Dog Bites Can Be Prevented, Don’t Let Your Pet Draw You Into A Lawsuit
As an experienced Nashville Personal Injury lawyer I have handled dozens of cases involving dog bites on behalf of victims. In this article I’d love to share some of the things I have learned from these cases. In my experience the majority of cases with serious injuries from dog bites involve children and each of these could have been prevented had the dog owners taken the time and made the effort to properly socialize their dogs. The dog owners I will be addressing come in two categories, owners whose dogs come in contact with children outside of their family and parents who introduce pet dogs to their family pack.
Give or take a million or so, there are 31,000,000 children between the ages of 1-10 in the United States. Compare that with 84,000,000 pet dogs, (these numbers do not reflect the number of wild and feral dogs) and it’s quite obvious that the chances of your child going through the first ten years of his/her life without coming into contact with a dog, is slim to none.
According to the Center For Disease Control, 4.5 million people suffer dog bites each year. Almost one in five of those who are bitten, about 885,000, require medical attention for dog bite-related injuries; half of these are children. In 2012, more than 27,000 people underwent reconstructive surgery as a result of being bitten by dogs. Approximately 92% of fatal dog attacks involved male dogs, 94% of which were not neutered.
So, what can we do to keep your dog from attacking a human and getting yourself sued for damages? The first thing dog owners must do is to educate themselves. Many adults have been raised with dogs, and have a clear understanding of what to expect when addressing the relationship between your dog and people outside your family. Despite your experience, or lack thereof, the stakes are very high so take some time to educate yourself.
I could go into great detail about the law in Tennessee related to dog bites but I won’t, you can find all this information with a Google search. The purpose of this article is to suggest methods for dog owners to employ, which, if applied, can help you to protect your family and avoid financial liability if your dog attacks and bites someone.
You should never, no matter your dog’s temperament, allow your dog to run free in Nashville, Tennessee and this rule holds true in most jurisdictions. A dog is considered to be running at large when such dog is off the premises of the owner and not under the control of the owner, either by leash, cord, chain or otherwise; provided, that a dog shall not be considered running at large when the dog is off the premises of the owner if such dog shall be accompanied by the owner and the owner shall have full command of such dog or the dog is a hunting dog and is in chase or in training and accompanied by a responsible person.
Take special notice that in Metro Parks the dog must be on a leash.
The Natural Socialization Process
Canines in the wild grow up in packs and the Socialization process begins almost from birth. That process takes place as they by interact with other canines, and by that interaction they learn verbal cues and body language. The rules of the pack are very clear and each pup learns to understand their place in the pack.
Domestic dogs also begin the socialization process in their litter. When they come into their human pack the socialization process that they will follow for the rest of their lives. The initial socialization period of a dog is four to 12 weeks. It is during this time that social skills are imprinted on them and their interaction with other dogs and humans is, hopefully, positive. The socialization then should continue into adulthood.
The Human Pack
The socialization process is about making the puppy comfortable with its surroundings. Dog professionals will tell you that puppies are most accepting to new things between the age of three to twelve weeks. After twelve weeks they become more cautious of things they have not yet encountered.
Once the puppy reaches the period of twelve to eighteen weeks this process will become much more difficult, and as the weeks pass the degree of difficulty rises. After eighteen weeks socializing a dog becomes way more difficult and required special and intense work. Unfortunately, after the age of eighteen weeks, in many dogs, it is impossible to tech it something new or to help him become comfortable with new things that frighten him.
We have all had encounters with dogs that show constant fear, they bark and nip at your heels. Everyone has an Aunt Sadie who has that little poodle you have to put up when you and the kids visit. This is the classic example of a non-socialized dog. She got the dog as a puppy and from day one the puppy spent all of it’s time in the house with the elderly aunt. She ventures outside in the yard to take care of her business but appears fearful of everything from birds, wind, blowing leaves and god help a dog that is being walked in the alley.
How Do I Socialize My Puppy?
When you make the decision to bring a puppy into your pack/family accept the fact that you will need to spend a serious amount of time working with the dog early on. This effort will pay off in the long run and result with you having a well-mannered, loving dog that will bring you and your family year of pleasure and fun.
Socializing your puppy requires that you expose her to all types of people, the elderly, adults and especially kids. It is especially important that she meets other dogs. This process allows her to experience places, sounds and sights that will allow her to be comfortable and at peace as she grows up.
Ask yourself, what kind of a life-style do I plan for my dog. Remember, the peak period for properly socializing your dog is 3 to 6 weeks, so don’t waste time. Using as many encounters with people, places and things will prepare your dog to be comfortable with new experiences such as sights and sounds and physical touching that will be part of her daily life.
