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Can you prevent a bite from man's best friend?

There is no doubt that dog bites can leave horrific and even fatal injuries to victims. The incidents that get the most media scrutiny are usually the worst-case scenarios, leaving people to think that they may be powerless in the event of an attack.

However, without negating the fright and painful injuries dog bite victims experience, there are ways to avoid and deflect attacks by dogs.

Understanding canine body language

While dogs are quite capable of vocalizing, much of their communication is via body language, both with other dogs and with humans. Humans are far less adept at reading canine signals, however. But by paying attention to the silent signals a dog is sending you, you may be able to avert a dog attack.

To do this, it's also important to understand that while you are attempting to read the dog's body language, it's also getting feedback from yours. This means it's important for you to put your own actions in check when interacting with a strange dog. Below are some tips for peaceful canine-human interactions.

Not all wagging tails are friendly

When dogs are happy and excited, their tails wag exuberantly, as tail-wagging is a high-energy release valve for dogs. But if you encounter a dog with a raised tail, wagging stiffly, do not interpret this as a sign of friendliness.

In fact, it's just the opposite. The dog is indicating that it is alert, focused and ready to tangle with any interlopers.

Beware of direct eye contact

You may be used to your own dog gazing soulfully into your eyes or longingly watching every bite that approaches your lips. That's not aggression. When a dog is poised to attack, it will stare directly and aggressively at potential prey with hard, predatory eyes.

If you observe this, look off to the side so the dog sees the whites of your eyes. Staring back is perceived as a challenge and the dog will likely attack.

Dogs make themselves seem larger

Just as a man who is about to throw down in a fistfight might swell his chest out before his opponent, dogs also attempt to appear larger and stronger by widening their stance with spread paws and outthrust chests.

Observe their facial appearance

A dog that means business will have erect ears. Its lip may curl back and expose its teeth, accompanied by a low and rumbling growl. You are seconds from an attack at this point, so cast your eyes away and back off slowly.

When a dog lunges at you

Once an attack is imminent and the dog lunges, put any inanimate object that's handy between you and the attacking dog. Purses, backpacks, briefcases, newspapers, umbrellas, jackets or sacks of groceries all can deflect a bite while you try to make your escape.

Try not to let the dog knock you to the ground, as that takes away the height and size advantage you have. If it happens, curl your hands into fists and protect your ears, face and internal organs. An attack on your posterior body is generally less devastating than the anterior body.

After the attack

You will need immediate medical attention and to make a police report. If the dog has not been inoculated against rabies, it may need to be quarantined for observation or you might have to get a series of painful shots.

It's possible to take legal action against the owner of a dog that attacks, so make sure that you understand your rights under Illinois law.

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