What to Do If Your Dog Bites Someone

dog bite prevention

Dog bites affect 4.5 million Americans every single year. The American Humane Association says half of those 4.5 million dog bites affect children. Dogs are our best friends, family members, and a very important part of the lives of many people. Consider that, according to the American Pet Products Association, 65% of U.S. households own a pet, the propensity for a dog bite is high.

In honor of Dog Bite Prevention Week and to help people learn what to do to prevent dog bites, how to react if you are bitten by a dog, and how this also affects cats, we’ve got a special series for our readers.

To reduce the number of injuries to people and the risk of relinquishment of dogs who bite, American Humane Association offers the following suggestions:

For Children:

  • Never approach an unknown dog or a dog that is alone without an owner, and always ask for permission before petting the dog.
  • Never approach an injured animal – find an adult who can get the help s/he needs
  • Never approach a dog that is eating, sleeping or nursing puppies.
  • Don’t poke, hit, pull, pinch or tease a dog.

CLICK THIS: How to Prevent Kids from Dog Bites

Fidose of Reality sought the help of Debra Vey Voda-Hamilton of  Hamilton Law & Mediation, PLLC. She has been practicing law since 1983 and involved in mediation since 2010. Here’s what we learned about the law and dog bites:

Debra Vey Voda-HamiltonThe Law and Dog Bites

Hamilton says dog bite laws vary by state, with California and Colorado being the strictest.

“The owner of the dog who bit can be sued by multiple injured parties both for physical and emotional distress,” Hamilton shares. “ Dogs are routinely removed from an owner for rabies quarantine, regardless of a vaccination record, if the dog bites someone.  Some states require them to be kept in solitary confinement which is so difficult for a pet to survive and will be neutered before returned to their owner.”

Who Does the Law Favor With Dog Bites?

According to Hamilton, the facts will be the determining factor of responsibility.  If your dog bites someone you will have to defend your actions and his.  If your dog is bitten, questions of circumstance and who was the initial aggressor or who had control of their dog may be raised.  The trier of fact will determine the facts.  Then it is the trier of FACT who decides which explanation is most plausible.  This is a perfect place for mediation to be used as the parties can acknowledge the animal’s part in the incident and work together in the best interest all.  In court the law will rule no matter if it is finding correctly.  Mediation is not widely used by insurance companies until a client sues.  If it was used earlier and with more of a view toward hearing everyone’s story more fair (in my humble opinion) solutions could be obtained looking at all the circumstances and the dogs prior reputation.

dog bite prevention

What If Your Dog Bites Someone?

This is tricky. Hamilton says that if If your dog bit someone, you should find an attorney who is willing to represent you.  It will be very difficult and expensive.  Most insurance companies do have a section in your homeowners for defense work if your pet bites.  Everyone should read their policy to see just what is covered.  If it isn’t and you have a breed that could be seen as aggressive (Pit Bull, Shepard, Doberman) you may want to put a rider on your homeowners to help differ costs.

Unfortunately, it is easier to find an attorney to sue the dog owner and recover monies than to defend the dog in any given circumstance.  Pockets are seen to be deeper for the owner of the dog who bit especially if they have homeowners insurance.  If you do not have coverage, get some!! A dog owner who has to defend defending on their own could be out tens of thousands of dollars.  If you have supplemental it is more than likely your insurance will be canceled or tripled in cost after they defend your dog.

If something happens and your dog bites a person or another animal, exchange information, appreciate and acknowledge there was an incident.  Say little about your dog and his/her past good/bad deeds, and call and attorney when you get home, according to Hamilton.

“You will also need to call your insurance company if the bite happened on your property. Untimely notice could give the insurance company the right to refuse to defend for failure to comply with reporting requirements,” she advises.

Opt for mediation if you can settle the matter outside the courthouse and not at the expense of the insurance company this would benefit all.  The person what was bitten  could tell their story and have assurances this will never happen again, the dog that bit will have humane treatment and things will be done to assure they are safe and others are safe around them and the parties will both feel as if they got the best outcome they could.

dog bites

What if the Victim Wants my Dog Euthanized?

Hamilton says often the people who want the dog destroyed will soften if they are seen as traumatized by the dog owner. In the event the bitten party feels respected and that their feelings are head, this is a goal to avoid future issues.

