The U.S. is home to more than 78 million pet dogs. While your furry friend can be great fun, keep in mind that pet ownership isn't all fetch and Frisbee: Dog bites are a leading cause of doctor and hospital visits, with more than 4.5 million people bitten by dogs each year. Most of the 885,000 bites that require medical attention sadly involve children between 5 and 9 years old, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Dog bites are also a surprisingly common cause of homeowners' insurance claims, with more than one-third of all liability claim dollars paid in 2012, according to a recent statement by the Insurance Information Institute. The CDC says more than 31,000 Americans underwent reconstructive surgery in 2006 as a result of dog bites.
If you're a dog owner, be sure to take your dog to obedience training and teach family members how to properly play with your pet. Games such as fetch are fine, but rough games like tug-of-war may encourage aggression in pets and may lead to biting.
Always check with a dog's owner before approaching an unfamiliar dog—even if it's a friendly looking Fido. Even then, use caution. One out of every five dogs is adopted from a shelter, and that means the potential for past mistreatment and unpredictable behavior. Kirsten Theisen, director of pet care issues for The Humane Society of the United States, cites these facts to consider: