Dog Bite Overview

Dog with metal chain collar behaving aggressively, mouth open, bared teethApproximately 4.7 million people are bitten by dogs in the United States every year, and about 20% of those bites required medical attention.[1] 

In 2017, nearly 350,000 people were treated in emergency rooms for non-fatal dog-related injuries.[2] In 2018, nearly 27,000 people underwent reconstructive surgery as a result of being bitten by dogs.[3] And, while rare, dog attacks can be fatal.[4]

Most dog bites and injuries occur while interacting with familiar dogs, thus it is of the highest importance to educate people and their children on how to avoid dog bites.  

In fact, children are much more likely to be severely injured by dog bites because they are smaller and unaware of how to behave around dogs.[5]

Every dog has the capacity to bite, but almost all dog bites are preventable. Below, we’ve outlined some important tips to keep you and your family safe.

Why Do Dogs Bite?

While dogs have been domesticated by humans for thousands of years, they are still animals and will respond to certain stimuli much like their canine ancestors did. From this perspective, there are a number of scenarios which can lead a dog to bite.

Examples of Potential Dog Bite Scenarios:

  • Dog laying down holding a stuffed animal toy, paw holding onto the toyDogs who are possessive of something or someone are likely to bite. If a dog believes something like a toy or its food is going to be taken away, or its territory is being violated, it is more likely to bite.  Some dogs can become so protective of their owners or other household members that they may bite with little provocation.
  • Fear is a common reason dogs bite. Dogs tend to fear strangers such as postal workers, veterinarians, or any individual when they’re in an unfamiliar situation. Dogs will also bite out of fear when they are startled, perhaps by a loud noise, even when at home. Dogs that are abused, abandoned, or stressed can also bite out of fear.
  • A dog that is in pain from a condition like hip dysplasia or another chronic ailment, that has suffered an acute injury like a car accident, or that is simply feeling unwell can bite someone, even someone it usually trusts.
  • A dog’s strong maternal instinct may prompt it to bite those who interfere with her or her puppies.
  • Many dogs have a “prey drive” that impels them to chase things like small animals, cars, and, yes, people. A dog off its lead or out of its enclosure may chase people running or cycling past, which can lead to that person being knocked over and injured, if not bitten.

Approaching an Unfamiliar Dog

  • Person reaching out their hand for an approaching dog to sniffNever approach an unfamiliar dog and teach your children to do likewise. The California Department of Public Health has a delightful free, printable coloring and activity book for children to teach them how to be careful around dogs called Don’t Let the Dog Bite.
  • Even if you think you know the dog well, always supervise young children and babies around your dog or someone else’s dog. Check out the educational resources available for you and your children at Family Paws and the ASPCA for further information.
  • Always let a dog approach you, not the other way around. Moving quickly toward a dog that’s not familiar with you can cause them to bite out of fear. Staying still will allow a dog to feel more comfortable. As long as the dog is not already being actively aggressive, making a dog come to you establishes your dominance in the situation.
  • Don’t kneel down and put your face in front of the dog’s.  Dogs may see this as an aggressive act.
  • Never pet a dog through a car window or over/through a fence, as they may feel strongly protective of their territory.
  • Always ask a dog’s owner or guardian if it is all right to pet the dog, even if the dog appears to be friendly.
  • Let the animal sniff your hand and see you clearly before you pet it. Dog experts advise petting a dog on the shoulder or chest at first, as some dogs may feel that touching their face or head is “too personal” for a first meeting.
  • If you see a dog that is injured, in trouble, or running loose, call animal control first and wait for them to handle the situation.
  • Never try to break up dog fights.

Safe Interactions Between Children and Dogs

Small child outside in the snow with a large furry dog
  • As a dog owner, begin teaching dogs from an early age to be less possessive. This can include training in commands like “Leave it,” which works well with toys. When giving food, train the dog to wait until the food is set before them and your hands are out of the way with the “stay” command. Teach children to never bother dogs that are eating or enjoying a treat like a bone.
  • Teach children that they should never sneak up on a dog or bother a dog that is sleeping, even if it’s your own house pet. Teach children to not make loud noises near a dog with this short video.
  • Stay away from your pet’s sore areas and teach your children to do the same. If your dog suddenly starts snapping at you while petting them, schedule a veterinarian appointment to investigate whether something is causing your dog pain.
  • Instruct children not to approach a young puppy when the mother is nearby, and make sure both mother and puppies have a place where they can feel safe and undisturbed.

