WASHINGTON (AP) -- Don't scream. Avoid eye contact. Don't run.
Those are just a few tips offered by the U.S. Postal Service to avoid dog bites after more than 5,600 mail carriers were victims last year of dog attacks. The widespread problem cost the U.S. Postal Service nearly $1.2 million in medical expenses, the government said Thursday.
Houston and other warmer cities were most often the site of dog attacks, although letter carriers were bitten in more than 1,400 cities around the country.
The Postal Service released the numbers in advance of annual dog bite prevention week, which begins next week. Its goal is to try and reduce the number of dog attacks, both on mail carriers and in the general population. Last year more than 4.7 million Americans were bitten, most of them children.
"Dog attacks are a nationwide issue and not just a postal problem," said Matthew Lopez, Houston postmaster. "Working with animal behavior experts, we've developed tips to avoid dog attacks and, for dog owners, tips for practicing responsible pet ownership."
According to the Postal Service, the top cities for dog attacks after Houston are Columbus, Ohio; San Diego, Calif.; Los Angeles; Louisville, Ky.; San Antonio, Texas; St. Louis, Mo.; Cleveland; Phoenix; Minneapolis; Portland, Ore.; Denver; Philadelphia; Sacramento, Calif.; and Seattle.
Tips from the post office to avoid being bitten:
--Don't run past a dog. The dog's natural instinct is to chase and catch prey.
--If a dog threatens you, don't scream. Avoid eye contact. Try to remain motionless until the dog leaves, then back away slowly until the dog is out of sight.
--Don't approach a strange dog, especially one that's tethered or confined.
--If you believe a dog is about to attack, try to place something between yourself and the dog, such as a backpack or a bicycle.
And for dog owners:
--When a carrier comes to your home, keep your dog inside, away from the door, in another room.
--Don't let your child take mail from the carrier in the presence of your dog. Your dog's instinct is to protect the family.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)