Ah, summer: The season of picnics, days at the beach and outdoor parties with friends.
But summer is also the season of dog bites. Of the 4,611 dog bites reported in 2013, more than half occurred in the summer months, with a spike in August, according to the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
What is it about the season that makes dogs want to snap?
“Dogs are being potentially put in more social-gathering situations where they aren’t super comfortable,” says Sarah Fraser, co-founder of Instinct Dog Training. As we all head outdoors to catch some sun, things get cramped, and — like humans — dogs can be irritable in the heat and grumpy when another New Yorker gets in their space.”
“Every dog will use its teeth if they feel they need to,” says Anthony Newman, who runs Calm Energy Dog Training.
So what to do if your pup does bite someone? And what are the legal consequences?
“The law is in [the owner’s] favor if the dog bites somebody,” says Dylan Brennan, a partner at the law firm of Cellino & Barnes who represents clients in dog-bite accidents. In New York, owners are only liable for injuries caused by their dog if they already knew the dog was dangerous. The victim has to prove the dog had a history of vicious behavior like lunging or biting.
If your pup has a clean record, you’re in the clear. But if it has a history of biting or other vicious behavior that you knew about, you can be liable, and your dog could be muzzled, confined or, if the damage is severe, even put down. This is why personal injury lawyer Scott C. Gottlieb says the best thing to do if your dog bites someone is to keep quiet.
“You try to make peace, you apologize to the person who got bit, but you don’t make any admissions.” He recommends dog owners get either renter’s insurance or homeowner’s insurance that covers dog bites.
While Gottlieb says he doesn’t see doggy death sentences often, nobody wants to take that chance. Here are some ways to prevent your canine companion from snapping in the summertime:
* Learn to read the signs: Indicators of a grumpy dog are pinned-back ears, tight lips, a tucked tail, stiff body and heavy panting. “These are usually good signals that your dog is pretty uncomfortable, and you should just create some space for them,” says Fraser. Pups should never be left alone on sidewalks without their humans “because you can’t be there to look out for them if someone approaches them and they get uncomfortable,” she says.
* Provide plenty of exercise and socialization: “The two biggest ways of fending off any behavior problems, and definitely aggression are exercise and socializing,” says Newman. “That pretty much means hitting the dog park… running off leash, wrestling with other dogs, jumping, sprinting, chasing the ball.”
* Avoid summer stress: Going to a beach party or a picnic? Make sure your pup gets a break from the action. “Just like with people, the longer parties go on, it can be more stressful for the dog,” Fraser says. Owners should avoid walking their dog during the hottest part of the day.
* Get professional trainers: They’ll identify triggers and help the dog become more comfortable with new people and other dogs. “Prevention is always way easier than trying to fix it way down the road,” Fraser says.