For all of us who own or owned a dog, the following quote from Roger Caras rings true:

“Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.”

That sentiment is why dog ownership is at an all-time high in the United States.  Unfortunately, along with this significant growth in dog ownership comes a huge downside; dog bites causing serious injury or death are growing at a rate of 11% per year!  Short of simply not owning a dog, is there anything one can do to try and mitigate the possibility that your dog will not become part of these statistics?  Absolutely!  First, some background.

Examining the problem

Currently there are 74.8 million dogs as pets in the United States.  These pets cause an average of 800,000 bites per year with 18 resulting in deaths.  Seventy percent of dog bites occur on the dog owner’s property which means dog bite claims now account for about one third of all homeowner claims.  Sixty percent of all dog bites involve children which is the primary reason that in 2006, insurance carriers in the United States paid out over $250,000,000 in dog bite claims.

Why the problem exists

First, there are far more dogs in the United States than ever before and as a result, over-breeding and in-breeding of certain breeds can cause aggressive behavior. 

More crime-cautious people seem to be breeding and training dogs to be more aggressive.  Any dog can bite for any reason at any time however the following breeds have shown to be the most frequent biters:

        • Pit Bulls
        • Rottweilers
        • Bull Mastiffs
        • Doberman Pinschers
        • Chows
        • American Staffordshire Terriers   

Finally, we are crowding together more, due to community association living and people seem to simply be more exposed to dogs.

Why the owner is  liable

When trying to decide who is liable in any type of negligence situation, the first source is to review the prevailing law.   Minnesota and Wisconsin are called “strict liability statute states”.  “Strict liability statutes” are laws adopted to remove all doubt as to who is liable in the event of a loss like a dog bite.  If your dog bites, you are liable no matter the circumstances. 

What you can do

First and foremost, protect yourself by carrying personal liability coverage found within your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy but make sure there are no limitations or exclusions for dog bites.  Also, further protect yourself by purchasing an umbrella policy which will add appropriate layers of coverage for liability.

Try to avoid owning the types of breeds listed above.

You can also train your dog not to bite.  Most aggressive dogs fall victim to human short-comings.  To reduce the chances your dog will bite or reduce the chances that you or a loved one will be bitten consider the following: 

  • Consult with a veterinarian to learn about suitable breeds of dogs.
  • Spend time with the dog before buying or adopting.  Look for aggressive behavior.
  • Slowly socialize a dog with children.
  • Never leave infants or young children alone with dogs.
  • Keep your dog around people - socialize it.
  • Discourage children from disturbing a dog who is eating or sleeping.
  • Play non-aggressive games with your dog like fetch.  Try to avoid games like tug-of-war as this can breed aggressive behavior.
  • Avoid exposing your dog to new situations of which you are unsure of its response.
  • Never approach a strange dog and always avoid eye contact with a dog that appears threatening.
Posted 3:45 PM  View Comments

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