Arlington, VA

The following bi-weekly column is written and sponsored by Bark + Boarding, which provides a heart-centered and safe environment for your pets. Conveniently located at 5818-C Seminary Road in Bailey’s Crossroads, Bark & Boarding offers doggy daycare, boarding, grooming, walking and training services, plus in-home pet care.

By Chelsea Pennington, Bark + Boarding Writer and Animal Enthusiast

Each year in the U.S., between 4.5 and 5 million people are bitten by dogs.

While most of these bites are not serious, they are almost all preventable, either from the pet owner training their dog better or from people knowing how to recognize the warning signs. Whether you’re a dog owner or just someone who might like to pet a dog every now and then, there are some simple steps you can take to help prevent dog bites.

Tips For Dog Owners

Socialize your dog — Socializing your dog, especially when they’re young, helps them to feel more comfortable in different situations. Dogs bite because they are scared and feel the need to defend themselves, so introducing them to a variety of people, animals and places when they’re a puppy helps teach them they don’t need to protect themselves.

Always use a leash — If you’re in a public space, always keep your dog on a leash so that you can have control over them. This isn’t mean, but rather a precaution to make sure everyone stays safe. Teaching your dog basic commands like sit, stay, no and come can also help you manage your dog in situations that might cause them to disobey.

Give your dog enough exercise — Dogs that have pent up energy are tense and anxious, and this can make them more likely to bite. Making sure they have plenty of time to play and release this energy in a different way will alleviate this problem.

Talk to your vet about spaying or neutering — Often, intact dogs are more aggressive than those that have been neutered or spayed. The timing of this procedure varies for each dog, so be sure to talk with your vet about when is best to go forward, and mention any aggressive tendencies you may have noticed in your dog.

Tips For Interacting With A Dog

Avoid risky situations — There are some instances when it is simply not the right time to approach a dog, no matter how cute it is. If the dog isn’t with its owner, is on the other side of a fence, is sleeping or eating, is sick or injured, is playing with a toy, or appears to be trying to hide or get away, it’s best to leave them alone.

Always ask permission — If the dog is with their owner, always ask the owner first if it’s okay to pet the dog. Even if it looks friendly, you never know the dog’s history and what might startle it or be a trigger. Checking with the owner is the only way to know for certain that the dog is willing to be pet.

Read body language — Dogs have their way of communicating feelings, even without speaking. An aggressive dog will try to make itself appear bigger: its tail might be straight up and out, its ears might be perked and forward, or the fur on its back might stand on end. An anxious dog will do the opposite, and try to look smaller.

This might involve shrinking to the ground, putting its tail between its legs, or avoiding eye contact. In both cases, if pushed, the dog could end up biting, so walk away slowly and calmly so that you don’t further startle the dog.

Learn to use body language — If an unknown dog approaches you, or for some reason you can’t get away from a dog who seems to be feeling anxious or aggressive, you can also use body language to communicate with them. Look down and don’t make eye contact, as this is seen as a challenge.

Turn the side of your body toward them instead of facing them directly, which can be perceived as a threat. Move slowly and deliberately and don’t shout, but rather say firmly, “No” or “Go home.”

Teach your children dog etiquette — Sadly, most dog bites happen to children. Teach them to always ask an owner’s permission to pet a dog, and to not approach a dog that isn’t with its owner.

They shouldn’t be allowed to wrestle or play roughly with a dog, as this might lead to biting. Children under 10 shouldn’t be left alone with a dog ever, even if you have been reassured the dog is well-behaved.

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