Because dog bites affect nearly 5 million Americans every year, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) hosts National Dog Bite Prevention Week annually in the third full week of May – the 20th through the 26th in 2012. Although a significant percentage of these traumatizing situations are unavoidable, some actually can be prevented with a few simple precautionary steps. Because children are most at risk of dog bites, it is even more important that parents and dog owners alike take preventive measures very seriously.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), 4.7 million people are bitten by dogs in the United States every year. Of those who are bitten, more than 800,000 receive medical attention for a dog bite, approximately half of which are children.

What is perhaps more unsettling is the overall cost of bite claims. According to a recent report from the Insurance Information Institute, dog bites cost the industry $478.9 million in 2011, an increase of approximately 16 percent from the $412.6 million in 2010. The average cost per claim also increased 12 percent to $29,396.

What may surprise people is that a majority of dog bite incidents affecting young children involve familiar dogs during normal, everyday activities. There are many factors that contribute to a dog bite, some of which are unavoidable. However, there are some things that adults can do to reduce the likelihood of children and adults alike from being injured by a dog bite.

Start with the pup

Owning a dog can be a very exciting experience. Unfortunately, dog owners can get caught up in that excitement without realizing the importance of teaching their new friend how to behave in social environments.

Dedicating extra time to train a young dog to interact with other dogs and people is invaluable and can reduce the likelihood of an injury to an innocent bystander, as well as a lawsuit for the owner.

Many experts suggest that exposing young dogs to social environments, such as dog parks and family gatherings, teaches them to interact casually with both other dogs and people and therefore reduces the chances of a bite.

Educate children about dog bites

Although dog owners are typically held liable if dog bites occur, parents should be aware that they can also help with prevention. Sure, some dog bites are not preventable, as certain dogs have behavioral issues and are more aggressive. But in many cases, children simply irritate the dog by roughhousing and even hitting and the dog bites back in retaliation.

Children are innocent in these situations, as they often don’t know any better and are just naturally playing with the animal. But it is important for parents to educate their children about what is acceptable behavior and what is not acceptable.

Since children are the most affected and most at risk of dog bites, parents cannot be too cautious or active in preventing them from occurring in the first place.

Take preventive measures

First, it is imperative that dog owners completely understand the laws related to dog bites in the state they live in. Because laws can be confusing and vary from state-to-state, it is important for dog owners to fully understand their liability in the event of a dog bite.