Insuring Your Pet’s Safety: Dog Bite Claims
| Nolan Ezell
During Dog Bite Prevention Week sites around the web took the initiative to provide their readers with information on how to help our furry friends help themselves. The tips available for preventing injury due to dog bites are numerous, with both the dog and often times the injured party holding equal responsibility for the damages.
How does this affect homeowners with dogs?
Dog bites are often deemed the fault of the pet owner, especially when these attacks happen on their own property. When this happens, the pet owner is responsible for any damages incurred in the attack, which can lead to insurance penalties for dangerous pet ownership. In 2013 alone more than 17,000 dog bite claims were made to insurance companies at an average of nearly 30,000 dollars in damages each. That’s no small amount of money to lose due to one’s pet.
Dog bite claims have been a significant source of insurance losses dating back decades, and it is a trend that shows no indications of slowing down any time soon. Many homeowner’s insurance policies have a sub-limit placed on liability for pet based claims that lies far below the projected limit of liability for the policy as a whole, with even a policy that would normally cover damage totalling as much as 1 million dollars potentially granting only 50,000 dollars or so in the case of a dog bite claim. Furthermore, there are even companies that will withhold coverage based on what breed your dog is.
In the case of larger claims DNA tests on a policy holder’s pet are not unheard of, and if a prohibited breed should show up in your mutt’s genetic history you could potentially see a denial of coverage on the part of your insurance company. With so much money at stake, it would seem to be common sense to take basic precautions to prevent injury due to your own pets. Economic concerns should, in fact, be the least of a home owner’s concerns, with the safety of guests and even your pet being of a higher priority. While as a pet owner the actions of others are often beyond your control, there are several ways in which you can help to minimize the risks of dog bite claims on your property.
Step 1: Know Your Breed
Every pet owner should take the time to learn the idiosyncrasies of their dog’s breed. Different breeds of dogs have different personalities and instincts, meaning they will respond to stimuli in different ways. By learning the basics of your breed, you can better guide their behaviors toward safer practices. Even within certain breeds there will often be subsets of coloration or features with different personality traits. As an example, many believe that Spaniels with a liver coloration will be more prone to a desire to dominate than those with black or white coloration. By talking to your veterinarian or your local shelter you can help to pinpoint these color- or feature-specific traits.
Many pet owners will pick a breed of dog based on its appearance, but looks alone can often be deceiving when it comes to the personalities of the pets involved. Take Akitas, for example. Large, fluffy animals, they are known for their sweet and fun temperaments. Akitas have a strong protective streak, though, and when faced with a situation where it feels its owner or family is in danger an Akita can be surprisingly aggressive. While these behaviors can to an extent be curbed, understanding the breed of dog you are getting and how it will behave naturally can go a long way to preventing accidents that could otherwise lead to injury, and possibly claims.
Step 2: Take the Time to Train
Once you understand your dog breed’s tendencies, take the time to either train them yourself, or find someone else who will. Dogs, like people, often learn best when they are trained in their behaviors from a young age, so training will in many cases be more effective the sooner you start it. Different breeds of dog will respond best to different types of training, and no matter what breed you choose there are always behavioral tendencies that training will have a hard time changing. In getting to know your dog’s breed you will learn to identify what areas those are likely to be, and the next step is finding a trainer who can work with your dog’s personality to make sure they are as well behaved as possible. Dog training can either be done professionally or at your own home, and both methods will have their advantages and pitfalls. Professional trainers will often have multiple dogs at once, allowing your pet to learn socialization skills and appropriate behaviors when faced with other dogs. On top of that, their experience will most often give a professional trainer greater insight into how best to handle a dog’s behaviors.
On the other hand, training your pet yourself can help to strengthen the bond between pet and owner, and in doing so you can often develop the necessary skills to control your pet, like voice modulation and attitude. These can be essential to getting your pet to follow your commands regardless of who trains them. No matter which method you use training is essential to maintaining a pet’s good behavior, and can mean the difference between a major incident or a calm, controlled situation. By training your pet you condition them to understand that proper behavior will be rewarded, and with consistency and dedication in your actions and attitudes you can have a well-behaved and, most important, safe pet. An owner who shows too much softness or leniency in one situation will often find that maintaining discipline in any situation will be difficult, so making sure to keep your actions consistent will help greatly.
