What to Do When Your Dog Bites Someone
Out of a total of about 4.5 million incidents of dogs biting per year, there are more than 350,000 that end up in US emergency rooms.
Only a small percentage of those bitten sue the dog's owner, but do you want to be one of the few who loses your dog, loses a home, or even goes to jail as a result of a dog bite?
Why Do Dogs Bite?
- Some dogs bite because they have been trained by their owners to be aggressive, and the owner may not even be aware he is teaching this behavior.
- Some dogs bite because of previous incidents of maltreatment, like being subjected to misguided “trainers” practicing alpha rolls, being sprayed in the face with a water bottle, or maybe having been slapped with a rolled-up newspaper.
- Some dogs bite because they feel trapped by a human's inappropriate attempt at affection.
It doesn’t matter why he does it, though, because if your dog ends up biting someone, you are in for a lot of headaches.
If Your Dog Bites Someone, Here's What You Should Do:
1. Take him to a kennel or crate and lock him up, immediately. I have read numerous accounts of people who have lost their dog when the police showed up to investigate. Police might shoot the dog on sight or might haul him off to an animal shelter. But if you take your dog and lock him up in your house, it's less likely that the police will open fire. (This is not what the lawyers recommend, of course, but they are not concerned about your dog´s welfare.)
2. Talk to the person who was bitten and tell them that you will cover all their expenses. Have a first aid kit on hand and offer it to them. If they want to go to an emergency room, offer to drive. Do NOT tell them it was your dog's fault.
3. After you put the dog in the house and do what you can for the person who was bitten, call your insurance company. (Of course you should have homeowners insurance that covers your dog. If you do not, and you are sued, you could lose it all. If you own a dog that others consider vicious, you will have to pay more and will have trouble finding a carrier. The insurance company might not want to continue providing coverage after the first bite, but at least you'll be protected for that first incident.)
4. Make an appointment to see your veterinarian and tell them you need a referral to see an animal behaviorist who deals with dog aggression. Even if your dog bit because he was trapped and being abused, his actions are still not normal and need to be addressed.
5. If the police show up, just tell them the situation is being dealt with. You do not need to let them into your house without a warrant and do not need to surrender your dog. If they continue to harass you, tell them to call your lawyer. If the police become involved you will need a lawyer.
(Police and animal control officers hate this part of the article. They cannot bust into your home if they do not have a warrant. I have heard hundreds of people tell me stories about not being able to get their dogs back, and the dogs end up dead. Dog lives matter.)
6. Purchase a muzzle for your dog so that if you are ordered to buy a muzzle, you will already have one.
Q: What Is a One Bite Rule?
A: Some states have a rule that says that the dog owner will be held strictly liable for injuries caused by the animal only if the owner knew (or should have known) about the animal's dangerous or vicious propensities. In other words, if the dog bit before, then the owner is responsible.
Other Things You Need to Know
- Some articles make claims about which breeds are more likely to bite, but these articles are full of misinformation, and articles that scare people are part of the problem. Any dog has the potential to bite, but larger breeds can do a lot more damage. A visitor might laugh off a ferocious little Chihuahua but get really upset if your Rottweiler growls at them.
- A word of warning: some states have a “one-bite” rule and allow a dog one free bite before it is determined he is aggressive. If your dog has already bitten someone in one of those states, or if you have been stupid enough to train your dog to be aggressive, the penalties are going to be a lot harsher.
- Even if you have the mildest, most mellow old dog that would never bite anyone, you should make sure you have a secure place to put him in the house, have an insurance policy that covers him, and make sure you know of a lawyer you can work with if a bite occurs.
- Sometimes, bites happen to the nicest dogs. People can do the most annoying things, and sometimes it is just more than even the best dog can bear.
- Protect your dog's life. After all, she is always there to protect yours.
Questions & Answers
My one-year-old dog bit my nine-year-old cousin yesterday, requiring him to have stitches. My dog has never been mean, and didn’t show any warning signs before the bite. He was happy and playing. Any idea on what might’ve happened?
There are a lot of possibilities. Dogs are often scolded when they growl, so they are less likely to growl and warn before they bite. They still try to warn, but a nine-year-old probably did not see anything going on.
It is possible that the child was playing too rough, touched a part of the dog that was painful or sensitive, and of course, it is just possible that the dog got too worked up and bit like he would another dog. Kids can be very fragile, so he may not have even meant to bite so hard.
The first thing I would do, if this were my dog, is to take him to his regular vet and have a thorough exam. He may have a painful bladder, early arthritic pain (joint degeneration), or something else that the vet picks up. If your vet does not find anything, and you are in a city that has a behaviorist, it would be a good idea to have a consultation.
If your dog were to bite again, the victim might win if they chose to sue you.
My dog nipped someone while he was on leash. Am I responsible?
Yes, but the potential penalties vary state to state. If the person has medical expenses, you should pay. You should also consider consulting a lawyer before they sue.
My half Akita shepherd bit the Veterinarian when he came out to administer a rabies shot. He grew impatient, picked the dog up from behind and slammed him into the dirt. No wonder the dog bit. What can I do?
It is unlikely a vet is going to try and sue you over a dog bite, and even less likely that you will be able to sue him for animal abuse. If you do not hear from him again, that is probably for the best. If your dog is aggressive with everyone, I'd consult an animal behaviorist, and get another vet next time your dog needs a rabies vaccination.
Our pet sitter got bit opening the front door, and they will not sign a release. What can I do to get her to sign a release?
Your pet sitter might be thinking about suing you in the future, so they do not want to sign a release. All you can do is ask and offer to pay for medical expenses; there is no way to force a person to sign a release.
My dog's on house quarantine since she bit, and I can not find the rabies records. She is an inside dog and it was the first time she got out. After quarantine can I get a blood test, or should I just get her shots?
You should just update her rabies vaccine since you do not have any proof of the last vaccination and the titer will not protect your dog from the legal system.