Dogs are part of the family and while many owners believe their dog will not bite, there are 4.5 million victims of canine bites and attacks each year.

(Leslie Banks, ThinkStock)

In fact, New Jersey ranks 15th in the nation for the number of dog bite claims in 2013, according to State Farm. That's a drop from 2012 when the Garden State ranked 16th. With National Dog Bite Prevention Week taking place from May 18-24, the insurer is teaming up with Victoria Stillwell, internationally renowned dog trainer, author and star of Animal Planet's "It's Me or the Dog," to teach people how to be responsible pet owners and reduce the number of dog bites.

Last year, State Farm paid $104 million as a result of 3,700 dog bite claims across the country. In the last five years alone, the insurer has paid $510 million for claims resulting from accidents involving a dog, many of which could have been prevented.

"People see their dogs as part of the family and they certainly are that, but dogs are dogs and we just ask that homeowners commit to their dog," said Arlene Lester, public affairs specialist with State Farm. "Pick the right dog for your family, invest in the proper time to get the dog trained, acclimate the animal to the community, keep it constrained when necessary and try to keep the dog from getting loose. Children also should be taught to always ask permission before touching a dog or petting a dog."

The following are the top 15 states for dog bite claims in 2013:

  • California           449 claims        $14.7 million paid
  • Illinois                309 claims        $8.9 million paid
  • Ohio                  221 claims        $4.2 million paid
  • Texas                207 claims        $4.0 million paid
  • Pennsylvania     180 claims        $5.8 million paid
  • Michigan           162 claims        $3.9 million paid
  • New York          149 claims        $6.4 million paid
  • Indiana             146 claims        $3.5 million paid
  • Minnesota        120 claims        $4.0 million paid
  • Georgia            106 claims        $2.1 million paid
  • Arizona             105 claims        $2.8 million paid
  • Florida               93 claims        $5.5 million paid
  • Oregon              91 claims        $1.4 million paid
  • Missouri             88 claims        $2.0 million paid
  • New Jersey        86 claims        $4.3 million paid

According to statistics from the American Veterinary Medical Association, the dog population in the United States was approximately 70 million at the end of 2011, down from about 72 million in 2006, yet the number of dog bite incidents has not decreased.  Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that dog bites were the 11th-leading cause of non-fatal injury to children ages 1 to 4, ninth for ages 5 to 9 and 10th for ages 10 to 14, from 2003 to 2012.

State Farm urges people to use caution around all dogs, including family pets and regardless of breed. The insurer does not ask the breed of dog when writing or renewing homeowner insurance and does not track the breed of dog involved in dog bite incidents.

Responsible dog owners should follow these tips:

  • Never leave a baby or small child alone with a dog, even if it is a family pet. Children are often bitten by a dog in their own household.
  • Ask permission before touching or playing with a dog.
  • Remember that any dog can be dangerous and any dog can bite.

Education about responsible pet ownership and how to interact properly with any dog is critically important when it comes to reducing dog bite incidents, according to Stillwell.

"The most effective way to prevent dog bites is not to ban certain breeds of dog, but to raise awareness of canine behavior through education, as well as encouraging responsible dog ownership," she said in a press release Wednesday.