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For many dog lovers, it may be hard to face the fact that each year more than 4.5 million people in the U.S. are bitten by dogs. Although a dog may be man’s best friend, every animal is capable of biting when feeling threatened or provoked.

Canines are everywhere in today’s world, and some are friendlier than others. It’s important for both pet parents and non-pet owners to have a basic understanding of raising a dog, their behaviors, and how to prevent bites from happening.

Protect and Educate Children

Children between the ages of 5 and 9 are more likely to be bitten by a dog than any other age group. As a parent, it’s important to teach children on how to behave around pets. Studies have found that the number-one dog-bite prevention measures are through education. Small children often move around quickly and could play rough with their furry family member. For instance, ear pulling, skin pinching, or tail tugging MUST be off limits.

A child who invades a dog’s territory has a greater chance of getting bitten. The main cause of aggression in a dog stems from territorial behavior. It’s important to teach children to never tease or disturb a dog that’s sleeping, eating or protecting something. Explain to a child that face-to-face contact or hugging could make their animal friend feel uncomfortable. Instead, scratch the dog gently on the neck or chest.

Be sure to set strict rules with a child. For instance, always ask a dog’s owner for permission before petting. Both adults and children should follow this basic rule.

Reinforce to children that if a strange dog approaches while outside, “be a tree” and stand still. Eventually the dog will find this boring and will go away. The “be a tree” idea also applies if a family dog becomes aggressive or too frisky as well.

Spay or Neuter Your Dog

There are a number of good reasons to spay or neuter a dog. For one, neutering prevents unwanted dogs that may end up in shelters. Although having a dog spayed or neutered does not guarantee that he will never bite, there is evidence that suggests these altered pets tend to be calmer, healthier and less likely to become aggressive. The Humane Society of the United States statistics reflect that dogs who have not been spayed or neutered are up to three times more likely to be involved in a biting incident than neutered or spayed dogs.

Use Obedience Training and Positive Reinforcement

Obedience training can teach pups proper behavior and help owners control their dog in any scenario. Basic commands are a great way to keep a dog focused in a situation where the dog feels uncomfortable. Training opens up a line of communication between dog and owner, and obedience training is an easy way to establish the social hierarchy. When a pup obeys commands, it shows compliance and respect for the owner.If a pet parent is able to control their dog’s behavior, then he is less likely to bite.

Reward-based training helps create a range of desirable behaviors in a pet, which builds mutual feelings of trust and confidence. Positive reinforcement training is a friendly method of teaching a dog to perform behaviors using treats, toys or other positive actions as a reward. Many experts believe physical punishment or harsh corrections creates side effects causing fear, distrust or aggression in a dog. Positive-reinforcement methods will ultimately improve a dog’s behavior, making them less likely to behave aggressively. Rewarding good behavior rather than punishing inappropriate behavior can reduce the likelihood of a dog bite.

Be Aware of Body Language

Many people don’t recognize the subtle signs of stress in dog body language. It’s essential to pay close attention to their body language at all times. Ears laying flat, bared teeth, a lowered head, panting excessively, raised hackles, are a few signs that a dog is feeling uncomfortable and may bite. If a dog is displaying this type of body language, it’s important to give him space or take him out of the situation that’s making him feel threatened or stressed.

A Socialized Dog is a Well Behaved Dog

When bringing home a new puppy, it’s important to remember that the best thing to do is introduce this new furry family member to as many new people, places and situations as possible. If a dog has not been properly socialized and trained, he or she could develop fear-aggression or territorial problems.

Dogs need to learn how to behave around other dogs barking, children playing and screaming, people riding bicycles or jogging. The more comfortable a dog is around strangers, the less chance he will bite.

Safety is Key

Responsible dog owners need to take the necessary measures to reduce the risk of dog bites; however, safety doesn’t just end with dog owners. It’s important for everyone to understand that certain behaviors can cause a dog to bite or attack.

Dogs are territorial by nature and may feel threatened if they are unfamiliar with a person. Always keep in mind to respect a dog’s space and allow them to investigate you before touching them. If approached by a dog that is off leash, stand still, with arms crossed over chest and avoid eye contact with the dog. Do not run away, yell or make loud noises.

Dog bites are a serious problem but could be controlled and prevented. It’s important for pet owners to take training, socializing, and monitoring their dog’s body language seriously.