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What to Do If Your Dog Bites Someone

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Dog Training By Gem Sheps 10 min read November 3, 2019

dog bit someone

Seeing your dog bite someone is a nightmare no dog owner wants to endure. It’s stressful for everyone involved and the consequences can be severe. 

Dogs bite for a wide variety of reasons, including fear, high arousal levels, and even trained or reinforced aggression.

But no matter the context of the bite, you have to handle things carefully.

Please note: This article is only intended for general informational purposes, as the circumstances surrounding every bite will differ. Always contact an attorney in your state to help protect yourself and your pooch following a bite incident.

What Happens When a Dog Bites a Human?

The consequences of a dog bite depend on the severity of the bite, the relationship you have with the person who was bitten, and even your dog’s breed.

If the bite is minor and the person who got bitten was a family member or close friend, you may get by with a sincere apology and some first aid.

On the other hand, if the bite is severe and requires medical attention or your dog is a large or perceived “aggressive” breed, there may be legal ramifications.

The same applies to dogs with a history of bites. In rare cases, owners may even face criminal charges.

Follow the steps outlined below to assess the situation and be proactive in protecting yourself and your dog.

dog bites somebody

What You Should Do If Your Dog Bites Someone

First and foremost, maintain your composure. Apologize to the victim and let them know you’re going to help them.

Take Your Dog Out of the Equation

First, you need to remove your dog from the situation immediately. Let the victim know you’re going to put your dog away and come right back. 

If you’re out and about, find somewhere secure to put your dog such as your car (make sure the temperatures are comfortable). If you can’t find somewhere to safely leave your dog unattended, securely hitch him to a tree, a post, or any other solid, immovable thing you can find. 

Stand close enough to your dog that you can warn people to stay away, but not close enough that the person who was bitten is at risk to be bitten again. 

Figure Out How Severe the Bite Is

Once your dog is no longer a concern, you and the victim have to evaluate the severity of the bite. A helpful tool for this is Dr. Ian Dunbar’s Dog Bite Scale:

  • Level 1:  Mouthy, obnoxious, or aggressive behavior without teeth-to-skin contact. This can look like a dog jumping up, pawing or punching, nipping or tugging at clothing, etc. 
  • Level 2: Teeth-to-skin contact, but no puncture. This includes tooth scrapes, and may entail “slight bleeding caused by forward or lateral movement of teeth against skin.”
  • Level 3: One to four punctures caused by a single bite that are shallow — no deeper than half the length of the dog’s canines. There may also be scrapes or lacerations from the victim pulling their hand away.
  • Level 4: One to four punctures caused by a single bite that are deep — more than half the length of the dog’s canines. There may be bruising or lacerations from the dog holding on and shaking its head.
  • Level 5: Either a multiple bite incident with two or more Level 4 bites, or a multiple attack incident with at least one Level 4 bite per victim.
  • Level 6: The dog killed the victim.

In most cases, a Level 6 bite is administered to a prey animal — rabbits, birds, and even domestic cats. Luckily, a Level 6 bite administered to a human is pretty rare; in 2018, only 36 dog bite-related deaths were reported.

According to Dunbar’s Bite Scale, Level 1 and 2 bites are the most common and the most easily solved. Professional training will probably be enough to prevent future bites. If your dog nips someone and you’re able to smooth things over with them, look for trainers who can help with dogs who nip when fearful or excited.

Level 3 bites have a decent outlook as long as the victim is willing to work with you and you’re willing to start a rigorous training program. The victim might need medical attention, and despite the moderacy of the bite a lawsuit is quite possible. 

Levels 4 bites are extremely serious. A dog who administers a Level 4 bite has little to no “bite inhibition,” which is the ability to stop himself from biting. Training this behavior away is not only difficult and time consuming, it can be dangerous. The victim will require medical attention and there’s a higher likelihood that you could be sued.

Level 5 and 6 bites are typically inflicted by dangerous dogs with little to no chance of rehabilitation. Unfortunately, dogs who inflict bites of this level of severity may need to be euthanized, and the owner may face criminal charges. 

Administer First Aid if Necessary

Now that you know how severe the bite is, you should help administer the proper first aid if possible. 

Always make sure the victim thoroughly washes out the wound — use mild soap (nothing with fragrances) and plenty of water. Pat the wound dry with paper towels or a clean cloth use pressure stop further bleeding.

First aid dog bite

If the bite is a Level 3 or above, the victim should seek medical attention — this goes especially for people who are high risk for infection, such as elderly people or young children. 

Though untreated dog bites only get infected about 16 percent of the time, the treating physician may recommend a course of  prophylactic antibiotics — antibiotics that you take to prevent an infection from growing.

In some cases, stitches or staples may also be needed to treat the bite.

Exchange Information With the Victim

Not unlike when you get into a car accident, you want to make sure you exchange info with the victim. Get the victim’s name and number, and an email address if possible so that you can send them your dog’s vaccination records.

Try to get contact information from any witnesses as well. If the matter ever gets taken to court their testimony may be helpful. 

