Just the thought of your dog biting someone is a scary one. It’s enough to send your mind racing in a million different directions. Is the victim okay? Is your dog okay? Will there be legal ramifications? Will your dog be taken from you and forced into quarantine, or, even worse, euthanized?
While no one wants to believe their dog would actually bite someone, it does happen. Some quick dog bite stats:
- American households include nearly 90 million pet dogs, according to the American Pet Products Association.
- Approximately 4.5 million dog bites occur in the United States each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
- Out of those bites, an estimated 800,000 result in medical care.
- Homeowners insurers paid out $797 million in liability claims related to dog bites and other dog-related injuries in 2019, according to the Insurance Information Institute (Triple-I) and State Farm®.
Why Do Dogs Bite?
Dogs usually bite people when they feel threatened in some way, are startled by something/someone, or are afraid of something/someone. They can bite to protect themselves, their human pack members, their puppies, their food, one of their favorite toys.
It’s also common for dogs to snap and bite when they are injured and not feeling well.
Dogs may also nip during play. While this is fun for the dog, it can be dangerous for people.
If Your Dog Bites Someone …
Consequences will depend on the bite’s severity, your relationship with the victim, and your dog’s past.
If the dog bite is minor, didn’t cause an injury, and the victim is a family member or close friend then you may get away with a sincere apology and an ice pack. But, things may not be so simple if the bite breaks skin, is severe, and requires medical attention.
Regardless, here are some initial steps to take if your dog bites someone:
- Stay calm. I know this is easier said than done, but try to remain as calm as possible.
- Remove your dog from the situation. If you’re home, confine your dog to his crate or another room. If you’re out, find a secure space, such as your car (just make sure it’s a comfortable and safe temperature).
- Determine how serious the bite is. Did your dog leave a skin scrape but no puncture? Did your dog break skin? Were there multiple bites, leaving deep wounds? Was the victim mauled and severely injured?
- Help the victim. Offer first-aid and help immediately clean any wound thoroughly to avoid infection. If the injury warrants, help the victim seek medical attention. Regardless of the severity, if the bite breaks skin then it’s recommended for the victim to get checked.
- Exchange information with the victim. Trade names and contact details. Additionally, provide your insurance information (if the bite happened on your property then your homeowner’s insurance will likely cover the dog bite, but check your policy).
- If there were witnesses, get their contact information too.
- As soon as you’re able, contact your veterinarian and obtain a copy of your dog’s medical records, specifically his vaccination history. You’ll need proof of your dog’s last rabies vaccine. (We’ll talk more about this below)
- If necessary, inform local authorities of the incident and always comply with their orders.
Throughout this process, be sympathetic to the victim. Avoid being confrontational or laying blame. Of course, this doesn’t mean you’re required to admit fault. Remember: Anything you say can be used against you later if legal action is taken.
Dog Bite Laws
Dog bite laws vary depending on local jurisdiction. You can either do your own research or consult with an attorney about your area’s laws. But, the following are pretty common:
- You’ll likely need to show proof of your dog’s rabies vaccination history.
- It’s not uncommon for a dog to be quarantined. Where your dog is quarantined, and for how long, will depend on the state and your dog’s rabies vaccine status. A vaccinated animal that has bitten someone may undergo a mandatory 10-day quarantine period. That timeframe will be longer for unvaccinated pets. Some states require the dog to stay at an approved animal control facility, while other states may allow the dog to quarantine at their own home.
- Depending on the situation and your dog’s history, your dog may be designated as a “dangerous dog.” If this happens, you may need to comply with specific laws and regulations. Certain states may require owners to register their dog on an official website, practice enhanced supervision and confinement, and adhere to muzzle requirements. The list of requirements goes on, but varies from state to state. You can find out more here.
- If your dog is considered a “dangerous dog” and the victim’s injury was serious – or fatal – the law may require your dog to be euthanized.
- Depending on the unique circumstances, you may face civil and/or criminal charges. If the dog bite victim chooses to press charges or file suit against you, immediately hire an attorney.
Whether or not you’ve been found criminally or civilly liable to pay for the bite victim’s medical expenses, experts say it’s a good idea to offer. And, the sooner the offer is made, the better.
What Is The “One-Bite” Rule?
Have you ever hear the term “one-bite” rule? A lot of people assume it means their dog is entitled to one “free” bite before they can face any penalty. But, that term can be misleading.
Here’s the thing: Some states observe the one-bite rule, which holds dog owners responsible for injuries only if they clearly knew (or should have known) their dog is dangerous.
When making this decision, the court takes a few things into consideration.
- Does your dog often growl and snap at strangers?
- Have there been any previous complaints about your dog?
- Does your dog like to chase after runners or bicyclists?
- Does the dog have a history of fighting with other dogs?
- Sometimes breed is taken into consideration.
As I mentioned above, the rules on liability vary from state to state. Plus, each situation comes with its own unique set of circumstances. Your best bet is to consult with a personal injury attorney if you have any additional questions or concerns.
Preventing Dog Bites
Generally speaking, you can help prevent dog bites with proper training and socialization. It’s also important for everyone (children and adults) to understand basic canine body language. Dogs may not speak our same language, but they do communicate with us. Some signs a dog is scared, anxious, or about to show aggression can include:
- Tail between the legs
- Lowered head
- Ears down
- Lip licking
- Backing away
- Lifting a paw
- Do not run-up to an unfamiliar dog because it will startle him and immediately put him on the defense
- Don’t stare down a dog
- Don’t grab at a dog’s ears or tail
- No climbing on, trampling, pinching, or poking
- No hugging or squeezing an unfamiliar dog – they may not like it and it may put them on the defense
- Don’t interrupt a dog when he’s eating
- Don’t pull dog’s bone or toys out of his mouth. Instead, teach the “Drop It” command.
- Leave dogs alone when they’re sleeping