9 ways to prevent dog bite claims

They gained a reputation as man's best friend for being loyal, playful, and unconditionally loving — and most dogs live up to that title.

However, any dog has the potential to bite someone if it's feeling frightened or protective, no matter how well trained. In fact, dog bite claims were responsible for one third of all homeowners liability claims in 2012 — and those claims added up to more than $489 million in costs.

If your dog bites someone, you may be held liable, depending on the laws in your state. See the different laws here.

The best way to avoid liability is to prevent dog bites. Here are several ways to do that.

If you own a dog, follow these tips:
• Socialize your dog with other animals and people.
• Avoid playing aggressive games like tug of war.
• Don't leave infants or young children alone with your dog.
• Discourage others from approaching a dog while eating or sleeping.
• Make sure you're covered. Homeowners policies often include dog bite liability coverage. Check your policy or talk to your insurance agent to see whether you're covered, and consider an umbrella policy for extra liability protection.

If you're meeting a new dog, keep these pointers in mind:
• Never approach a strange dog.
• Ask the owner before petting a dog.
• Hold out your hand for the dog to sniff first, and pet the animal away from the head.
• Talk in a calm, quiet voice.

For more information, visit the American Humane Association or the Insurance Information Institute.