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What You Can Do About Dog Bites

Dogs are more than pets; they are family. But, even well-behaved dogs can bite. In fact, half of the dog bites that occur every year are by the family pet, according to the National Library of Medicine (NLM).

Dogs are responsible for most animal bites. However, many incidents can be avoided. Teaching children how to stay safe is especially important, because they are the ones most likely to be bitten.

Warning signs

Some behaviors may signal that a dog is aggressive, afraid, or protecting his or her territory, three situations that can set you up for a bite. Watch for the following:

  • Growling, snarling, or barking.

  • Crouching with the head low or the tail between the legs.

  • Fur that’s standing up, erect ears, a stiff body, and a high tail.

  • Obvious injury or pain.

Avoiding bites

If a strange dog comes near you, stand still, keep your hands down, and avoid eye contact. If you’re knocked down, curl into a ball and cover your head, neck, and face. Remember these tips, too:

  • Ask before petting a dog you don’t know.

  • Never leave a child alone with a dog -- even the family pet.

  • Avoid dogs that are cornered, chained, in a car or behind a fence.

  • Don’t play rough with any dog.

  • Don’t break up a dog fight.

  • Don’t surprise older dogs. One that’s deaf or blind may bite.

  • Keep your face away from a dog’s head.

  • Don’t disturb a dog that’s sleeping, eating, or caring for puppies.

Self-care

Rinse any bite with running water. This may help clean away bacteria. Then, wash the wound with warm, soapy water for at least five minutes, cover it with a clean bandage, and call your health care provider. If the bite is bleeding heavily, apply direct pressure and raise it above heart level until the bleeding stops.

Your locality may have a law about reporting dog bites. If so, report the bite to the local health department and animal-control agency. And try to find the dog’s owner; you need to know if the rabies vaccination is current.