People can reduce frequency of dog bites

As the weather warms up, Pennsylvanians spend more time outside. That means the chances of being bitten by a dog that's being walked off-leash or perhaps not with its owner at all rise precipitously.

Over 70 million canines live in American homes. Even generally well-behaved dogs can act out aggressively when they're startled, frightened or protecting their families or home turf.

Those most at risk of dog bites are kids and older people. Approximately half of dog bite victims are under 12 years old. About 10 percent are in their 70s or older.

Some dog breeds have a reputation for being "dangerous." That could in part be because bites and attacks by larger dogs are usually more damaging. However, there are plenty of friendly, loving pit bulls and Dobermans out there and a lot of Chihuahuas that won't hesitate to bite anyone —even family members — if touched in a way that doesn't suit them in the moment.

Homeowner's insurance often covers liability for dog bites. In fact, bites are behind about a third of liability claims, with total payouts of approximately $700 million.

However, dog owners can and should take steps to help prevent their pets from hurting people, including family members. Spaying and neutering is important for many reasons, including reducing a dog's likelihood of biting. As many as three-quarters of dog bites are by unneutered male dogs. Giving dogs plenty of exercise and socialization can reduce their likelihood of biting.

We can all do things to protect ourselves and our children from being bitten by dogs — both those we know and ones we encounter when we're out and about.

  • Watch the dog carefully. Their body language (particularly the ears, tail, mouth and the way they're standing) often indicates if they're stressed or afraid.
  • Educate your children about interacting with dogs they don't know. It's best not to approach them. Even dogs they know should be approached carefully.
  • Avoid potentially risky situations. Dogs in front of a home often perceive themselves to be the designated protector and guard.

If you or a loved one is bitten by a dog, it's essential to determine whether medical attention is necessary and deal with that immediately. If you incur medical expenses, you can consider your options for seeking compensation from the owner or others responsible for the dog.

Source: WISH-TV, "Dog Bite prevention tips," accessed May 18, 2018

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