Let’s face it, when your dog bites someone, your concern is not solely reserved for the bite victim, but also for your dog. That’s not to say you don’t feel any concern for the person who was bitten, and of course your first priority is to treat the bite as best you can. But a moment of madness from your pooch, who may only have been lashing out in self-defense, can cause problems far beyond whatever injury was inflicted by the dog bite.
Whole Dog Journal cites attorney Kenneth Phillips, who specializes in dog bite cases. Phillips says that 61% of dog bites occur in the home or in a familiar place, and 77% of victims are family or friends. In most cases the dog doesn’t intend harm, instead they’re warning people to stop what they’re doing and go away. Very few dogs accidentally miss with their teeth. The air snap is a calculated move to create space. However, some people don’t read the signs and may come too close too fast, in which case they risk serious injury from strong teeth and jaws.
Studies consistently show that toy and small dog breeds are more aggressive than large breeds, however, the damage large dogs inflict is far more serious.
Here is some advice on what to do if your dog bites someone.
Reacting to a dog bite: At the scene of the crime
Obviously, when the bite occurs, you’re going to have to put the potential long-term consequences out of your mind, and stay in the moment. Your priorities are to:
- Remain calm
- Help treat the bite, and ascertain whether you should call emergency services
- Show compassion for the victim (even if you feel upset with them for being careless around your dog)
Staying calm is important because it will prevent the situation from escalating, which may further agitate your dog and cause even more problems. It also won’t help your situation at all if you get defensive and accuse the victim of provoking your pet. They may decide to press charges just to get back at you for your bad attitude. It’s always in your best interests to take control of the situation and be has helpful as you can. Swap contact details with the bite victim and follow through with a call to find out how they are doing.
Reacting to dog bites: What to do afterward
Hopefully there will be no need to pursue further action, but you must prepare for the worst. You should take the following precautions:
- Have your dog’s medical records on-hand, particularly rabies shots. The victim might require copies for their own peace of mind.
- Seek legal advice. If the bite was severe, or the victim wants to press charges, you’ll need to find out about your options. You may also want to contact your insurance company to see if they cover dog bites. You can learn more about the legal implications of dog bites at Dog Bite Law.
- If you are contacted by authorities, be honest about where and how the bite occurred, and about whether your dog has a history of aggression.
Dog bite law (legislation, not the website) dictates that dog owners are responsible for their pets’ actions. The police may get involved, but hopefully action won’t extend beyond requiring you compensate the victim. However, if the attack was serious and your dog has a history of aggression which you haven’t managed, the case may go to criminal court. Animal control may also be brought in to investigate the incident.
What does an incident mean for you and your dog?
If this is the first time your dog has bitten someone, you may get off with just a warning, provided the bite was not too serious. However, you will need to make significant changes to the way in which you manage your dog in public. You may need to always keep your dog on-lead and use muzzle when out. Use a basket muzzle so your dog can eat, drink and pant comfortably. It’s a good idea to contact a qualified behaviorist for assistance. Obedience training may also help.
Basically, your dog has the equivalent of a criminal record. If a second incident occurs, you could be subject to criminal charges.
The good news is that most dogs who have displayed signs of aggression can be rehabilitated. Behavioral therapy is very effective, so contact a professional dog behaviorist. A behaviorist can determine the triggers that cause the reaction. A behaviorist will also compile a behavior modification program to lower your dog’s arousal levels, increase his tolerance and give him alternative coping mechanisms for uncomfortable situations. You’ll learn to read your dog’s body language so you can remove him from a risky situation, or distract him until the moment has passed.