Dog bites up 18 percent last year

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Dogs need to be trained but so do children and others who don't know how to approach dogs

Dog bites man isn't usually news, but it's happening so often lately that it's becoming newsworthy. Dog bites were up 18 percent last year, according to an insurance industry group, with children often being the victims.

In fact, says the Insurance Information Institute, dog bite claims accounted for more than one-third of all homeowners' liability claims in 2016, totaling more than $600 million. 

Costs are up not only because of an increase in dog bites but also because of rising medical costs and larger awards that go to victims who go to court.

In many cases, however, the "victim" of a dog bite actually bears much of the blame. Children, who account for more than half of the injuries, often are not properly trained by their parents on how to approach a dog.

“Children just go up, they see a cute dog, and they just start trying to pet it,” said III vice president Loretta Worters, according to a Bloomberg report. Any dog, no matter how well trained, may bite if it is startled or frightened, experts say. 

Staying out of trouble

The III offers some tips on keeping your dog -- and you -- out of trouble.

  • Consult with a professional (e.g., veterinarian, animal behaviorist, or responsible breeder) to learn about suitable breeds of dogs for your household and neighborhood.
  • Spend time with a dog before buying or adopting it. Use caution when bringing a dog into a home with an infant or toddler. Dogs with histories of aggression are inappropriate in households with children.
  • Be sensitive to cues that a child is fearful or apprehensive about a dog and, if so, delay acquiring a dog. Never leave infants or young children alone with any dog.
  • Have your dog spayed or neutered. Studies show that dogs are three times more likely to bite if they have not been neutered.
  • Socialize your dog so that it knows how to act with other people and animals.
  • Discourage children from disturbing a dog that is eating or sleeping.
  • Play non-aggressive games with your dog, such as “go fetch.” Playing aggressive games like “tug-of-war” can encourage inappropriate behavior.
  • Avoid exposing your dog to new situations in which you are unsure of its response.
  • Never approach a strange dog and always avoid eye contact with a dog that appears threatening.
  • Immediately seek professional advice from veterinarians, animal behaviorists, or responsible breeders if the dog develops aggressive or undesirable behaviors.

Less formal advice comes from a veteran Southern California dog trainer: "Keep your hands to yourself. Americans are so hand-sy, they are always reaching out to dogs, which is the worst thing to do with any dog you don't know."

The old adage to "let sleeping dogs lie" applies to all dogs, this trainer said. "If you see a friendly looking dog, smile at it and go about your business."

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