Each year in the US, approximately 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs, and roughly half of those victims are children. The best way to deal with a dog bite is to avoid one in the first place. Here are some tips on how to avoid those canine teeth and what to do if a bite happens despite your best efforts to protect yourself.
Prevent Dog Bites at Home
It may surprise you to learn that a large percentage of dog bites happen in the home. Fortunately, this is often preventable by following a few key tips:
- Begin basic obedience training early, and always reinforce that you are the top dog.
- Teach your dog to give toys when commanded, to let you put your hands in its mouth, and to never put its teeth on you, even in play.
- Don't allow dominant dogs on the furniture.
- If you have multiple dogs, teach them how to play appropriately with each other without fighting--many bites happen when trying to break up a fight.
Small children should never be left unattended with pets, and they should be taught about proper behavior around canines. They should not tease dogs, cause them pain, or get between a mother dog and her pups, nor should they ever approach a strange dog without permission.
Be Careful When Walking and Exercising
Dog bites also occur when out walking, jogging, or cycling. Try to avoid walking in areas with loose dogs (unfortunately, this includes most dog parks). You may be more of a target for aggression if you are walking your own dog or moving quickly.
If a strange dog approaches you, stop, stand still, and face the dog without a confrontational stare. Try to relax and let the dog sniff you to allay its fear. If you are knocked over, curl up in a ball, and protect your face.
If another dog starts a fight with your dog, never try to break it up by reaching for one of their collars. Instead use a stick to jab them in the ribs, or carry pepper spray. The allowable concentration and volume of pepper spray varies by state, so make sure you are within the law where you live.
Take Action Immediately When a Bite Occurs
If a bite does happen, seek medical attention immediately as needed. Dog bites can cause infection, tissue damage, and even rabies, if the dog is not inoculated.
If the bite occurs outside the home, get the owner's contact information, the dog's vaccination records, and the names and numbers of any witnesses. If the bite is serious enough to warrant medical treatment, have them document it photographically in the ER or urgent care center.
Consult Legal Professionals When Necessary
Depending on the circumstances and severity of the bite, you may need to file a police report. You may also need to engage the services of a personal injury attorney, if the dog's owner is not forthcoming with vaccination records, if they refuse to cover your medical expenses, or if the bite has serious consequences.
Dog bite cases can be quite complex, and you could have a lot at stake, such as your injuries, pain and suffering, property damage, or lost wages. Some things the attorney will ascertain
- Were the owners disobeying public leash or restraint laws?
- Was the dog that bit you a legislated breed that should not have been in public or should have been muzzled?
- Was there just one bite, or did an actual attack occur?
- Did the dog's owners do everything possible to prevent the bite?
State laws vary about "strict liability," the concept that an owner is responsible no matter what. Also, you need to make sure you did not demonstrate "contributory negligence" or "assumption of risk" by entering private property where "beware of dog" signs were posted, for example.
Other tricky areas in dog bite laws involve animal caregivers/dog walkers, parents of minors with pets, and landlords. It's best to let personal injury lawyers sort this out for you, so you can be compensated and move on from the incident.
Sometimes even when owners do everything they can to keep their dogs from biting, accidents happen. Follow the tips above to reduce your risk of being bitten, and don't forget you have legal recourse should a bite occur.