To prevent dog bites, a little information can go a long way

About 4.5 million dog bites occur every year in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These tips can help you protect yourself and your loved ones from the risk of dog attacks, as well as help you know what to do if you are approached or attacked by a dog.

You may already be aware of some basic safety considerations to keep in mind when interacting with dogs, such as supervising children when playing with a dog, allowing a dog to sniff you before touching it, and avoiding disturbing a dog when it is eating, sleeping or caring for its puppies. The following tips go beyond that conventional wisdom to help you stay safe if things begin to escalate.

What to do if a dog approaches

If a dog approaches you and you feel frightened or unsafe, your first inclination may be to scream or run away. However, this may have the opposite of its intended effect and actually make the dog more likely to attack.

To minimize the chances of an attack when approached by a dog, the CDC recommends remaining still, calm and quiet. Do not run, scream or make sudden movements. Instead, say "No," in a deep, firm voice and raise your hands slowly to your neck with your elbows in, then remain still and wait for the dog to go away.

Also, because looking a dog in the eyes may be taken as a sign of aggression and trigger an attack, avoid making direct eye contact with the dog. For similar reasons, the CDC recommends turning your body at an angle to the dog so that it faces your side rather than the front of your body.

Protecting yourself if a dog attacks

If a dog does attack you, try to put something else between yourself and the dog, such as a jacket, purse or backpack. If you are knocked down to the ground, CDC recommendations state that you should curl into a ball and tuck your head in. Cover your ears and neck with your hands and lie still.

Steps to take after a dog bite

If you are bitten or otherwise injured by a dog, you should clean the wound with soap and water as soon as it is safe to do so. It is also a good idea to take pictures of your injuries in case you need documentation for medical or legal reasons later on. Even if the wound does not appear to be serious or life-threatening, it is a good idea to seek medical attention as quickly as possible because there is a very real risk of rabies and other potentially serious infections.

Rabies is a virus spread through animal bites that is nearly always fatal in humans once symptoms develop. However, vaccines are available to stop the disease if they are administered as soon as possible after exposure. Unlike old-fashioned rabies vaccines, which were notoriously painful, today's vaccines are relatively pain-free and are administered in the arm just like a routine flu shot or tetanus shot.

Get legal advice after a dog attack

If you or your child has been bitten or otherwise attacked by a dog, you may have a legal claim to for compensation for the injuries and related costs. Depending on the circumstances, this could include medical expenses, rehabilitative care, reconstructive surgery, lost income and more. Contact the Law Offices of Magnuson Lowell P.S. for a more detailed discussion of the legal issues involved in your individual situation.