PA dog bite cases on the rise

The number of dog bites climbed by 30 percent in Pennsylvania last year, bumping the state to fifth in the number of recorded incidents nationwide, according to a new insurance company study.

The State Farm Insurance report, released ahead of National Dog Bite Prevention Week (May 19-26), found the number of Pennsylvania cases jumped from 163 claims to 197 claims.

That's just a fraction of the estimated 5,000,000 dog bites that occur each year.

State Farm cautions that a dog’s tendency to bite depends on such factors as heredity, obedience training, socialization, health, and the victim’s behavior.

There are good dogs and bad dogs within every breed, just as there can be responsible and irresponsible owners of each breed.

State Farm said it does not refuse insurance based on the breed of dog a customer owns in any U.S. state.

California is number one with 527 claims and Minnesota was last with 117 claims. New Jersey is ranked 16th.

An estimated $479 million was paid out to dog bite victims nationally. 

The Pennsylvania state dog law imposes liability for severe damages and entitles victims to full compensation if the attacking dog had a history of biting. 

"A dog's tendency to bite depends on such factors as heredity, obedience training, socialization, health and the victim's behavior," the study reads. "State Farm does not refuse insurance based on the breed of dog a customer owns in any U.S. state."

More than half of all dog bite victims are children, with senior, mail carriers and meter readers also more often the victims of bites, the study says.

A 1995 Pennsylvania study presented a comprehensive look at the demographics of dog bites and the severity of the wounds. Interestingly the counties with the highest number of dog bites were rural counties, Indiana, Washington and Blair. Allegheny  (Pittsburgh) and Philadelphia counties combined to represent 23 percent of all bites.

Animal welfare advocates would likely argue that most of those bites are related to the higher number of dogs on chains and free roaming dogs.

State Farm's website offers a host of tips on how to avoid being bitten, what dog owners should know about preventing bites and what to if you are bitten.

Heidi Ganahl, founder of Camp Bow Wow, a pet care franchise company, also offers the following tips to prevent dog bites:

       Socialize your pet at early stages in his or her development. This will allow your pet to feel at ease around people and other animals in social settings. Socializing your dog can have a tremendous effect on their interactions both at home and in public. Newly socialized dogs become calmer, friendly, affectionate, and can adapt better to a new environment.

       Train your dog. Basic commands such as "sit" and "stay" help dogs understand what is expected of them. Training can also be incorporated into fun activities that establish the owner as an authoritative figure, yet strengthen the bond between owner and dog as companion and friend.

       Never leave a child under 10 years old alone with a dog, no matter how much you trust your four-legged friend. Dogs tend to give warnings when they are uncomfortable and may bite in response. In most cases, children aren’t able to pick up on these signals and can easily get hurt. As mentioned, children are the most common victims of dog bites.

       Use a leash to ensure that you are able to control your dog in public settings. If your pet becomes excited or anxious for any reason, draw him near and gently pat his head or rub his fur to calm him down.

       Never chain your dog in the backyard or any other area. Dogs who are chained up feel increased levels of stress and protectiveness. A dog that is confined and feels threatened is more likely to bite.

       If you have a fenced yard, make sure your gates are secure. This will prevent Fido from running off into public spaces and interacting with others without your supervision.