Many people do get bitten, some even fatally, by dogs which have not been taught to behave properly. Children are particularly at risk, and can be scarred for life from a serious encounter. In Britain alone, it has been calculated that about 200,000 people may be bitten by dogs each year. Even more alarming is that over a third of the victims are not directly touching :he dog in any way at the time of the attack, according to US studies.
A second major area of concern are the dogs which stray from home, or run off when they are being exercised and cause road accidents. A detailed study revealed that in Britain approximately 1,600 accidents caused by dogs result in human injury, with about 17 people dying each year as a direct consequence of such incidents.
Most of these accidents occur in urban areas, but in the countryside untrained dogs can be equally dangerous. They may kill 10,000 domestic animals, ranging from poultry and sheep to cattle and horses, each year. Some of these dogs will be strays, abandoned by their owners because of difficulties with them in the home. Since three out of every four owners report behavioral problems with their dogs at some stage, it is clear that probably most strays are discarded for this reason, rather than because of other factors such as family break-ups or emigration.
The law in most countries places clear responsibilities on dog owners to ensure that their pets are properly trained, and not a menace to other people or animals. Civil claims for damages are not uncommon, and in the case of a serious road accident caused by a dog, the damages awarded can be very high.
It is always advisable to take out a public liability policy on your pet, as protection if you are ever involved in a dispute of this type. Specialist animal insurance companies usually offer such cover at little cost, either separately or built into a health protection policy for your pet, or it may even be incorporated into your household insurance. Ask an insurance broker for details, or look for advertisements in the canine press. You should make sure that you are adequately covered from the start, because the likelihood of a dog running away from home is probably greatest during the first few months of ownership.
Apart from the risk of causing injury, dogs also need to be trained for social purposes. No one likes streets covered in dog excrement, or being bowled over by a powerful dog pulling on its leash. Within the home environment too, training is important to prevent damage to furniture and soiling of carpets, for example.
Some dogs have a stronger territorial sense than others. Should you fail to appreciate this, and simply ignore them, there is a real likelihood that you could be bitten.
Always approach any stray dog with caution — it might be injured and could resent your attention. In areas where rabies occurs, there is the added risk that it could be rabid, and might inflict a deadly bite.