One of the most difficult and heartbreaking issues dog owners may face is a bite from their beloved pup.
Once that trust is broken, it can be incredibly difficult to regain.
There are many reasons your dog may bite you. She could be guarding her resources, she may be feeling anxious or stressed, or maybe she is redirecting her aggressive behavior toward you.
But the question remains: What do you do if your dog has bitten you?
Below, we’ll explain exactly what to do after a bite occurs.
This not only includes the things you’ll want to do in the immediate aftermath, but we’ll discuss some of the reasons your dog may have bitten you, and what steps you’ll want to take to address the problem.
We’ll even talk about the most horrifying question an owner may ever be compelled to ask: Do I have to put my dog down?
Immediate Action: What Do You Do Right After Your Dog Bites You?
Bites are not only concerning, but they can also be unexpected and frightening. You’ll likely be feeling a range of emotions, on top of any physical pain the bite has caused.
Just take a deep breath and take one step at a time.
Secure Your Canine After a Dog Bite
The first thing you will need to do is secure your dog to prevent any further problems.
You can put her into a crate, confine her in a separate room or tether her using a leash.
Depending on the situation, she may still be reacting aggressively, she may be frightened, or she may be worried about your emotional reaction. She could also remain highly aroused by the situation that caused her to bite in the first place.
But no matter the reason for the bite, securing her will ensure that you (and everyone else in the vicinity) remain safe.
Provide First Aid Following the Dog Bite
After ensuring that your pooch is put away or otherwise sequestered in a safe manner, you’ll need to assess the wound.
Did she break your skin? Is there a puncture? If so, you’ll need to clean it with soap and water and wrap it in a clean bandage.
But if the wound is significant, if you suspect you may need stitches, if you are overdue for a tetanus shot, or if your dog’s rabies vaccines aren’t up-to-date, you’ll want to head to the hospital or an urgent care center and obtain professional medical treatment.
Despite popular belief, dog’s mouths are not completely sterile nor free of bacteria. Accordingly, your doctor may also prescribe antibiotics to prevent an infection from developing.
If the broken skin is more of a scratch than a serious wound, you can usually just clean it with soap and warm water, apply an antiseptic cream, and cover it with a bandage.
But obviously, seek medical assistance if any bite wound doesn’t heal quickly or it starts to look red, inflamed, or infected.
Reapproaching Your Dog After a Bite
Even if the bite you suffered was mild, your adrenaline will still be running high. So, take some time to calm yourself down and be sure your dog has chilled out a bit before you re-approach her.
The first thing we want to do is to assess how she is communicating. I suggest doing so by carefully approaching your dog using a calm voice, averting your gaze, and turning your body away from her.
Try to avoid doing anything confrontational, such as staring her in the eye, standing over her, or invading her space. Allow her to come to you if she isn’t tied or in a kennel.
Watch her dog body language. If she is feeling stressed, anxious, or frightened, her tolerance level may be low so proceed with caution.
Conversely, she may even seem overly excited. But excitement is easy to confuse with anxiety; hyper-arousal and hyper-excitability often go hand-in-hand with feeling nervous.
She may want space, but she may also want to seek you out for comfort. This is totally OK, provided that you feel safe.
She may be just as taken aback by the whole ordeal as you are and may need some comforting and reassurance.
Try to get her out of the confined space and allow her to decompress. Toss some treats for her out in the yard or give her something to chew on her favorite spot.
The next thing we need to do is to figure out the cause of her aggression.
Why Do Dogs Bite? Seeking Answers in the Aftermath
Once the immediate chaos of the bite has passed, it’s time to start figuring out why your dog bit you and what you should do about it.
Try to Determine the Reason Your Dog Bit You
Begin your investigation by replaying the event in your head.
Because our memories often fail us, you may want to write down the incident in as much detail as possible.
- What was happening in the environment at the time of the bite?
- What was your dog was doing at the time?
- Did she give you any warnings such as growling, freezing, or air snapping?
- Was she suddenly startled?
- Was she fighting with another dog?
- Did you touch her near her sore paw?
Also, think about your behavior. What were you doing right before the bite occurred? How did you react? And how did your dog respond to your reaction?
Determining why your dog bit you will help you decide if you need to seek professional help.
When Do You Need to Seek Professional Assistance?
A professional can help you not only figure out what caused your dog to bite you, but can also help you to manage and modify the underlying behavior that caused your dog to bite.
Professional help may not always be necessary, but there are some cases in which it should be considered mandatory.
In general, you’ll want to see seek professional help if:
- She breaks the skin. A severe bite is a cause for concern. Most dogs giving a warning nip will not break the skin when they connect. If your dog bites you and draws blood, it’s a big issue.
