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March 22, 2004 - How to take a bite out of the dog-bite rate

The problem of dangerous dogs and what to do about them is often in the news these days. A bill before the state legislature would allow prosecutors to bring charges against owners when their dogs bite people, without proving whether the owners knew about their dogs' dangerous propensities.

This should be a wake-up call to dog owners. It's not uncommon for dogs to growl, lunge, bark threateningly or even snap at people without hurting them. Dog owners often find ways to rationalize or excuse these behaviors, never believing their dogs could hurt anyone.

It is important for dog owners to socialize and train their dogs and not allow them to run loose or show protective or territorial behavior. It's just as important for people to practice safe behaviors around dogs.

If a dog owner tells you not to pet the dog, heed that advice. Owners know their dogs better than you do.

Never try to hug a dog that belongs to someone else. While people intend a hug to be a show of affection, dogs often view hugging as scary and threatening. Children should be allowed to hug their own dogs only under adult supervision.

If a dog owner gives you permission to pet a dog, let the dog come to you rather than walking into the dog's space. Stand with the side of your body facing the dog. Avoid looking directly at the dog, and instead look straight ahead or to the side. Stand up straight rather than leaning over the dog. Keep your hand close to your body rather than reaching your fist toward the dog. If the dog won't approach your hand, it's a good sign it's not interested in being petted.

If the dog asks to be petted, pet the dog under the chin, not on top of the head. Having a few treats to offer the dog will go a long way toward convincing the dog you're a friend.

If you find a dog running loose, don't try to catch it yourself. Call Animal Control and allow professionals to get the dog.

If you find a dog tied up outside a place of business (not a good practice, but unfortunately people do it), leave the dog alone. Don't approach it or try to pet it. Dogs who are tied up often feel threatened by strangers approaching them.

Preventing dog bites requires responsible behavior on the part of both dog owners and the general public.

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