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Dog bites: research sheds new light on the problem

Updated on January 1, 2017
Bob Bamberg profile image

With 30 years in the pet supply industry, Bob's newspaper column deals with animal health, nutrition, behavior, regulation, and advocacy.

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Dog Bites Are a Huge National Problem

Here's another epidemic to add to your list of things to worry about. Dog bites.

Every year or two, I devote one of my newspaper columns to the seriousness of the dog bite problem. Dog bites have long been recognized as a problem by several professional organizations and agencies.

The insurance industry is probably first in line.

Consider that, according to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), some 4.7 million of us are bitten by dogs each year and about 17 per cent of us require medical care.

Ka-ching

On average between 10 and 20 dog attacks result in fatalities each year.

Ka-ching, ka-ching.

But The Insurance Industry Fights Back

I'm not sure if it's still true, you should check with your insurance provider, but it used to be that there was a saying in the insurance industry that every dog gets one bite. One.

Many companies will cover the claim if your dog bites someone, but then you have to get rid of the dog or they won't renew your coverage.

Some insurance companies simply will not write policies if certain breeds of dogs are part of the household.

Dog owners should review their homeowner's policy with their agent to be sure coverage is there. Especially if you own a Pit Bull, Rottweiler, German Shepherd, Husky, Malamute, Doberman, Chow Chow, St. Bernard, Great Dane, or Akita.

If you own a large or giant breed dog that isn't mentioned in the previous paragraph, still check with your insurance agent. The black list can be ever-changing.

Truly sir, if I were a pit bull, would I have a mustache and be wearing spectacles?
Truly sir, if I were a pit bull, would I have a mustache and be wearing spectacles? | Source

And Then Comes BSL (Breed Specific Legislation)

We've even seen a movement towards municipal bans on ownership of certain breeds of dogs, especially Pit Bulls and Rotties, within their borders.

Known as breed specific legislation (BSL), it began to rear its head, around Y2K, in more and more communities across America. But, the second decade of this century is seeing light at the end of that tunnel. By 2014 several states had passed legislation banning BSL.

Certain breeds of dogs have bad reputations, yet are those reputations justified? There are valid points on both sides of the argument. At the root of the argument is the "nature vs. nurture" debate.

Many believe that certain breeds are just bad dogs plain and simple, and that it's just a matter of time before they hurt someone. Others believe that there are no bad dogs, only bad owners.

Indeed, many breeds were developed to hunt, herd, or fight and kill other animals. And, these breeds are part of everyday life in average American families.

But because the owners no longer call upon the dog to use those skills, their husbandry protocols support a more docile temperament.

Conversely, there are individuals who further the bad reputation of some breeds by encouraging ferocity in their dogs and not worrying about "sparing the rod."

For more information on Breed Specific Legislation, click on this link to my hub on the subject: http://bobbamberg.hubpages.com/hub/Breed-Specific-Legislation-Is-The-Tide-Turning

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But It's Not Just Big, Mean Dogs

There are many examples of “non-vicious” breeds, that were not developed for those purposes, attacking and injuring people.

Some owners appreciate a little aggression in their dogs; feeling better-protected in the event of a home invasion, and encourage a certain level of aggressive behavior.

Any animal is unpredictable. Even dogs known to be gentle and mild tempered for years can all of a sudden bite.

No one knows what will touch some primal cord in a dog and trigger an aggressive response.

I guess dogs are similar to people in that regard.

Mental health professionals aren't always able to discern how much of the human personality is nurture and how much is nature, either.

Twenty Years of Data Analyzed By Three Professional Organizations

Three pretty reliable groups, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the CDC, and The Humane Society of The United States (HSUS) analyzed dog bite data over a 20 year period and came to a conclusion: Statistics don't support the notion that some breeds are inherently more dangerous than others.

Instead, the study showed that the most popular large breeds at any one time were consistently on the "fatal bite" list. For example, Doberman pinschers were very popular in the 70's and there were a high number of fatal bites from Dobies during that decade.

The number of fatal bites from Pit Bulls rose in the 80's for the same reason, and the number of bites from Rotties dominated the 90's.

The study also noted that there are no reliable statistics for non-fatal dog bites, so there is no way to know how often smaller breeds are biting. All along, veterinarians and trainers have held that just about any dog can be aggressive or non-aggressive, depending upon his training and environment. The study seems to validate that.

Clearly, owners play a major role in the way their dogs interact with humans.

One final word of caution: Honesty. Don't try to get cute with your insurance agent in order to qualify for homeowner's insurance. Knowingly deceiving your insurance agent in order to get insurance can get you into serious legal trouble.

Give the agent all the information about your dog that is asked for, and don't try to spin the information to make it more palatable to the insurance company.

Have You Ever Been Denied Insurance Coverage Because of Dog Ownership?

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If Yes, How Was It Resolved

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    • Bob Bamberg profile image
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      Bob Bamberg 4 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Hi, alexadry, thanks for stopping by and contributing some important information. With all the credible studies that serve to debunk the blacklist protocol, I wonder if more insurance companies will adopt State Farm's position. That would be a good thing. Good to see you again, and thanks for commenting. Regards, Bob

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 4 years ago from USA

      This article is timely for me. I just cancelled Metlife cause they stereotype my Rottweilers. Yet, as a dog trainer I got bit more by breeds that are not blacklisted. Luckily, State Farm is smart and looks at bite history rather than dog breed.

    • Bob Bamberg profile image
      Author

      Bob Bamberg 4 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Hi Sarra, nice to meet you. Thanks for your expert insight. I would hope that owners would check with their insurance company to see if they're covered. Unfortunately, I think, many owners are afraid of tipping their hand and the consequences that may ensue.

      When I get a minute I'll edit the hub to include the advice that a local agent gave to me; that is to come totally clean with your agent. If you withhold information and get caught, the consequences are much greater.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Regards, Bob

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      Sarra Garrett 4 years ago

      As a retired claims adjuster I would have many dog bite claims; mostly because I was the only adjuster in the country investigating pet insurance claims. Yes there is a one dog bite rule however, you need to check your area as the rule is different in all towns and states. All insurance companies have a 'dangerous propensity' list which includes Presa Canereos, Pitts, Rotties, German Shephards to name a few. Unfortunately, most dogs that bite are put down and don't have a choice of a reprieve. The dog owner and in some cases the dog sitter have claims put against them. Unfortunately, if a dog bites once the propensity of it biting again is great. Great Hub