Help! My dog attacked Santa!

(Otherwise known as the Amazon guy…)

I’m just going to come out and say this.  We live in an era where a dog bite can cost you your dog and your home.

There are approximately 83 million dogs in the US.  Approximately 36.5% of all households have a dog– so I’m speaking directly to a large number of you out there, including myself.  Yet, I’m guessing many of us dog owners say to ourselves- “my dog would never bite anyone”.

But do you have a plan just in case they do?   Because most people have absolutely no idea what to do in case their dog takes a chunk out of the Fed Ex delivery guy’s calf.

4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year20% of those require medical attention.  The vast majority of dogs – 77%- belong to the victim’s family or a friend.

In 2015, more than 28,000 reconstructive surgeries were performed because of dog bites.

And because of dog bites… 34 Americans died.

Did you know that if your dog bites someone, that you are liable for the bite victims medical expenses?  You are also liable for any lost wages, other expenses, etc relating to the incident.jack-russell-1444785_1920

You have Coverage

Okay, so scary stuff.  But here is the good news.  If you have homeowners, condo, or renters insurance- you likely have liability insurance up to the limit you selected when you bought the policy.  Usually this is between $100,000 and $300,000.  If you purchased an Umbrella policy- you may have up to $1 million in liability coverage.  Note– generally, insurance companies will only cover the first incident in which an animal causes injury.  Certain insurance companies also refuse to cover specific breeds of dogs.

Generally, your homeowners/renters/condo insurance will also cover your liability if you are away from your home- like at the park.  This is also extended if your dog bites another dog/animal.  So for example- if your dog is at the dog park and gets into a scuffle with another dog – your insurance policy should have coverage to pay for the other dogs vet bill.

Have a Plan

If your dog does bite someone, it’s important to know what to do.  The first thing to remember is to stay calm.  Remember dogs (and people) feed off your vibes.  Most importantly- the victim is going to be in the position to decide whether or not to sue you for damages.  Arguing with him or her will never help that decision go your way.  Being polite and kind is always the route to go.

Get the victim medical attention.  It is a wise idea for pet owners to have a first aid kit on hand at all times.  Wouldn’t it be really, REALLY horrible if your dog bit someone at your doorstep and  you can’t even find a band aid???  Make sure the bite victim gets checked out.  You should offer to pay for the victim’s medical bills.  Remember- unless they were engaged in a crime at the time, it was not the bite victims fault- you are always liable for your dog’s behavior.

Swap contact information.  Get contact information from any witnesses.  Take pictures if you can.

Locate your dog’s medical record (including rabies shots).  Give them to the victim.

Check back in with your victim and see how they are doing.  Show you care about their recovery.  If you think he/she is going to sue, you may want to seek legal advice.  If the victim has asked you for money, the bite was very significant, you think your dog has an illness or rabies, or the police contact you- then you definitely should get legal advice and contact your insurance company to see what your coverage is.

Many times your instinct is to try to cover things up or to minimize the situation when talking to authorities, attorneys, or insurance people.  Don’t do that.  Honesty is the best policy.  Trust me on this.

Wisconsin Dog Bite Laws

In Wisconsin specifically, a dog owner is strictly liable for damages that a dog does to another person, pet, or property.  In plain English, that means that you don’t have to be negligent. You didn’t have to have intent to harm.  It just had to have happened.  Basically- if you own the dog and it did the crime- it is your fault.  You don’t even have to be with your dog.  You could even be on vacation and someone could be pet sitting… it doesn’t matter.

If a dog you own bites or causes damage- you are liable.

Now- in Wisconsin, they up the ante.  If the dog’s owner knew the dog had previously caused injuries- and it does it again- then the owner must pay double damages.  The owner can also face fines and other penalties.

Why do dogs hate the mailman?

Dogs hating the mailman has gotten to be such an old cliché- but dogs biting mailmen is so common, mail men (and women) have started attending seminars on how to deal with the issue.  In 2013, 5,581 postal workers were attacked by dogs…   This dog-anger isn’t just reserved for postal employees; however, think of anyone who may need to come to your house- plumbers, gardeners, and pizza delivery people.  Even more important- what if you had called 911 and the Emergency Response team couldn’t get to you because of your snarling dog?

Being territorial is one of the biggest reasons why dogs hate delivery people coming to the house.  These people are all trespassing.  Many dogs, especially certain breeds, have a predisposition to alert barking or engaging in more actively protecting their territory.  They may be acting out of both anger and fear.  If your postal person is putting your mail through a slot in your door- that is even scarier to a dog.  If they just drive up to the mailbox at the end of the driveway- maybe not so much.  Maybe then it’s just when the delivery people come and ring the doorbell.

What Can I Do?

The most obvious solution is to keep your dog shut in another room when the mail or deliveries come so that the dog doesn’t have access to the door.  If this is becoming a serious problem, it’s best to put your dog in a room that is as far away from the front door as possible so your dog is least likely to be aware of the “threat”.

You can also try to work with your delivery people.  Introduce your dog to the delivery people properly.  If they aren’t too busy and can play along (maybe not during the holiday season)- your dog can sniff them and get to know who they are… therefore building trust.

You can also role play with your dog.  Ask friends and non-immediate family members who aren’t afraid of dogs to come to your house and ring the doorbell.  Have them act as delivery people or drop letters through the slot like a mailman.  You can practice distracting your dog or give him/her treats to provide positive reinforcement that when the doorbell rings, it isn’t something they should associate with a negative response.

Lastly, you can use clicker or treat training to help calm your dog when the doorbell rings.

Bottom Line

The Insurance Information Institute estimates that in 2015 insurance carriers paid out over $570 million in dog bite claimsThe average payment on a dog bite claim was $37,329.    So we are talking expensive payments when a dog decides to bite.

Remember, any dog- any breed- can have a bad day or a bad moment.  Things can make your dog aggressive when they ordinarily wouldn’t be (ie. Lyme disease).  Most importantly, you need to have a plan just in case something does go wrong and make sure that plan includes having proper liability coverage.

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If you'd like to explore your insurance options, please visit our contact page or connect with a member of The Richards Group team at (262) 326-4750.

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