A Dog Owner's Guide to Dog Bite Prevention
No one thinks that their dog will attack another person. However, it is more common than one might think, and the consequences can be substantial. All dog owner's can benefit from this guide to understand dog bite prevention tips, and what to do if you get sued.
Dogs can be one of the friendliest pets to have around the house and children. They can be great playmates and fierce protectors. However, they are also prone to biting and attacking harmless people. The United States observes an average of 4.7 million dog bites per year.
As a dog owner, your furry friend might be your biggest liability. Dog bite lawsuits are an expensive affair. California’s dog bite law has a “strict-liability” rule.
This makes the owner completely liable for any bite or attack caused by their dog. An owner’s defenses are often weak against this strict regulation. It is thus important for dog owners to understand the behavior of their dogs. These dog bite prevention tips may just help you avoid a lawsuit.
Breeds Prone to Aggression
Although all dogs are prone to attack and bite, some breeds are considered more aggressive than others. Dog bite prevention starts with picking your pet. When choosing to keep a dog, it is useful to consider non-aggressive breeds.
This will also help you during a potential lawsuit. When a victim of dog bite claims damages to compensate for their expenses and suffering, it is usually covered by your homeowner’s insurance. However, some insurance companies exclude coverage for aggressive breeds.
The Centre for Disease Control has examined dog-related fatalities and compiled the breeds most often involved in these incidents. Some of these include:
- German Shepherds
- Alaskan Malamute
- Doberman Pinscher
Although it is not the primary reason for aggression, a breed prone to aggression may be avoided to make training easier. However, irrespective of breed, aggression is usually caused by the owner’s negligence. Whichever breed you pick, ensure that the dog receives proper training and discipline. You can also check with your insurance policy to make sure it covers a potential dog bite lawsuit.
Why Do Dogs Attack?
As a dog owner, knowing the triggers of your dog’s aggression is the most important aspect of dog bite prevention. Each dog (depending on breed and temperament) may exhibit aggressive behaviors for specific reasons. By understanding some of the common reasons, owners can look out for signs of aggression and anger, and avoid serious situations.
1. The Prey Drive
A dog is naturally inclined to pursue a chase. People cycling, running or jogging past the dog can prompt the dog into action. This is also the case when children try to run away from dogs. If a dog attempts to chase you, it is best to stay motionless and stand tall in front of the dog. Do not make eye contact as this is interpreted as a challenge.
If the dog has knocked you over during the chase, curl into a ball and cover your neck and ears. In this way, the dog may sniff you and decide to move on to something.
Fear is another common trigger. For dog bite prevention, it’s important to minimize the risk of your dog being startled easily. Children must be advised to not sneak up on a dog or startle them.
Usually, dogs direct fear-based aggression towards strangers. Unfamiliar places and people can cause the dog to develop certain phobias. Socialization from an early age can prevent this particular problem.
3. Illness or Pain
If a dog is ill or in pain, it is best to be gentle with the dog. Even the friendliest dogs may react aggressively if they are in pain. They may want to be left alone if they are ill or injured. Teach children to not pester or force the dog to play when the dog is feeling sick or sore.
4. Maternal Instinct
When a dog has puppies she will require a sense of security from her environment. If this security is compromised, her maternal instinct can make her vicious. By staying respectful and careful around a dog that has given birth recently, it improves your dog bite prevention awareness.
Allow them to feel safe in a protected space with minimal distraction from visitors or strangers. Most importantly, curb children’s enthusiasm to approach the young puppies. Handling the puppies with the dog’s permission can avoid triggering this type of aggression.
Possession is highly important to a dog. Most dogs are possessive about their territory, toys, food and even people. A dog can bite or attack while defending these possessions. This trait is usually seen in guarding or herding breeds like German Shepherds, Rottweilers and so on.
Early training to minimize these tendencies are effective during dog bite prevention. The “Leave it” command must be introduced to the dog from an early age.
Finally, the most certain way to get bit by a dog is to pester or harass it. Most dogs tend to tolerate harassment to a certain extent. Children (and some adults) are guilty of pestering dogs when they are not in the mood to play.
In this case, knowing the dog’s body language will help. Discourage children from squeezing, riding, tickling or kicking the dog. Since every dog has its own limits of tolerance, learn to read the unique body language of your dog.
What Happens to the Dog If It Bites?
Although a dog owner is held liable in a dog bite lawsuit, many owners may be concerned about what happens to their dog during the lawsuit. First, it places the dog under quarantine for the duration of the lawsuit. Depending on the severity of the incident, the court may then classify the dog as “vicious” or “potentially dangerous”.
California’s laws require dogs to be quarantined for a minimum period of 10 days. This is done to assess the risk of rabies virus. The quarantine may occur at the owner’s house or the county’s Animal Care Center. If the dog does not display signs of rabies for 10 days, the dog will be taken out of quarantine.
2. “Vicious” and “Potentially Dangerous” Dogs
The court may also place the dog in the “vicious” or “potentially dangerous” category. If the dog is considered “potentially dangerous”, it must be kept indoors or secured in a fenced yard. It must also be leashed in the owner’s absence. California’s dog bite laws consider it to be a “potentially dangerous dog” when the dog has:
— 1. Attacked (bit) someone twice within 3 years
— 2. Bitten someone and caused minor injuries once
If the dog does not repeat aggressive attack in the next 3 years, it will be removed from the list of potentially dangerous dogs.
