Reducing dog bites starts with how kids approach pooches

May 14, 2015, 3:30 PM

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Good weather can be bad for postal workers.

Last year, 5,767 postal carriers were bitten by dogs, up from 5,581 in 2013, and the most attacks happened in warm and sunny Los Angeles, Houston and San Diego, said Linda DeCarlo, manager of safety for the U.S. Postal Service. None of the bites caused deaths.

The cities’ weather draws pets and people outside and doors and windows get left open, DeCarlo said. The slight rise in bites also stems from the popularity of online shopping because postal workers must bring packages to front doors instead of street-side mailboxes, DeCarlo said.

But the biggest victims are children and senior citizens, who can be overpowered by dogs. Of the 4.5 million people bitten every year, more than half are kids, said Dr. Jose Arce, an American Veterinary Medical Association board member.

Bites kill about 16 people a year. Besides the postal-worker totals, specific numbers on dog bites are lacking because few people seek treatment. And no one tracks bites by breed.

National Dog Bite Prevention Week starts Sunday, and this year’s programs launched Thursday. Because children are the most vulnerable and easily injured, the American Veterinary Medical Association will focus on teaching kids how to deal with dogs.

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WHAT NOT TO DO

— Stare into a dog’s eyes.

— Tease a dog.

— Approach one that’s chained up or injured.

— Touch a dog you don’t know that’s off a leash.

— Run or scream if one charges.

— Play with a dog while it’s eating.

— Touch one while it’s sleeping.

— Get close to one that’s nursing puppies.

— Leave a small child alone with a dog, even if it’s the family pet.

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WHAT TO DO

— Ask an owner before petting a dog you don’t know.

— Let the dog sniff your closed fist before touching it.

— Freeze if a dog runs toward you.

— Socialize puppies so they are comfortable around people and other animals.

— Use a leash in public.

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HOW PARENTS CAN HELP

When the mail arrives, place your pet in a closed room so it can’t go through a window or screen door to possibly attack the carrier. Tell children not to take mail from the carrier in front of the dog because the animal could see it as threatening.

Also, teach children to treat dogs with respect and avoid rough or aggressive play.

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WHAT KIDS CAN WATCH

The veterinary group made YouTube videos describing miscommunication between dogs and kids. A new short will be released each day through the week. One gap is that most pooches don’t like to be hugged. That helps explain why two-thirds of young victims get bites on the head or neck, according to the American Humane Association.

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WHERE BITES HAPPENED

Last year, 74 postal-carrier bites were reported in Los Angeles, followed by Houston with 62 and San Diego with 47, DeCarlo said.

The LA tally rose from 61 bites in 2013, when Houston was No. 1 with 63. San Diego moved up a notch from two years ago, when 53 postal workers were bitten.

The Postal Service didn’t break down the severity of injuries, but 1,540 bites kept employees from work for at least a day after the attack, DeCarlo said.

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INSURANCE PAYOUTS

Bites and other dog-related injuries cost insurers $530 million last year, about a third of their paid claims, the Insurance Information Institute said.

The number of dog-bite claims decreased 4.7 percent from 2013, but the average cost per claim rose by 15 percent because of higher medical costs and settlements. The average claim in 2014 was $32,072, up from $27,862.

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Reducing dog bites starts with how kids approach pooches