Step 3: Watch for Warning Signs
A dog’s breed will not always define their behavior. Dogs have individual personalities just like people do, and can suffer from physical or mental issues in the same ways as well. No matter how well you’ve trained your pet or how docile or calm their breed might tend to be, keep an eye out at all times for signs of trouble. Often a normally sweet-tempered pet can become dangerous if they are suffering from injury or medical problems, so a close eye for differences in behavior is a must.
There are a number of physical signs a dog will often exhibit before attacking. Anything from excessive licking of their nose and snout to out-of-character barking and growling can serve as warnings of an imminent attack. Many people will either dismiss these signs or not ever notice them to begin with, but should you see these indicators of aggressive or scared behavior be sure to start taking measures to protect both your pet and the people around them.
Another element to watch out for is any behavior that might belie an injury to your pet, such as limping, licking their limbs, or uncharacteristic whining. Injured animals can often behave defensively even against individuals who are seeking to help them, and as such should always be handled with care. Often times children can be the most susceptible to dogs’ behavioral problems simply out of a desire to play with them. Despite a child’s best wishes, though, many breeds are quite weary of unknown people or actions that, while playful in intention, are often aggressive from the viewpoint of the dog. Spotting the warning signs that play time might soon turn sour can help to prevent accidents and injury in many cases, giving you the time you need to part the problem source from your pet before things go too far.
Step 4: When Possible, Educate
You can’t always control who will interact with your pets or how they will behave, but whenever possible you should take the time to inform others on the best ways to treat your pets. Children are especially prone to accidents involving dogs, but with a little time spent teaching them how to play with your pets safely everyone can enjoy quality time with our furry companions with minimal risk of injury. Many types of dog, such as Mastiffs, can be very stubborn, which makes dealing with them difficult for people who don’t understand how to handle them. Any time you are going to have guests or family who will be spending time around your dog or dogs, take the time to teach them a few of the basics of handling your pet so that they can more easily deal with any situations that may crop up, or prevent bad situations entirely.
Yet again, children especially are prone to misguided behavior around animals, which can often lead to behavioral problems with the pet or even injury. If children will be around your dog for any length of time, they should be aware of what they can and cannot do with the dog, and why. Though it might seem like less fun to watch a child gingerly petting a dog or giving it space than it is to watch them trying to ride it like a pony, physical cues are important for a dog’s behavior, and letting others know that will go a long way toward pet safety.
Step 5: When Necessary, Separate
No matter how much you prepare, train, and monitor, there will always be situations where controlling your dog’s interaction with people will be problematic. When this happens, separating your pets from the problem individual (or vice versa) can be the only solution. Keeping a safe location available for securing your pet can be a vital method of accident prevention. When a pet is eating, or if a pet has a tendency to be exceptionally jealous of their owner, this can be especially important.
Pets often need their own safe areas to go to, much like people do. Maintaining such a zone – whether it be a back yard or a particular room of your home – and teaching your pet to feel comfortable with that area can give you a safe, reliable location to isolate them in cases where communication with individuals fails or the pet is simply too agitated to obey. Chains and restraints are often not the best choice, as they can further agitate an already upset or angry animal, but by granting them an area where they can escape disturbance from whatever is causing their agitation you can minimize the risk of their attacking and harming others.
By following these five, relatively simple steps, you can make an excellent start on safeguarding your pet, others, and even yourself from many of the dangers of domestic dog bites. In doing so not only do you prevent injury, but you quite possibly save the life of your pet as well, all while safeguarding important investments. Stay informed on what your insurance carrier’s policies are concerning pet-based injury claims. Talk to your insurance about any special allowances or restrictions they have, and always make sure to have protection no matter what breed of dog you have. Dog’s can’t help being dogs, and accidents happen, so the best plan is to be prepared, no matter what might happen.