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Putting the boot into dog bites

SHOCK STATISTICS show that nearly 4.7 million Americans are bitten by dogs each year, according to the American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP). More than half of all dog bite victims are younger than 14 years of age and 150,000 of these bites are serious enough to require a visit to the emergency department of a hospital.

In observance of the US’s National Dog Bite Prevention Week (May 21-27), the AAP is trying to educate Americans on how to avoid being bitten by a dog.

"As paediatricians, we often see the harm inflicted when dogs bite children," AAP president Dr. Eileen Ouellette said in a statement. "In addition to teaching children about safety - whether rollerblading or riding in a car - the AAP hopes families address safety around some of their furry friends."

The AAP is working with the American Veterinary Medical Association to promote dog safety within families and communities. Its president Dr. Henry E. Chilers notes, "Any dog can bite if it feels threatened or is in pain."

One way families can protect their children from dog bites is to ‘do their homework’ before purchasing a family dog. Prospective owners are urged to learn about the typical characteristics and behaviour of different breeds, and to see which breeds are better around children, and more typically family orientated.

It's also important, according to experts, to socialise your pet - gradually exposing your puppy to people and other animals will help get him or her accustomed to social situations. They may be less apt to snap at people if they have less apprehension of strangers.

Training the dog is equally important. Commands can build a bond of obedience and trust between pet and pet owner, AAP notes. It's best to avoid aggressive games with your dog, like wrestling or tug-of-war. Having the dog neutered or spayed will also decrease the likelihood of biting. It's also important to keep current on the dog's vaccinations.