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April 2024

What Do You Do If Your Dog Bites Someone?

Monday, December 5, 2022
posted by Jim Murphy

What do you do if your dog accidentally or intentionally bites someone? has put together a very helpful article that outlines this problem. Hopefully, this will never happen to you but if it does, here are some guidelines.

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 puppy. 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. 

Remember, pets are family!
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