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Dog bite dangers: What you need to know

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ATLANTA -

You might think dogs that are strangers are the dogs pose the most danger to you and your family.  But the reality is that more people are bitten by dogs they know, and that makes it important to know how to protect yourself.

At the Village Vets in Decatur, Dr. Ashley Alford has learned to read dogs.  She says they give off clues we humans sometimes miss.
      
"One of the biggest signs we misread is the wagging of the tail," said Alford.  "That does not always mean that a dog is friendly.  That just means that a dog wants to be engaged."

Alford says when most people see a dog, they automatically reach out to pet it-- not picking up on clues that they need to back off.  Growling, lowering or turning of the dog's head, and breaking eye contact are signs, she says, that it's time to step back.  

In fact, dogs communicate much of how they're feeling with their eyes. So, if they're anxious or uncomfortable, they may turn or break eye contact.

"And especially if they're giving you that side eye, where you can see the whites of the eyes, the eyes are very big-- that means that a dog is scared," said Alford.  "So you don't keep going in to pet that dog. You want to kind of back away and give that dog its space."

Every year, about 4.7 million Americans are bitten by a dog. When it happens, the dog that's doing the biting isn't a dog we don't know.  It's the one we do.  That makes it critical for children to learn the warning signs to leave a dog alone.  

Alford says if a dog becomes withdrawn, runs from the kids who are around him, or starts to growl, it's best to separate them from the children.  She also stresses the importance of watching the dogs at all times, and if you notice something that the child is doing or that the dog is doing, you should correct that behavior.

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