these unwanted behaviors. Whether or not the dog is yours, his body language should be fairly easy to identify. A dog with a relaxed mouth who has his head held up and ears in a natural position (neither forward nor back) is generally calm. Another indicator is his fur. The fur on the neck and back of a relaxed dog will be smooth and flat. A dog’s demeanor doesn’t necessarily mean he is approachable, but it does show that he’s not in an aggressive state.

On the other hand, if the dog’s body looks tense, his tail is stiff, and his fur is standing up, he’s probably not in the mood to be approached, and should be avoided. Additionally, if the dog is backing away from you, has his ears and head pulled back, or is showing his teeth, or snarling and growling, he is in a heightened state of fear and/or aggression. Of course, those are more obvious signs to stay away from him, and they should be heeded.

Dog Bites and Children

Children are naturally drawn to dogs because they see them as potential playmates. However, dogs can be easily startled by a child’s movements, and they’re also pack animals who may try to establish dominance and territory. So, teaching children what to do and what not to do around dogs will go a long way in keeping them both safe.

Children should be taught never to approach a dog that is inside of a car, cage, or behind a fence, because that is the dog’s territory and he will instinctively protect it. Also, under no circumstances should a child approach an unknown dog, whether leashed or not, without the owner’s permission and an adult present. Even then, the ASPCA advises that children be taught to avoid petting the dog’s head.

Dog Bite Prevention

An off leash dog can be dangerous, and you should always assume that he views you as a threat, regardless of his size or whether or not you are familiar with him. In the event that you are approached by a roaming dog, the American Kennel Club suggests the following actions:

  • Drape your arms over your chest and stand still
  • Do not make eye contact with the dog, as they may see that as a sign of aggression
  • If possible, throw something to distract the dog’s attention. He should run off to inspect the item, and that gives you an opportunity to slowly turn and walk away

Never run from a dog, especially if you suspect he is showing signs of fear or aggression. A dog’s natural inclination will be to give chase.

Avoid Surprising the Dog

Finally, dogs are naturally territorial and, like humans, they become alarmed when they are awakened. Avoid startling or disturbing a dog while he is gnawing on a toy, eating, sleeping, or tending to his or her puppies.

Dogs really are devoted companion animals, but they are animals, nonetheless. Respecting their personal space, and recognizing and understanding their body language and behavior will help keep you from getting bitten, at that will keep you both safe.

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