Dogs are one of the most popular pets for Americans to own, and it's easy to see why. Often seen as part of the family, many people go so far as to have birthday parties for their pooch with a homemade cake.

As a result, it can be hard for people to think their pet could ever hurt anyone. But homeowners should be aware of the real possibility that even the friendliest dog could bite someone.

Every year, more than 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs in the United States. National Dog Bite Prevention week takes place this year from May 15 to May 21 in order to make people more aware of this risk. Although dog bites are common, they can be prevented.

Fast Facts on Dog Bites

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA):

  • Almost one in five people who are bitten by dogs need medical attention
  • Children are the most common victims
  • Senior citizens are the second most common victims of dog bites
  • More than 800,000 people in the U.S. receive medical attention for a dog bite, and at least half are children
  • 5,581 US Postal Service employees were attacked by dogs in 2013
  • The American Humane Association reported that 66 percent of bites on children were on the head and neck
  • California had the largest number of dog bite claims in 2015

Dog Bites and Homeowners Insurance

If a dog bites someone, it can be extremely costly for the dog’s owner. The Insurance Information Institute (III) reported that the average cost of a dog bite claim in 2015 was $37,215.

In fact, one-third of all homeowners insurance liability claims were for dog bites and other dog-related injuries. Other injuries were the result of dogs knocking over children, senior citizens, and bikers. The total amount paid for dog claims in 2015 was more than $570 million.

Luckily, a standard homeowners insurance policy will generally cover dog bites. This includes coverage if you're sued as well as medical coverage for damage your dog has done. For a medium sized dog, try to have a policy with at least $300,000 of liability coverage.

Aggressive Dog Breeds

Some insurers, however, may exclude certain dog breeds or raise your premium if you have a more aggressive breed. It's best to see what your specific policy says to make sure you're covered under your insurance.

It is illegal in some states to discriminate against specific breeds. A few states also require insurance companies to offer dog bite protection. Research your state laws to find out what your insurer legally can and cannot do.

The following dog breeds were responsible for the most deaths in the U.S. and Canada from 1982 to 2014:

  • Pit Bull
  • Rottweiler
  • Husky
  • Wolf Hybrid
  • Bull Mastiff

If your current insurer won't offer you coverage for your dog, look around for a different insurance company that will meet your needs.

Another way to try to get coverage for your animal, is to see if your insurer will lower your rates if you take your dog to obedience school.

One Bite Law

Laws regarding dog bites differ from state to state. Some states have a "one bite law," which means the victim must prove the dog owner knew their pet was prone to biting.

Dog Bite Prevention

Victims of a dog bite are generally someone the dog owner already knows such as a friend, relative, or neighbor. Even the most well trained dog can attack if provoked or under stress. Taking time to train your dog properly can save you from having to deal with unnecessary injuries and possible lawsuits.

In recognition of National Dog Bite Prevention week, here are some steps you can take to prevent your dog from biting someone.

  • Socialize your dog from the beginning. Teach it proper behavior around other people and animals
  • Never leave your dog alone with a child
  • Keep your dog on a leash around strangers and unfamiliar animals
  • If you have children, teach them how to act properly around your dog. Don't let them bother it when it is eating or sleeping. Explain to your kids how to recognize signs of aggression in your dog
  • Teach your children not to approach unknown animals. Make sure they ask permission before petting a stranger's dog
  • Consult with a veterinarian or other professional about the best dog breeds for your home