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Even good dogs can bite

Of the estimated 70 million dogs living with human families in the U.S., most are probably well behaved, or at least kept under control by their owners. However, even good or friendly dogs can bite.

As the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) kicks off its annual National Dog Bite Prevention Week this week (April 8-14), it’s important to remember that when dogs bite, their owners can and should be held responsible for any injuries or trauma their animals cause.

Getting the facts on dog bites

According to the AVMA, about 4.5 million people are bitten by a dog each year in the United States. Of those people, the most likely to be attacked are mail carriers, the elderly, children under 14 and men (50 percent of all dog bite claims are filed on behalf of victims who are male).

Furthermore, 20 percent of dog bite victims require medical attention for their injuries, often in the form of stitches. In the most severe cases, reconstructive and plastic surgery may be needed. Some attacks may unfortunately lead to permanent disfigurement or scarring. In total, dog bite claims cost insurance companies about $700 million nationwide in 2017.

Why do dogs bite?

In general, dogs are most likely to bite when they feel threatened, though even docile dogs may attack if startled or otherwise scared. This is precisely why children are often the victims of dog attacks. Toddlers and young children especially may not recognize a dog’s warning signals – like ears that are pulled back or bared teeth – as signs of imminent danger. Playful, energetic dogs may also see children as easy opponents when rough-housing or playing tug-of-war, and simply get carried away.

Some dogs do have more aggressive temperaments, especially if they are not properly trained or socialized. Dogs that are bred for security purposes, like Dobermans, pit bulls and Rottweilers, tend to be more aggressive, but most experts agree that lack of training, poor socialization and physical abuse are more likely to cause a dog to act aggressively than any specific traits of the breed. As one State Farm ad puts it, it’s not the breed, it’s the bite.

What can you do if you’re attacked by a dog?

According to Arizona laws, a dog’s owner is generally liable for the damage their animal causes. The only exceptions are if someone was trespassing on their property or if the dog was “provoked,” which may require the ruling of a judge or jury.

If neither of the above statements is true, you can seek restitution for your medical bills and possible emotional trauma related to the attack. A pet owner’s rental or homeowners’ insurance policy often includes coverage for dog bite claims. Even if the owner doesn’t have insurance, you have the right to pursue compensation for the harm their animal caused.

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