UNDATED (CNN) -- Dogs bite more than 4.7 million Americans each year and about 800,000 of those bites require medical attention. But there are steps we can take to help prevent dog bites.
We've all heard the expression, a dog is a man's best friend. But to make this relationship work, people need to know how to read a dog's body language so they don't feel threatened and lash out or bite. Victoria Stilwell, dog trainer and behavior consultant says, "Most dogs that bite are only doing so because they are scared and want to warn you to back away. That's what aggression achieves. Distance."
So if you're meeting a dog for the first time, Stilwell says, "Most important thing to remember is give it space. Do not go into that dog's space."
Let the dog come to you, Stilwell says. Turn your body to the side so that you look less threatening, put your hand in a fist and hold your hand down so the dog can sniff your fist. Stilwell says, "When you meet a dog as well, don't stare in its eyes. Don't smile at it. Because staring at its eyes is a challenge, is a threat. "
Pet the animal on the back of the neck or on his back and not on the top of the head, she says.
Yawning and lip sucking may be signs that the dog feels uncomfortable and wants you to back away. Try not to run from a dog or scream. If you do get knocked over, roll into a ball, lie still, and cover your head.
When it comes to avoiding dog bites, knowing what to look for in our four-legged friends can help both man and dog stay safe.