Dog Bites & The Importance of Temperament Testing

August 24, 2011

According to Insurance Journal, dog bites cost the insurance industry over $412 million dollars in 2009 and has risen 30% in the past 6 years.  They also state that individual dog bite claims cost about $25,000. More than 4.7 million people in the United States are bitten by dogs annually, and nearly 900,000 of those, half of them children, require medical care, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Of those injured, 386,000 require treatment in an emergency department and about 16 die.

As care-givers to animals, it is important to know the three most common types of laws that impose liability on owners:

1. Dog-bite statute: The dog owner is automatically liable for any injury or property damage the dog causes, even without provocation.

2.  “One-bite” rule: In some states, the owner is not held liable for the first bite the dog inflicts. Once an animal has demonstrated vicious behavior, such as biting or otherwise displaying a “vicious propensity,” the owner can be held liable. Some states have moved away from the one-bite rule and hold owners responsible for any injury, regardless of whether the animal has previously bitten someone.

3.  Negligence laws: The dog owner is liable if the injury occurred because he or she was unreasonably careless (negligent) in controlling the dog.

A dog owner who is legally responsible for an injury to a person or property may be responsible for reimbursing the injured person for medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering and property damage.  Also, as an animal welfare organization, you could also be held responsible if the dog bites a member of its new family and the family shows that you knew that the dog was aggressive but did not inform them of this.

In order to prevent this from occurring, it is important to do temperament testing on a dog to provide the best placement for their future homes.  This is a good way to see if the dog exhibits aggressive tendencies and their personality traits.

The Partnership for Animal Welfare says that this effort can result in:

  • Identifying potential problems.
  • Allowing shelters to address problems through behavior modification and training sessions.
  • Information that helps shelter and rescue people make better matches between dogs and their potential owners.
  • Increases the potential for successful adoptions.

According to Community Animal Rescue Effort (C.A.R.E.), temperament testing can be performed by veterinarians, trainers, and other pet professionals trained in temperament testing.  The animals should ideally be given at least three days in the shelter to adjust to its surroundings before given a temperament test for a more accurate test result.  Also, forms should be used to record results of these tests and be included in the adoption packet of the animal.  The American Temperament Test Society, Inc. recommends that dogs should be about 18 months old before a temperament test is performed.

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