Homeowners, Holidays and Hounds

The holiday season provides ample opportunity for social gatherings that often include pets amid the mix of visitors, food and celebration. A dog may find itself confronting rough handling or even getting tripped over in the midst of the holiday festivities. Regrettably, a dog may bite in reaction to situations that create stress, such as over-excitement or pain.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 2% of the U.S. population, or more than 4.7 million individuals suffers from a dog bite each year. A large majority of the victims are children bitten on the dog owner‘s property. The Insurance Information Institute estimates that dog bites amount to roughly 1/3 of all insurance liability claims made through homeowners policies.

A basic homeowners policy typically includes liability coverage that provides some protection against injuries to others caused by pets. Additionally, a homeowners policy may provide guest medical coverage which would pay for medical expenses due to dog bites without having to first determine liability. However, both liability and guest medical coverage may fall short if the injury is substantial. As an added layer of protection, extra liability coverage can be purchased for those who have significant assets to protect from legal judgments involving dog bite injuries.

Yet, paying for medical expenses may not end the consequences of owning a dog that bites. Once a biting tendency is known, the insurer of the home may view the dog as an increased risk. This could lead to higher premiums or an exclusion of coverage for damages or injuries caused by pets. State laws may also require the animal be humanely destroyed.

Dog bite prevention is ultimately the best protection for both homeowners and their guests. Proper training and socialization beforehand can help a dog better anticipate the behavior of others. Of course, spaying or neutering has been also shown to reduce aggression. But even these measures may not be enough.

Once a party has commenced, proper supervision of the dog would be best but may not be possible; consequently, keeping the animal separated in another room or outdoors may be the only option.

Knowing how a dog responds to different stimulation can also be a key in anticipating problems. If rough play brings on aggression, guests can be warned to avoid this type of interaction. If kids are present, they cannot realistically be expected not to play with the dog. Small children often play the roughest are most at risk. If the dog has any history or predisposition to aggression in stressful settings, then the dog should be kept away from the guests.

Celebrations often bring many types of personalities together. Pets are no exception. A little planning and awareness will help insure that everyone enjoys their time spent together.


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