What California residents need to know about dog attacks

Dog bites can cause serious injuries. Children and others should know proper behavior around dogs, which may reduce the chances of being bitten.

Dogs are an irreplaceable family member for millions of people across the country. Most do not pose a danger for their families or others. Unfortunately, there are dogs or irresponsible pet owners who can be a source of debilitating injury - or worse - for California residents. To highlight the problem, Bankrate ranked California as the top state for dog bites in 2014. That year, 1,867 dog bite claims were filed with insurance companies in California.

When a dog, even a little one, bites, the injuries can be devastating. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, dogs bite more than 4.5 million people across the country every year. More than half of these victims are children, with senior citizens making up the second most common age group. Most canine attacks involve an animal the victim was familiar with, such as the family dog or the pet of a friend, neighbor or extended family member. Nearly one in five dog bites require the care of a doctor or emergency physician.

Education may prevent tragic incidents

Most bites happen during everyday activities with a known dog. For example, a child could be bitten by a surprised or over-enthusiastic dog while playing. A pet might bite its owner while being protective of another dog or family member, or while guarding its food dish or a favorite toy. Some dogs have been known to break out of a fenced yard to chase passersby or a neighbor's pets.

Children are the most at risk of being seriously injured or killed in a dog attack. Therefore, it is important that they are taught the proper ways to play and interact with pets, as well as dogs they do not know. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the following tips may reduce the chances of a child or other family member being bitten by a pet:

  • Small children should never play with a dog unsupervised.
  • Aggressive play with the pet should not be encouraged.
  • Children and others should not disturb a dog while it is sleeping, eating or taking care of puppies.
  • If a dog has a toy it is chewing on or playing with, a child should not attempt to take it away.
  • Before petting a dog, a person should allow the dog to sniff and see the person first.

Additionally, people should understand that intense eye contact may be seen by dogs as a threat. Running and screaming often trigger a predatory response in dogs. Therefore, children should be taught to never stare a dog in the eyes, and not to run away if approached by an unfamiliar animal. Instead, dog experts advise people to look at the ground if confronted by an unfamiliar dog, and to stand still and quiet. If the dog loses interest, it may then be safe to slowly back away. If, however, the dog advances, the person should drop to the ground and protect the head and neck with his or her arms.

You may have the right to pursue compensation if you or a loved one was attacked by someone's pet. It might help to contact a Westlake Village personal injury attorney with experience in dog bite claims.