First of all, Michigan law makes it clear that if you own a dog, you are responsible for it. There is no getting around that. If your dog bites someone, you can be sued. Contrary to urban legend, there is no “free bite” law. Even without a history of your dog having bitten someone before, you can face liability under Michigan law if your dog attacks someone unprovoked.
So, what can us dog owners/lovers do to protect ourselves? First and foremost, make sure your animal is well trained. There is no “safe” breed of dog according to the ASPCA website (www.aspca.org).
Early positive experiences, most notably socialization, are considered key in preventing aggressive tendencies in dogs. Puppies that learn how to interact, play and communicate with both people and members of their own and other species are less likely to show aggressive behavior as adults. Given the powerful impact of socialization, it’s no surprise that dogs that are chained outside and isolated from positive human interaction are more likely to bite people than dogs that are integrated into our homes. Unfortunately, pit bull type dogs that find themselves in these conditions may be at greater risk for developing aggressive behavior. But because these factors are ones that can be controlled by better educated owners, it is possible to reduce these risks, not just in pit bulls but in dogs of all breeds (www.aspca.org/).
In my humble opinion, there is no better (or simpler) way to train your dog than Cesar Millan (a/k/a the dog whisperer). Check out his website at www.cesarsway.com
There are other things you can do to avoid legal liability. The most important is insurance. Make sure you are covered for dog attacks if you are a dog owner. The coverage would be under your homeowner’s policy if you own a home and renter’s insurance if you rent. Some policies specifically exclude coverage for dog attacks, therefore, you should make certain that you know what is covered and what is not. If you are faced with a claim that your dog attacked someone, all you will need to do is place your insurance carrier on notice and they will step in and defend and, possibly, pay the claim. If you are not insured, you could be in hot water – get covered.
Aside from having a well-trained dog and getting appropriate insurance coverage, you should certainly get your dog licensed with your local animal control. It’s the law, and the fines for owning an unlicensed dog are steep.
Bottom line: Get your dog trained and get yourself insured! Thanks for reading.