- She bites more than one time. This might be more than once in a row or it might be multiple times within the week or month.
- You don’t know what caused her to bite. Once you have ruled out any underlying medical issues that may have caused her to bite, a behavior consultant can help you uncover the root cause.
- You know why she bit you, and you want help with the underlying behavior. This might be fear-based, reactivity towards strangers or dogs, resource guarding, or a plethora of other reasons.
- You are afraid of her. A behavior consultant can help you to understand why your dog bit you, and what you can do to help her. They can give you a plan that will help to keep you and your dog safe.
- There are small children in the house. Children are much more vulnerable to bites than adults (and in fact, statistics show that children are the most common victims of dog bites). Part of this is the way kids tend to interact with dogs. If your dog has snapped at a child, there’s a decent chase the child was invading the dogs space, being inappropriatly rough, or irritating the dog. On top of that, kids are less likely than adults to be able to read more subtle warning signs. Consider keeping a younger child and dog seperate, and for older children, consider educating them about dog body language through Dog Smart Card Game designed to prevent biting incidents for kids.
- You are concerned it will happen again. If you’re worried that this wasn’t a one-off situation, a behavior consultant can help you work on creating a treatment plan to prevent future incidents.
This list is not all-encompassing, and all owners must make the best decisions they can on behalf of their pets. But there is never harm in seeking professional help for your dog’s behavior.
If you’ve decided you need professional help, reach out to a certified dog behavior consultant in your area – not a dog trainer! Dog trainers are not qualified to work with aggression cases and can even make matters worse in some cases. Only consult with a qualified, certified professional who specialized in canine behavior.
My Dog Bit Me – Should I Put Him Down?
This is a very difficult question. But to start out, your dog should not be put down simply for biting someone once, without examining the context of the bite.
Euthanasia is a last resort and should only be considered for severe behavior problems. And even then, the topic remains quite controversial.
It is also a completely personal decision and one not to be taken lightly. I have never recommended this course of action to a client, though I have supported a few families through this difficult decision.
I believe that there are certain cases where it is the humane decision. If a dog is so dangerous that she has to live in complete isolation, thereby ruining her quality of life, there may be no better option.
How do we know if euthanasia should be considered for an aggressive dog? When dogs exhibit a behavior that makes it dangerous to work with them safely, consider the following:
- Severity. If the behavior is overt, lunging, snapping and biting, and if bites are severe in nature (breaking skin, holding, shaking). Severity might also include multiple and often unpredictable triggers and a history of multiple bites.
- No clear warnings. Most dogs will warn of an impending bite – growling, snapping, or even more subtle signs like averting her gaze or freezing. However, a dog who may have been punished for these warning signals in the past may skip those steps altogether and go directly for the bite. This is particularly dangerous.
- Predictability. If you have done your homework – journal taking and note taking – and you still can’t pinpoint her triggers, this can make it extremely challenging to manage her environment.
- Size of the dog. We know that larger dogs with larger jaws and teeth can do much more damage than a Chihuahua or Maltese. This can make certain dogs more dangerous to work with.
- Compliance. How likely will you be able to follow through with a behavior plan? This is a reality of human lifestyles. This might include things such as your financial resources and time allocation.
There is a misconception that love fixes everything. All you need is love. I have seen people who love their dogs dearly, who have done everything right, have worked hard to help their dog overcome her demons, but sometimes it just doesn’t work.
There’s often a ton of guilt associated with behavioral euthanasia for a dog. But sometimes, it’s the only safe and humane option.
You have not failed, you have tried your best.
Should I Use a Muzzle on a Dog That Bit Me?
I am a strong believer that every dog should be conditioned to wear a muzzle.
This just means getting them used to wearing a muzzle before it might ever be needed. This is especially true for any dog who has bitten or is fearful in certain situations and may be inclined to bite during highly stressful situations. Utilizing muzzles is one of our favorite aggressive dog training tips!
A muzzle could make your training safer for everyone. Muzzles can be a useful tool to assure your safety and the safety of others if your dog has bitten in the past.
Once a Dog Bites, Will He Bite Again?
Whether a dog who has already bitten you is more likely to bite in the future is dependent on the situation that caused the first bite. If the underlying behavior issues are not addressed accordingly, there is always the potential for additional bites to occur.
As with any dog, no matter how tolerant our furbaby may be, there is always the potential to bite, or bite again.
Dog bites can be emotional, for both you and your dog. Do you have a dog that has bitten you in the past? Did you figure out her triggers? We would love to hear from you. Sharing stories are a great way to learn from one another!