Encountering Unleashed Dogs

  • German shepherd dog walking alone without a leashWhen running or cycling, be aware of your environment and try to avoid dogs you see running loose in your path. If a dog does give chase, it is recommended that you stop running or cycling and stand tall while facing the dog. Avoid eye contact with the dog as this may be interpreted as a challenge. You may also want to say “No” or “go home” in a firm, deep voice. The dog may approach and sniff you but will soon become disinterested and allow you to slowly back away.
  • If you are knocked down by a dog whilst riding a bike, running, or walking, curl up into a ball and lace your fingers behind your neck, then lie still. Don’t scream or thrash about as this may heighten the dog’s aggressive tendencies. Teach your children to do the same by making a game out of it. Most of the time, the dog will lose interest and go away.
  • Dog bites are always preceded by warning signs in the dog’s body language if you’re looking for them. A dog’s ears will be pinned back, the fur along its back may be raised, and you may be able to see the whites of the dog’s eyes. If a dog yawns at you in a situation like this, it is not expressing its disinterest but is making a show of its fangs as a warning. If a dog freezes in response to being touched or looked at directly in the eyes, this is a sign that the dog may be ready to bite.
  • If a dog attempts to bite you, put anything you have between yourself and the dog. This could be a bag, a purse, or a jacket. “Feed” the jacket, backpack, or bag to the dog to prevent yourself from being injured. Again, teach these skills to your children.

Precautions For Dog Owners

couple walking their large dog down a rural path
  • As a dog owner, if you do not intend to breed your dog, have it spayed or neutered.  Un-spayed/unneutered dogs are statistically much more likely to bite.
  • Also, as a dog owner, train your dog with basic commands such as ‘sit’, ‘stay,’ ‘come’ and ‘leave it’ to help reinforce the human-animal bond. Dog training can begin for puppies when they are as young as six weeks old.
  • Exercise and play with your dog every day, but avoid aggressive games like wrestling or tug of war, which can cause dominance issues, and don’t permit your dog to nip while playing.
  • Socialize your dog gradually to expose them to different people and situations, which will make them less likely to bite out of fear. Find a humane, rewards-based training program in your area that will both lessen the chances of your dog ever biting someone, and create a lasting bond of companionship with your pet.
  • Don’t chain or tie your dog up outside or leave it unsupervised for long periods of time. Dogs that are isolated in this way become frustrated and can feel defenseless, making them much more likely to bite someone out of fear.
  • When you’re in public places with your dog, keep the dog on a leash. One study found that all dog bites involving children and unfamiliar dogs can be prevented simply by leashing your dog.[6]

If You Or A Companion Are Bitten By A Dog:

  • Brown dog baring its teethIf it appears to be a minor wound, wash the area thoroughly with soap and water, apply antibiotic cream and cover the wound with a clean bandage.
  • If the wound is deep, apply pressure to it with a clean, dry cloth to stop the bleeding, and seek medical attention.
  • If you cannot stop the bleeding or you feel weak or faint, call 911 right away.

Seek medical attention any time a wound is serious or deep, such as when there is uncontrolled bleeding, extreme pain or a loss of function.  

Also Seek Medical Attention If:

  • The wound doesn’t heal well, becomes red, painful, swollen or if you develop a fever,
  • If you are unsure if the dog has been vaccinated for rabies, or
  • If it’s been more than 5 years since you’ve been vaccinated for tetanus and the bite is deep.

Report the bite to local police or animal control, especially if you don’t know if the dog has had a rabies vaccination, or the dog appeared sick or was acting strangely.  

Try to find out who the dog’s owner is and obtain information from them regarding rabies vaccinations for the dog, plus the owner’s name, address, and phone number.

Have you or a loved one been injured by a dog or other domestic pet?

At Martin, Harding & Mazzotti, LLP, we have decades of experience in obtaining the highest compensation for those harmed in dog bite cases. Call us and an experienced legal professional will review your case free of charge. Contact today at 1-800-LAW-1010, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Helping you is what we do.