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Tips for Dog Owners: Preventing Dog Bites

State Farm Insurance recently reported the top 10 states for dog bite claims in 2010. They were:

State # of Claims Amount Paid
California 369 $11.3 million
Illinois 317 $9.7 million
Ohio 215 $5.7 million
Texas 202 $3.7 million
Michigan 166 $5.2 million
Pennsylvania 155 $3.9 million
Florida 146 $5.6 million
Minnesota 139 $3.4 million
New York 119 $4.3 million
Indiana 114 $1.8 million

Children are the victims in over 60 percent of all dog bites. They are also the group for whom bites are most often fatal.

As a general rule, State Farm doesn't refuse insurance based on dog breed. The insurer believes a dog's propensity to bite is based on several factors including heredity, obedience training, socialization, health, and the behavior of the bite victim.

The company warns that under the right circumstances, any dog might bite.

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Dr. Becker's Comments:

At a minimum, being the victim of a dog bite is an emotionally scarring experience – especially for a young child.

And serious bites can result in physical scars as well. Fortunately, there are very few dog bite fatalities each year, but death resulting from an attack is always a worst-case possibility.

Six Tips for Dog Owners to Prevent Biting

  1. Socialize and train. Your dog should be comfortable interacting not only with family members, but with visitors and other animals as well. Socialization before your puppy reaches 14-16 weeks of age is a crucial step in raising a balanced, well-adjusted dog.

    Basic obedience training is also essential for both you and your pet. Owners need to learn to work with rather than against their dog’s instincts and this isn’t a skill most of us are born with.

    As your dog grows and develops, it’s important to continue socialization and training. It will increase the bond you and your pet share, and it will keep your dog’s mind stimulated for a lifetime. At my hospital, I encourage owners to keep puppies in class through their first year of life, similar to encouraging your children to graduate from college versus stopping their education after elementary school.
  2. Spay or neuter. When your dog becomes balanced both physically and mentally, it’s the right time to spay or neuter. Intact male dogs are more likely to bite than neutered dogs. Female dogs, both those in heat and those nursing a litter, can exhibit unpredictable behavior. Ask your vet to help you decide when it’s the right time for your pet. If your vet suggests your dog is brewing a temperament problem, taking the sex hormones out of the equation sooner rather than later will be the recommendation.  
  3. Supervise. Your dog is a pack animal, and you’re the pack leader. Dogs weren’t designed by nature to hang out alone in most situations. Your pet needs your presence and guidance, especially when other people and animals are around.

    Leaving your dog on his own to decide how to behave can make him feel insecure and anxious, or alternatively, overly confident. This lack of emotional balance can spell danger to those who cross your dog’s path when he’s unsupervised.
  4. Remove the shackles. Dogs that are chained, tethered or otherwise tied up become stressed. Their feelings of vulnerability and protectiveness increase, which ramps up their potential to be aggressive. If you need to confine your dog occasionally outside the house, fencing the entire yard or a section of yard is the way to go. A fence keeps your dog safe inside your yard, and prevents kids and other animals from interacting with your pet unsupervised.
  5. Exercise control. Nearly a quarter of fatal bites are delivered by dogs that are running loose and off their owner’s property. Dogs are territorial, and if your dog is allowed to run loose around the neighborhood, her perceived territory is greatly expanded from your address. She could decide to defend her ‘turf’ in a neighbor’s yard or the playground down the street.

    That’s why you must control your dog at all times when she is away from home. Keep your pet secure on a leash, and if you can’t control her even when she’s leashed, allow another family member to step in until your dog is trained to behave on lead and consistently obeys your verbal commands.
  6. Nurture good health. A dog that doesn’t feel well -- is aching or in pain -- is more apt to snap at an unsuspecting person or animal. Keep your dog healthy throughout his life with a species-appropriate diet, plenty of heart-thumping exercise, regular at-home exams and wellness checkups with your veterinarian.

+ Sources and References
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