When you are doing these things pay close attention to the puppy and notice how she reacts. Is she cowering or frightened by the experience? Don’t allow her to be overwhelmed by the new situation she might be learning the wrong lesson. Tone down the experience and comfort the dog with touching and your voice before moving forward. At the end of each socializing event give her praise, petting and some sort of treat.
One last, but important point about socialization, and this is the office of your Veterinarian. Throughout her life and especially during her early life she is going to have to go to the Vet for inoculations and other treatment. This visit can be traumatic and unpleasant for her.
I learned early on to take her to the Vet before she has the need for shots and let her smell her way around the waiting room, meet the Vet Techs and office staff. The staff will usually be more than happy to allow you to take her into the examination room and get up on the table. These visits always should end with hearty praise and a special treat.
Keep in mind that this is the process you will use for the rest of her life, but early attention will make it easier for her to learn these new experiences.
Many dog owners will adopt a dog from a shelter or get one from a friend. An adult dog, or even one that had reached the age of 18 weeks presents the owner with a special problem. It is near impossible to know what type of socialization the older dog has had. There’s an old saying, “You can’t teach and old dog new tricks”. When it comes to socialization, your job becomes much, much harder.
How can a new owner find out how socialized the new dog might be? When you visit the shelter watch the attendant as she gets the dog out of its cage. Does she resist leaving the familiar cage? Does she cower, seem fearful, whine or run away? Most importantly, does she show aggression and growl or try to bite? These are important warning signals when you first meet the dog at the shelter.
Before you bring your new dog home prepare your family for the socialization process and make clear what they can and can’t do. Tell your family members that she might be frightened and this may be her first time around humans. Tell them of the plan to allow the dog to become familiar and comfortable at her new home.
Allow the dog to roam around your house and yard and become acquainted with the surroundings. Your family pack should be instructed to ignore the dog and act calm and go about their business. Children should never move directly for the dog or try to hug the dog. Teach them to talk to the dog in a calm voice. At some point allow the dog to come to each of you. A negative outcome on this first visit can ruin forever the new relationship for both the dog and the family.
One of the most effective ways to socialize the dog is the daily, or twice daily walk. Go slow and limit the area of your walk. Allow the dog to smell things as long as she wants and let her set the tone of the walks. As she becomes familiar with the area around your house and the scents of all the dogs in the neighborhood expand your walk area.
Take her by other dogs in yards along your route and notice how she reacts as they stand at their fence. Allow your dog to watch but quiet her if she makes aggressive moves or begins to bark at the dog. If she growls and barks and attempts to attack the yard dog get her attention and move away. This aggressiveness will tell you how much work you have to do.
When you first introduce your dog to other dogs in a dog park situation allow your dog to watch the dogs from outside the park, or at a distance, and as dogs come to the fence near her give her a treat and rub her under the chin to create a positive association with other dogs. If she reacts in an aggressive manner toward the dogs in the park ease her further away and calm her with soothing words and treats. As she calms move closer until she chills.
Many dog professionals suggest that a new owner of an adult dog should consider obedience training. This serves two purposes, it introduces your dog to other dogs in the presence of a trained professional and it gives you an opportunity to teach your dog several commands that will help you with your socialization program.
This process is an ongoing lifetime series of events that allow your dog to experience new situations, noises and smells throughout her life. Cesar Milan shares numerous examples of dogs who have been well socialized as a puppy but, for a number of reasons, new babies, moves to new locations and a change in the dogs walking schedule, become problems when socialization stopped or was reduced.
During this lifetime process you should actively teach your dog to respond to the pack leaders with commands such as stay, sit, down, come and some command that will take the dogs mind off of some obsessive behavior.
Cesar has a brilliant three point system that can be practiced before you take the dog on a walk or a training session. The concept includes exercise, discipline and then affection. Exercise before a walk can remove the pent up energy and make the dog calmer as you walk her or go into your training regimen.
A properly socialized dog will be a wonderful member of your family pack and a joy to behold. On the other hand an improperly socialized dog can make life in your family pack a nightmare. Nothing is more demoralizing than a dog that causes fear to other members of the pack. Having a dog that is aggressive to visitors, other dogs and that you are unable to control on walks and, who become nuisances by barking when they are in your yard make owning dog a dreadful experience.
As I mentioned in the opening as a Nashville dog bite personal injury lawyer for 25 plus years I have seen my share of cases where improperly socialized dogs have attacked the elderly and children, and the result of theses attacks a catastrophic. On a personal note, I bring my dog Stella to my office with me every day. I applied these principles since she was a puppy and she adds joy and happiness to our family life.
One last comment, the very last thing you want to do is become involved in a serious injury case involving your dog. You do not want me in your life at that point.
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