In mediation, acknowledging and appreciating the way a person who has been bitten by your dog feels will lay the framework for them to listen to how you feel about your dog, how much you love your dog and what you intend to change in the care of your dog so this never happens again.

dog bite
Even dogs are victims of bites from other dogs (or people!)

What Should Dog Parents Do To Prevent Dog Bites

Here’s what Hamilton recommends every dog parent do in order to prevent dog bites, which is the best advice (not allowing it to happen):

First, never leave a dog unattended. People who walk up to pet an otherwise sweet dog may end up getting bitten. Some dogs find strangers to be threatening if left along in a strange place.

This writer’s experience is to also know your dog’s body language and not to put them in situations where a bite may occur.

If you are having a stranger come to your house, perhaps a worker to do something indoors, always leash the dog or put the dog in a separate area. Sometimes dogs get uncomfortable with a stranger in the house and will become protective of their home.

“Always be aware of your surroundings in a dog park,” Hamilton recommends. :If it feels wrong take your dog away before something happens.”

CLICK THIS: Six Reasons I Stopped Going to the Dog Park

Because we have penned a piece on How to Prevent Dog Bites, we encourage you to check that out, and follow these bullet points to prevent dog bites completely:

  • Never allow babies or small children to be alone with your dog, even a family pet.
  • Teach children how to respect a pet, how not to be rough with the pet, and how to treat an animal in general.
  • Never put a pet in a situation where he or she feels threatened and know your dog’s limits. A dog’s body language should be monitored.
  • Keep a dog’s mind and body stimulated.
  • Be alert: Never allow strangers to pet your dog unless you are certain the situation is stress-free.
  • Use a leash in public to control your dog.
  • The U.S. Postal Service reports that attacks on its carriers, however, have increased, which they attribute to last year’s increase of package deliveries by a half-billion. In 2015, there were 6,549 attacks, up 782 from the year before. Houston  is the top market, with 77 reported attacks on postal employees last year. San Diego and Cleveland tied for second with 58 attacks while Chicago and Dallas tied for third with 57 attacks. Many dogs are territorial and may view letter carriers as a threat. Because many of these deliveries take place at a customer’s door, the U.S. Postal Service is asking Americans to “close the door on dog attacks” by placing their pets in a separate room with a closed door to decrease the likelihood of an attack. Better yet, teach your dog positive reinforcement techniques early on so that there is a friendly relationship with letter carriers, package delivery folks, etc. More on that in a forthcoming post.

Fidose of Reality has teamed up with the following blogs for a week-long series on dog (and cat) bites. Every day, be sure to visit these blogs for a complete series at week end:

Tuesday, 05/17: Random Felines

Wednesday, 05/18: Tenacious Little Terrier

Thursday, 05/19: Miss Molly Says

Friday, 05/20:  Savannah’s Paw Tracks

Don’t stop now, here’s even more solid information to help avoid dog bites and prevent your dog from being a victim:

Nine Ways to Prevent Dog Bites

Help! My Dog Bites Me

Debra Vey Voda-HamiltonRead more about mediating these kinds of conflicts Hamilton’s new book, Nipped in the Bud-Not in the Butt—How to Use Mediation to Resolve Conflicts over Animals. It is available on her website: www.hamiltonlawandmediation.com

Stay tuned also because if you’ve ever been bitten by a dog, we have advice and steps to help overcome any fears you are currently dealing with…or perhaps you want a dog in your life but are scared. We’re here to help!

Comments

  1. Great great post, and great information ! It’s always sad to see that children are often bitten by the family dog, and that animal bites are almost always due to a miscommunication between animal and human, as the human is often slow or unable to understand the animal’s body language . You share excellent advice. Purrs

  2. Unfortunately, my dog is very good at the freeze and stare … with other dogs. Fortunately, no serious bite yet but a lot of snapping. I’ve learned to spot it.

  3. While we were in the small doggy area of our French Bulldog meetup on Saturday, we witnessed a Doberman bite a boxer than clamp his jaw down on the boxer owners bicep. It was horrifying! No one was injured. Thanks for the info
    Lily & Edward

  4. First, never leave a dog unattended.

    It doesn’t take very long.

    One morning as I was walking to school, a dog owner was leaving his house. As he turned to lock the door, the dog ran to me and jumped up and scratched me, breaking the skin through my jeans. Dogs sometimes forget that they’re not cats and can’t put their claws away.

