Responsible Dog Ownership: How to Safeguard Against Legal Issues

At Goldberg & Goldberg, we understand the joys of dog ownership. It’s essential, however, to take preemptive measures to avoid injuries — and potential legal disputes.

Annually, approximately 4.7 million individuals suffer dog bites. With over 62 million dogs owned in America, various reasons contribute to this statistic. The rising popularity of more protective breeds and the tendency of owners to leave dogs unsupervised, untrained, and unaccustomed to human interaction are significant factors. Predominantly, dogs that are isolated, tethered, or untrained pose a higher risk of biting.

Understanding Liability

Legally, victims of dog bites are often supported by state laws. In the past, dog owners benefitted from the “one free bite” rule, signifying that legal accountability only applied if the dog had previously shown a propensity to cause harm. Nowadays, many states hold owners accountable for any damage their dog inflicts, irrespective of the owner’s knowledge of the dog’s aggressiveness.

Dog owners could be responsible for covering medical costs, lost wages, and even counseling fees for affected individuals. There are exceptions, such as cases of provocation or trespassing, but these are challenging to substantiate after an incident.

Prevention of injuries is preferable to disputing liability. Most dog bites are avoidable with responsible ownership.

Train Your Companion

As a dog owner, it is your responsibility to ensure your dog is well-trained and socialized. Consider enrolling in affordable obedience classes offered by local humane societies — an effective strategy for teaching your dog appropriate behavior around people and other dogs. Educational resources, including “How to Be Your Dog’s Best Friend” and “The Art of Raising a Puppy” by the Monks of New Skete, also offer valuable advice.

Sterilizing your dog is another important step; unsterilized dogs are three times more likely to bite. This procedure not only reduces the risk of bites but also helps to prevent your dog from wandering.

Here are additional preventive measures:

  • Never permit your dog to roam unsupervised. Owners are often strictly liable for injuries caused when their dog is roaming freely.
  • Maintain up-to-date vaccinations, especially for rabies. A dog’s bite is taken much more seriously if they are not vaccinated.
  • Restrict your dog’s access to areas with regular foot traffic. Ensure the safety of visitors by keeping the dog at a safe distance from your home’s entrance.
  • Display warning signage if your dog poses a risk to visitors, but take extra precautions, as this isn’t a deterrent for non-reading children.

Educate Your Kids

Children, especially boys, face a higher risk of being bitten by dogs. Instruct your children on safe conduct around dogs:

  • Always allow a dog to sniff you before attempting to touch it.
  • Do not bother a dog that is eating, asleep, or nursing puppies.
  • Never flee from a dog.
  • Avoid direct eye contact with a dog as it may perceive it as a threat.

Awareness is key; bites often occur even with familiar dogs, particularly in their own environment.

At Goldberg & Goldberg, we are here to offer guidance. Should you face legal challenges related to dog bites, or if you simply seek further advice on responsible pet ownership, do not hesitate to reach out. We provide a Free Consultation to ensure you have the support you need. Call us at (301) 654-5757.

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