Dog-bite claims cost insurers over $489 million in 2012, accounting for more than a third of all homeowners insurance liability claim dollars paid out in the year, according to a study by the Insurance Information Institute and State Farm, but these claims could be prevented if pet owners pay attention to their own body language and signs from their furry best friends.
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Melissa Berryman, a dog bite specialist who designed and teaches a safety and liability class for dog owners says, “Those claims can be financially hard on the homeowners and tragic for the dogs, which is especially troublesome when you know that bites aren’t a ‘bad dog’ problem – they’re a human ignorance problem.”
She adds, “Dogs react based on their pack positions, the handling ability of their owners and the situation and context. People have the power to recognize this and redirect the interaction to that of friends.”
Berryman is the author of “People Training for Good Dogs: What Breeders Don’t Tell You and Trainers Don’t Teach.
Following are tips Berryman offers to help owners understand the signals they are sending to their dogs when visitors arrive at the home.
Consider your dogs rank
Dogs have superior/subordinate relationships similar to the military, Berryman explains. Rank of family and guests dictates a dog’s behavior towards them. A high-ranking dog, a “general,” won’t tolerate insubordinate behavior from a perceived low ranking “private’’ child or guest. Berryman says bites often occur when human “privates” try to take food or toys away, or hug or pull a “general” type dog by the collar off of furniture.
Yelling can exacerbate a dog’s agitation
Your dog doesn’t know you’ve ordered pizza, Berryman notes, so when the delivery person arrives, your dog is agitated by the threat at the door and starts barking. She explains that when you yell at your dog to stop barking, he interprets this as agitation on your part; he understands tone, not language. That only increases a dog’s anxiety and vulnerability. When the door opens, the dog bites because it thinks you and he are both feeling threatened and you’re both going to attack the threat. Berryman says it’s best to happily reassure your dog when someone arrives and leave the greeting of guests to you, and not the dog.
How you treat strangers influences how your dog treats them
Dogs respond to their owners’ behavior, which gives them signals about whether or not a situation is safe, says Berryman. When the dog’s owner meets a stranger and interacts formally with that stranger, as many of us do, dogs can view this as the behavior of foes, or as apprehension, such as that of prey. Owners holding leashes tightly unwittingly place their dog in the dangerous fight stance of the fight or flight response, she notes, adding that it’s best to relax and act like a friend when meeting strangers, which will elicit a friendly response from a dog.
Remember, dogs aren’t trying to protect a home when they react negatively to strangers or visitors
Dogs place no value on your home, car, or the valuables they might contain, says Berryman. When they’re in a home or car, they are trapped in an enclosed area and will respond to perceived threats with an automatic fight-or-flight response. Berryman says it is the owner’s responsibility to train dogs to calmly signal someone’s approach and then to assert authority over the situation.
By understanding and respecting how dogs’ instincts and natural behaviors differ from ours, dog owners can prevent bites and insurance headaches, Berryman says.
Article originally published on www.propertyandcasuatly360.com
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