More than 4.7 million people — including children and the elderly — are bitten by dogs each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s nearly 2 percent of the American population.

Dog bites are a serious problem for the entire community, including U.S. Postal Service letter carriers. Last year, nearly 5,700 letter carriers were attacked nationwide. That’s an average of 11 dog attacks every delivery day. And for every letter carrier bitten, hundreds of children needlessly suffer the pain and trauma of dog bites.

Since October, 70 dog attacks on letter carriers have been recorded in the Northern New England District, which includes Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. Dogs have also interfered with a significant number of mail deliveries.

Nationally, the number of carriers bitten by dogs has declined over the years. This decrease can be attributed to greater cooperation from dog owners, stricter leash laws and stepped-up efforts to educate letter carriers and the public about dealing with the problem.

Letter carriers are vigilant and dedicated, but the Postal Service may stop mail delivery to an address if a letter carrier is threatened by a vicious dog. In some instances, postal employees have sued and collected damages for dog bite injuries.

We can’t control people’s dogs; only dog owners can do that.

While some attribute attacks on letter carriers to dogs’ inbred aversion to uniforms, experts say the psychology actually runs much deeper. Every day that a letter carrier comes into a dog’s territory, the dog barks and the letter carrier leaves. Day after day, the dog sees this action repeated. After a week or two, the dog appears to feel invincible against intruders.

So if the dog gets loose, there’s a good chance it will attack.

Fortunately, most dog bites can be prevented through responsible pet ownership. Some simple reminders and helpful tips can reduce the hazard of dog bite attacks.

* If a letter carrier needs to deliver a certified letter or a package to a home, the owners should put their dog into a separate room before opening the front door.

* Parents should remind their children about the need to keep the family dog secured.

* Parents also should ask their children not to take mail directly from letter carriers. A dog may see handing mail to a child as a threatening gesture.

Audrey L. Johnson is postmaster in Gardiner.