    The dog owner then turned around and said “He won’t hurt you” — a little too late.

    • Cats bite, too, and they also scratch. I am excited to have some cat writers sharing in this series all week long, Aimable Cats. Thanks for stopping by!

  5. Really great post. I was familiar with most of these warning signs, but just learned recently about the half moon eye. I’ve witnessed this look so many times volunteering in shelters – and it is usually mistaken by many (including me a few times) as a cute look. And of course it is cute, but I now realize it’s also a sign that the dog is uncomfortable.

    • Oh yes that half moon look can be darling, I know it. You are a smart cookie to know the signs and proceed carefully.

  6. PAWSOME post! A lot of great information packed in! As the owner of large breeds and one specifically one that is extremely dog aggressive, you hit upon a lot of good information about it. Mine have never bit a person, but dang that Seager! He just doesn’t like other dogs – period. He has had a couple of run-ins with other dogs and thankfully everything turned out alright. We have since learned to read his body language and most importantly keep him contained around others. It is so very important to be aware!

    • I applaud you so much. You know your dog isn’t into other dogs, so why risk anything happening. Smart dog mom. My last cocker was not fond of other dogs, but she would hide behind my legs. She was a puppy mill rescue. We knew this and acted accordingly and kept her out of situations where she would become upset or uncomfortable.

  7. Many people who do not own dogs don’t know the signs that a dog is feeling uncomfortable unless it is barking “loudly”. The chart was really informative and the pictures really helped too.

  8. Great information. We had a really close call with a neighbor dog last summer with our youngest. it was so scary! Thankfully for both the dog and Teagan we were able to get the dog to run away from us.

  9. We don’t have a dog but we have experienced our little one getting nipped by a dog.
    We were at the playground and the owner had tied their dog to a tree, our curious son waddled over and we were busy with our daughter on the swings. Next thing we know we hear a scream and his finger was bleeding.
    Here they will put dogs down if they bite so we kept our mouths shut and went to the hospital and got him a tetanus shot to keep our son safe. I can’t imagine how hard it must be on the owner that’s for sure.

    • Uh oh that had to be scary. So it happened that fast while you were busy and he waddled over. Yep, that is how quick it can happen. SO then even if the dog was not at fault they would go after the dog to euthanize? I would fight that if it were my dog or move. Seriously. Glad all is okay.

  10. If is up to all of us isn’t it. We need to recognise a dog (or cat) has boundaries that we need to respect and that it is not always the animal’s fault when it bites. I do not dislike dogs, in spite of the fact one killed Dash I really dislike negligent owners though!

  11. My 10 lb. dog jumped up on an older relative, scratching the woman who was on blood thinners. The woman had to go to urgent care and it was written up as a dog bite. I could not get that undone. The county took all the precautions for a dog bite: I had to take my dog to the vet for an examination, send in her vaccination record and quarantine her to the house and yard for ten days. Luckily we live in an area that is more generous to dogs than some states.

    I am looking forward to reading all the posts by the different bloggers, I know they all will be really informative.

  12. Our dogs have been in two fights with each other and both times we headed to the vet. One time was super scary because our baby was accidentally caught in the middle. We just worked on training and reading the dogs behaviors and attitudes

  13. I was reminded of a study I read about medical malpractice where they found that if doctors apologized and acknowledged the patient’s feelings, the patients were much less likely to sue. Mediation sounds like the way to go if the dog owner is responsible and takes steps to ensure that such a thing never happens again.

  14. Excellent post! This is so much important information. Great idea for a blog post series. I’m amazed at how many people think it’s ok to walk over & get in my dog’s face & pet her all over while we are out in public places like Starbucks. When she was a puppy a strange lady came over to my Husky and grabbed a chew stick right out of her mouth!! Thankfully my dog was so shocked she didn’t react, I was scared for a moment she might snap at the idiot.

  15. Basically, prevention is the best thing to do concerning your pet dog. If you can prevent your dog from biting you can save yourself a lot of legal trouble. One must also be firm in reining in a dog especially if said dog has an aggressive behavior.
    The other person confronted by such a dog also bears a responsibility to be not bitten by your dog. If that person was bitten by your dog due to his/her unnecessary and malicious provoking acts then your dog can’t really be blamed for its actions. Personally, I think some bitten “victims” got into that situation due to pestering a dog.

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