A “vicious” dog, on the other hand, may be put down by the animal control department. It is considered a “vicious” dog if it has:
— 1. Severely injured or killed someone once
— 2. Bitten someone and caused minor injuries twice
— 3. Attacked (bit) someone more than 2 times within 3 years
Dog Bite Prevention Tips
A dog bite can be a traumatic experience for anyone. Children are usually the victims of dog bites as they do not know how to approach dogs carefully or read the signs of aggression. It is important to educate them about how to behave around dogs. As a dog owner, it is also your responsibility to curb your dog’s aggressive tendencies. Dog bite prevention can be done in a number of ways:
- Spaying/neutering your dog will decrease the likelihood of aggressive behavior.
- Allow your dog to socialize with their surroundings and humans from an early age. Familiarize your dog with certain spaces like the veterinarian’s clinic.
- Regular (non-aggressive) play and exercise must be a part of your dog’s routine to release pent-up energies.
- Don’t chain your dog or isolate them from yourself. Dogs can become friendlier and safer when they are allowed to be free and explore their surroundings.
- Supervise children and dogs. Children under 10 years may have trouble understanding precautions. If this is not possible, keep the child away from the dog until an adult is able to supervise their interaction.
- If your dog exhibits mild aggressive behavior, seek professional help to train and control your dog.
Reading Body Language
One of the best dog bite prevention tips available is it recognize and interpret a dog’s non-verbal communication. Dogs express emotions through their faces and bodies. They use their ears, tail, facial features and overall stance to signal their feelings.
To understand every aspect of their communication (happy, playful, aroused etc.) a more thorough understanding of a dog’s body language may be required. However, here are some warning signs to detect aggression in dogs.
- Stiff Tail: A stiff and upright tail implies that your dog is alert. The dog may also rapidly move the tail back and forth in a rigid manner. Although it may look like a friendly wag, it can signal an attack along with other aggressive indications.
- Whale Eyes: When a dog looks towards you with eyes rolled back and to the corners (with a large portion of the whites of the eyes visible) it is referred to as “whale eyes”. It is usually visible when the dog is chewing on its toy or guarding a possession.
- Ears up and Forward or Pinned Back: When the dog’s ears are up and forward it usually implies alertness. Aggressive behaviors can also be preceded by pulled back ears.
- Exaggerated Yawning: Yawning can be associated with feeling alert or aggressive. This is usually an exaggerated yawn to show their teeth and is considered a warning sign.
- Tensed Body: The body of an aggressive dog tends to look larger. The dog may appear to tense the body and make itself look intimidating. The weight of the body is also shifted to the front legs. This is so that the dog can lunge forward and bite/attack.
What to Do During an Attack
If your dog has attacked or bitten someone, act sensibly to avoid the situation from escalating:
- Stay Calm and Considerate: Do not play the blame game. Behave as cordially as possible and offer to rush them to a hospital or doctor. Do not make any statements that can implicate you in a criminal case (this includes accepting blame). It is important to be nice to the victim at this crucial moment as it may influence their decision of pursuing you for damages.
- Provide Your Details: Do not flee the scene or refuse to cooperate. This can be held against you in court. Provide your name and contact information to the victim.
- Follow Up: Days after the attack, follow up with the victim regarding their condition. A genuine interest in their well-being can coax them into forgetting the incident. The court will also favor you if you express sympathy and compassion.
- Rabies Test: To put the victim’s mind at peace, provide a copy of your dog’s rabies shot.
- Pay for Medical Expenses: Once you have rushed them to the hospital, you must also offer to pay for their medical bills. Even though this may not be covered by your insurance company (as it is a “voluntary” payment), this step can convince the victim to not file a lawsuit.
What Should You Do If You Are Sued?
Despite all the steps taken to prevent a dog bite lawsuit, there is an unfortunate chance that you may find yourself in one. Dog bite prevention is important to keep you, your pet, and others safe. According to the law, the victim is legally right and the owner is legally liable. This means that you must pay the damages claimed by the owner. In such a situation, you can turn the matter over to your insurance company.
Hence, if the dog bite attorney sends you a letter requesting for your insurance details, you must respond and cooperate. Homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policies can cover the claimed damages. (If you are not insured, consult an attorney to defend you.)
The insurance company will first assess and evaluate the case to ensure there is an agreeable settlement. Negotiations with the victim’s attorney will proceed in attempts to reach an amount in damages that is accepted by the victim. The insurance company can go as high as the policy limit (in extreme cases). Despite this, if the victim demands a higher amount in damages, the case becomes a civil lawsuit.
If your dog is involved in a dog bite incident, consult an experienced attorney. At Nehora Law, our team of attorneys are adept at negotiating settlements and helping you understand the complex laws regarding dog bites. Depending on your situation and case, our lawyers can suggest the appropriate measures and defenses that might reduce the amount in damages and minimize the action taken against your pet.