Contact an Attorney

Situations that involve uncooperative victims (or family members of victims) or severe bites will likely lead to legal action

Preparing yourself is the best way to be protect yourself and your pupper. Contact an attorney immediately. This way, even if nothing comes of the situation, the attorney will have all the information he or she needs to help you.

Contact Your Insurance Company

When your dog bites someone on your property (which may include your car), it’s important that you reach out to your home or renter’s insurance to alert them of the incident.

Most insurance policies have coverage for medical expenses for injuries that took place on your property. 

If a Dog Bites Someone, Will It Be Put Down?

There’s no federal law that covers the ramifications of a dog bite; the consequences will vary from state to state and even from one city to the next.

The greater the severity of the bite and the less cooperative the victim will both increase the likelihood that your dog could be euthanized. 

Pit bulls and other “dangerous” breeds may have specific statutes dedicated to dog bite incidents. 

In most cases, your attorney will be able to explain how likely the court will force your dog to be euthanized and provide advice about what (if anything) you can do to help avoid this eventuality. 

What to Do if Your Dog Bites a Child

In cases where the victim is a child, it’s important to try and determine what the cause of the bite was. Even if you only saw the tail-end of what happened, it’s somewhere to start.

The reasoning for this is that if the bite was provoked, your dog may get off with a warning

Many children don’t know how to handle dogs properly. They may pull on them, hit them, stand on them, and do other things that could cause the dog to eventually snap.

And, since children can’t read dog body language unless taught (we suggest this fun dog body language card game for kids from Good Dog in a Box), they don’t know the warning signs and cannot stop before they cross the dog’s aggression threshold.

dog bites child

Try to keep in mind that this is a high-stakes emotional situation — the parent of the child will probably be agitated and may lash out at you. Remember to maintain your composure; mom is feeling just as shaky and scared as you are, if not more.

Always sequester your dog and seek medical attention first, as you would with any bite. Then, try to talk to the kiddo — with their parent, of course — about what happened if they’re old enough. 

If they are not old enough to talk things through, wait until the parent has calmed down before discussing what happened. Pushing too hard could overwhelm them and reduce the likelihood of a positive resolution.

If the bite was unprovoked and the dog snapped for an unrelated reason or went out of its way to bite the child, however, there will likely be further repercussions.

Minimally, your dog will need to work with a certified trainer. 

What Happens When a Dog Bite is Reported?

After a dog bite occurs and the victim seeks medical attention, the doctor is required by law to report the bite to the health department. 

The reason for this is to help control the spread of rabies — reporting bites and the behavior and health information of the animal who bit somebody helps determine where rabies outbreaks start and shuts them down early. 

Once the bite is reported, you will likely be required to quarantine your dog for 10 days.

According to American Humane, the quarantine is 10 days because “a rabies-infected animal can only transmit the disease after clinical signs have developed, and once these signs have developed the animal will die within 10 days.”

Depending on where you live, you may be able to quarantine your dog at home. Some states, however, require that the animal be surrendered to an animal control facility or shelter for the quarantine. 

Caring for Your Dog After He’s Bitten Someone

In addition to dealing with the person who was bitten, you should take time to evaluate your dog’s behavior during and after the event.

Having an idea of why your dog crossed his threshold and bit someone is important. Try to remember how your dog’s body language looked right before the bite. 

  • Was he cowering low to the ground with his tail tucked and ears back? 
  • Was he trying to guard a resource like a toy, food, or even his water bowl?
  • Was he giving warning signals like growling or snarling?
  • Was he acting completely normally?

These are questions that a trainer will ask you when evaluating your dog for behavior modification, so knowing how to answer ahead of time is helpful.

Preventing Future Bites: The Magic of Dog Muzzles

A fantastic and humane tool to help prevent future bites is a muzzle.

Many owners worry that a muzzle will decrease their dog’s quality of life, but when a dog is properly muzzle trained he can be just as happy with a muzzle on as he is when he’s not wearing it.

dog muzzle to prevent bites

Before you start looking for the best dog muzzles (or heck, even making your own muzzle), it’s important to know that you can’t just slap a muzzle on your pooch and consider the job complete and your dog safe.

Instead, you must also start muzzle training your canine, which includes desensitizing him to the actual muzzle and getting him used to wearing it.  

Find a Trainer That Specializes in Behavior Modification

If your dog gets off with a warning, you’ll want to get him into training right away. Socializing an aggressive or reactive adult dog is no easy feat, and it requires a lot of time and dedication. 

training dog after bite

Your best bet is to find a dog trainer that specializes in behavior modification for aggressive and reactive dogs. This isn’t a problem you should deal with on your own, especially if there’s a risk that your dog could bite again.

***

Has your dog nipped or bitten someone? Have you ever had to negotiate the legal process following a bite? Do you use a muzzle to keep your dog safe while in public?

Let us know all about your experiences in the comments below!

dog bites owner
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Written by

Gem Sheps

Gem is a Denver-based animal industry professional and up-and-coming content creation specialist. They have experience in dog training and behavior, sheltering, and they currently work for a veterinary clinic.

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