Deep down, you’ve always feared this day would come. You have an amazing and loving dog who happens to be a little overprotective. And finally, it happened. Your dog bit someone.
The laws vary from place to place, but you know what could happen in the worst-case scenario. You could lose your beloved pup.
So in this post, we’re going to cover everything you should know about handling this intense situation.
TIP: Prevention is the best practice!
In most cases, dog owners know whether their dog is likely to bite another human or attack another dog. Usually, you can see the signs of aggression long before an event like this happens. We’re going to cover those signs also, so if you aren’t sure what they are, read on.
But if you’re researching this topic on the mere likelihood that this may happen, I urge you to take action before your dog bites someone.
The quickest and easiest route to solving the dog aggression problem is by working with a professional trainer.
Now, let’s get down to it.
In this post, we’ll cover:
- First steps to take after a dog bite
- Potential legal consequences
- Signs of aggression to look for in your dog
- How to prevent your dog from biting
First Steps to Take After a Dog Bite
- Pull your dog away from the other person, if at all possible
- Let the other person know you are going to remove your dog from the area. IMPORTANT: Do not leave until you’ve addressed it with the person your dog bit!
- Remove your dog from the area and walk about 50 feet away
- Calm your dog down to reduce any chance that you will lose control of your dog.
Secure or crate your dog in another room if the incident happens in your home. If it happens at a park or on the street and you’re with another person, let them take the dog away while you handle this. This can be a bit more difficult especially if your dog is acting erratically and aggressive. You’ll have to make a judgment call.
After the situation is in a more stable condition, there is still another person who has been bitten by your dog. Much of what happens next is up to the person who your dog bit, so you need to put your best foot forward right now. Show them that you care about what just happened and you are taking responsibility.
At the very least, exchange contact information. Send records of your dog’s immunizations, especially rabies shots, to the other person right away.TIP: Keep these records on hand whenever you are with your dog!
Having your dog’s records will help them determine what kind of medical care they may need. It will also make their care go more smoothly.
If the bite victim needs medical assistance, call 911 or make sure they can get to a nearby medical facility.
If you can’t access your dog’s medical records, get them from your vet as soon as possible.
Who YOU Should Call
Make sure the other person is okay (or in good hands) at this point. Call your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance company as soon as you’ve exchanged contact information. From here, they may contact the bite victim’s insurance company to discuss reimbursement for medical care. This might help cover medical care and/or lost wages due to the bite.
Just keep in mind that some insurance policies have exclusions for certain breeds, so there’s a chance your policy won’t cover the bite. They also may not cover the bite if your dog isn’t listed on the policy.
Next, you may want to call an attorney. Dog bite incidents can pose ongoing legal issues for the dog owner, and it’ll be good to know someone is looking out for your best interest. Dog bites typically take a long time to heal, so this can drag on for some time. Be prepared.
When to Call the Police
It’s largely up to the bite victim whether or not to involve the police. They have the right to call the police especially if the bite broke the skin.
TIP: You’re going to be scared, but try your best to show some compassion for the other person.
You may need to be the one to call the police if this bite was more like an attack and the person has serious injuries. In this case, you’d probably call 911, and they would dispatch police officers along with the ambulance.
When Does Animal Control Need to Be Involved?
The rules for involving animal control vary from state to state but know that the bite victim can call animal control whenever they wish.
There are some cases where animal control must get involved, regardless of what the bite victim wants.
In many states, including California, New York, and North Carolina, someone must call animal control if the bit victim seeks medical care for the bite.
Animal control will ensure the dog is up-to-date on his vaccinations, and they’ll investigate whether the dog has a history of biting or other dangerous habits.
Potential Legal Consequences of Your Dog Biting Someone
Now that the bite victim is on the mend and everyone who could be called was called, it’s time to brace for impact.
There are potential legal consequences whenever your dog bites someone, so it’s good to know what you’re up against.
The outcome largely depends on the state where the bite occurred, so you should probably talk to a lawyer – but we’re going to cover a few possibilities here.
- Strict liability – Some states operate on a strict liability standard. This means that you’re at fault no matter what. No one has to prove that you were negligent. If your dog bit someone, you’re to blame. There are usually some exceptions to the strict liability standard to include cases where the dog has obviously been provoked.
- Modified strict liability – Other states operate on a more lenient version of the strict liability standard. In these states, you are automatically responsible for the bite if you have a dog that is “off leash,” “at large,” or “not under control.”
- Dangerous dog laws – Almost every state has what’s called a dangerous or vicious dog law. A dog may be deemed dangerous if it falls under a certain breed or has a history of biting or other aggressive behaviors.
- Responsibility for negligence – Most other states require that the bite victim, responding officers, or witnesses make a case for negligence against you in order for you to be legally responsible. So if your dog was off-leash or you walked her up to a group of people, and she attacked, you may be liable. In these states, there’s more of a grey area where you have room to prove your innocence. And it will be up to the judge to decide whether or not you are liable.
Signs of Aggression to Look for In Your Dog
The best way to deal with your dog biting another person is through prevention. Every dog owner should be well-versed in the signs of dog aggression. Most dogs won’t bite without warning, so look for the following signs in your dog to know when to remove him from a potentially dangerous situation:
- A sudden still or rigid disposition
- Lunging at another person or dog
- Muzzle punches (the dog pushes or punches its muzzle against a person or dog)
- Excessive mouthing (unless it’s a puppy)
- Growling or showing teeth
- Guttural or other threatening bark
And obviously, if your dog nips, it’s an apparent warning that she’s about to bite. Separate your dog from this person or animal immediately.
Many (but not all) dog bites can be avoided if the owner remains diligent and acts on their instincts.
How to Prevent Your Dog From Biting
Many dog breeds get a bad rap for being aggressive or dangerous when most of them are sweet and docile.
But here’s the thing
If you own a dog that has the physical capability to do serious harm to another person or animal, you’re going to have to get that dog adequate training. You never know what could happen, and in some states, you’re more likely to be liable without regard to circumstances.
With that said, all dogs should be socialized and trained. So regardless of breed or size, if you’re worried about your dog biting someone, get your dog the help it needs.
TIP: Make sure your dog is on your insurance policy.
If you own a dog that’s restricted by your current policy, look for another policy. There’s a reason why that breed is restricted (even if it only comes down to liability laws), and that’s all the more reason to get it covered under your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance. At the very least, get pet insurance that covers bites.
And whenever you add a new dog to your household, remember to call your insurance company.
No one ever wants to be in this situation (on either side). So what do you do if your dog bites someone? You now have a plan to do everything in your power to make things right and there’s a better chance that you’ll have favorable results. Most importantly, preventing an accidental dog bite is always better than dealing with an accidental dog bite.
Have you ever owned a dog who bit someone? Share your story and any extra tips you learned from it.
Author Bio: Robert Hamparyan is one of California’s most accomplished personal injury lawyers. He first attended the University of Southern California, where he received his B.A. After receiving his undergraduate degree, he proceeded to the Western State University School of Law where he received his Juris Doctor Degree. Hamparyan Personal Injury Lawyers San Diego was founded so that Robert could bring more of his skill and knowledge to personal injury victims in all types of cases.