National Dog Bite Prevention Week is May 15-21st and although they can be considered man’s best friend, it’s important to keep in mind that any pup can bite under stressful conditions. In fact, according to the American Veterinary Medical Foundation, more than 4.5 million people in the U.S. are bitten by dogs each year. Below are 12 tips for preventing dog bites according to Camp Bow Wow.

1. Seek Proper Help to Ensure You Pick the Right Dog – Whether it is through a trainer, a shelter, or a local rescue organization, recruit an educated individual to help you find a dog that best suits your lifestyle. For example: If you have a child that is fearful of large dogs, get a smaller one. Understand that a new environment and human interaction can cause stress and increase risk of dog bites; bringing a dog into your home is a transitional period that requires time and patience.

2.  Know How To Identify and Manage Key Warning Signs:

  • Lip Licking, Yawning, Wide Eyes, and Spiked Fur –  All are indicators of a stressed dog. It is important to always asses the exact situation. If a dog is lying on the couch by itself and licks its lips, most likely it is not stressed. If a dog is being hugged, tugged on, etc., and begins to emit warning signs, this is a clear indicator that he/she is now stressed.
  • Growling and SnappingNever try to get a dog to stop growling; we WANT it to growl, as it lets us know that he/she is uncomfortable. If a dog gets in trouble for growling, it will stop and can immediately go to biting.
  • A Stiff Wagging Tail – A dog that is experiencing stress will wag its tail in a stiff manner (a telltale warning sign that it might bite). Look out for a tail that is pointed high and moves even more quickly back and forth.
  • Averting Their Gaze – Avoidance behavior indicates that the dog is not comfortable with the particular situation.
  • Cowering or Tail TuckingThis behavior indicates that a dog is fearful. It doesn’t mean the dog will bite, but could if the dog’s fear continues to increase.
  • Backing Away or Hiding – Whether the dog backs itself into a corner or tries to hide (under a chair, table, bed, crate, etc.), this is a clear indication that the dog is uncomfortable and trying to escape. It is important to leave dogs that are exhibiting this behavior alone! Allow them to come to you.

3. Train Your Dog and Yourself – Enlist your entire family and dog into a reward-based training class. A reputable trainer will help educate you and your family on the proper ways to interact with your dog. They will also teach you how to notice signs that your dog may be experiencing stress and needs to be given space.

4. Never Leave a Child Under Ten Years Old Alone With a Dog – This rule must be enforced at all times, no matter how much you trust your four-legged friend. Dogs tend to give off warning signs when they are uncomfortable and may bite in response. In most cases, children aren’t able to pick up on these signals and can easily get hurt.

5. Always Ask “May I Pet Your Dog?”  – If there is a dog you or your child wants to touch, ask the pet parent first, so that they can inform you as to whether or not their pet is comfortable interacting with kids or new people.

  • Teach the Proper Petting Technique – Pet dogs (after you’ve gotten the owners’ permission) under the chin or shoulder, light strokes, and short stints of petting. Avoid going over the dog’s head, rough pets, or sneaking up on them.

6. Remember That All Dogs Can Bite – Even your family pet, if put in a bad situation, can bite. Educating others on the proper way to interact with your dog will help prevent dog bites. Inform individuals not to grab the dog’s fur, ears, tail or any other part of its body and to not play with your dog unless you are available to supervise.

7. Properly Manage Strange Dogs – If you encounter a dog that is off leash, never scream or run. Stand still, ignore the dog and wait for him/her to leave. Call your local animal control to alert them that a dog is loose in the area.

8. Never Tie Up Your Dog – Dogs that are chained-up in the backyard or any other area are more likely to bite because they can become protective of that particular territory. Also, never approach a dog who is tied up.

9. Supervision is Mandatory – Always supervise your dog around your family members, especially children 12 years old and younger. A dog can go from normal to stress to biting in seconds. Don’t be afraid to ask the parents of your children’s friends if their family dog will be around your child.

10.  Provide a Safe Space – Always provide a safe space for your dog to go (like a crate) where he/she won’t be bothered. Pups can go retreat when they need a break, are nervous, tired, or when there is too much activity in the house (ie. when friends/family are visiting).

11. Never Force ANY Interaction on a Dog – Hugs in particular are common sources of anxiety that humans love to inflict upon their own dogs but aren’t as well received by them.

12. Remove Fido From Stressful Situations – If you note that your dog is stressed, nervous, or anxious, remove him from that situation: ask others to step away, relocate your dog to his/her safe place (crate), and talk to a professional about how to approach similar situations again in the future.