When a dog bites you, it’s important to know what to do. Not only should you take care of the wounds medically, but, to prevent harm to others, you need to file an official report if your dog bite injuries are serious.
Each year in the U.S., there are close to 5 million dog bite incidents. Sadly, most of the victims are under the age of 10, with the highest number in the 5-9 year old group.
Boys are bitten by dogs more often than girls.
Unfortunately, most of the dog bites are preventable.
This article will discuss:
- Who is most likely to be bitten by a dog?
- Situations where dogs are likely to bite someone
- How Serious are Dog Bites?
- Signs a dog is about to attack
- What to do when a dog bites you
- Taking care of a dog bite wound
Who is most likely to be bitten by a dog?
There are several groups of people most likely to get a dog bite.
Children and Babies
Children come to mind first. They are perceived as weak, and they are not strong. Children are generally uninhibited, and they run to dogs, flapping their arms and yelling with excitement.
While they are having fun, a dog may not view a child’s behavior in the same way.
From 2005 to 2020, 26% of all dog bite fatalities were children and infants younger than 2 years old. During the same period, when you include children up to 10 years old, the number increases to 64%.
Most of us cannot even imagine our dog attacking us, let alone killing a member of our family. However, from 2015 to 2019, there were 74 deaths of dog owners, killed by their own dogs.
To keep this in perspective, we should note that, 53% of the family dogs who killed a family member, were pit bulls, the breed most likely to cause a fatality.
In addition, because of the pack mentality, pet parents with 2 or more dogs are 5 times more likely to suffer a dog bite than those with just one dog.
Pet parents in the way
Another group that sometimes suffers from dog bites is pet parents who interfere in a dog fight.
Dog owners who try to stop a fight between dogs can become the object of one or both of the dog’s aggression!
Never, ever try to stop a dog fight. Dog owners who reach for their dog’s collar, a natural thing to do, put themselves at risk, right in the middle of the fight.
If you must try to remove your dog, a safer way is to grab a dog by its back legs instead of reaching near its mouth. You still run the risk of being bitten, as dogs are quite agile and reach around to bite you.
This, of course, is still risky business!
Other People in Danger
Anyone who has frequent contact with a variety of dogs can also be in danger. This includes professionals like your veterinarian, the groomer, the mailman or letter carrier and your dog’s trainer.
Of course the best solution is prevention. Better to be aware of your surroundings, keep your dog on a leash when there could be trouble and be familiar with the other dogs in your neighborhood.
And make sure that your dog is under control at all times. Training and control of your dog go a long way toward preventing injuries.
Also, it’s important to note that, if your dog shows signs of being aggressive, the sooner you take action to correct his behavior, the more likely you will be successful. Don’t ignore a problem and let your dog’s behavior get worse!
Situations where dogs are likely to bite someone
Of course there are times when a dog is more likely to bite, than others. Here are some that come to mind:
- When someone takes a toy or food from the dog. This is always a bad idea, but especially bad for children. Dogs are naturally territorial about their possessions and especially, their food.
- A dog has not been socialized properly. For example, he has not been around children. You have visitors, and the kids are excited to see your dog. They rush toward him, squealing with delight and waving their hands. This new behavior makes your dog nervous. The situation could easily and quickly escalate into a dog bite incident.
- Your dog has an injury or illness that causes pain. When someone touches him at that spot on his body, he reacts to protect himself.
- A dog with predatory instincts goes after a quick moving object. This can be a bicycle, car, running person or a ball. Fast movement attracts the dog’s attention. If you are riding a bike past the dog’s house, and he starts chasing your bike tires, you can be bitten because your leg is in the way.
- Chained or tethered dogs. From 1979 through 1988, the Journal of the Veterinary Medical Association reports that 26-28% of fatal attacks by dogs were by dogs who were chained at the time of the attack. Most of the victims were children who approached the dogs.
Signs a Dog is About to Attack
When you pay attention to your dog, you will be able to tell whether he’s really stressed and about to take action, or he is just warning you or someone else.
If you listen closely, you’ll see that your dog has different voices. Growling can be threatening someone or something, or it can be playful growling.
If your dog simply wants to play, he will probably lower his front end onto his elbows, while his back end remains up. This is universal dog language for “Let’s play.”
If a dog is warning you, he will stiffen his body and sometimes “freeze”. If he does this, he will stare at you with a threatening look.
A dog who is about to attack will raise the hackles on his back and his hair will stand up. His lip will be raised to show his teeth. And his ears will be laid back or stand out from his body.
You will also see this dog get into a guarded position, where his neck is a bit lower than shoulder level and his head is reaching forward.
Watch the tail. It will be wagging nervously and quickly or it could be wagging just at the tip. In this case, a wagging tail does not indicate a relaxed and happy dog.
If he is getting closer to attacking, the dog may actually lunge or try to get closer to the victim and he may start nipping at the person.
How Serious are Dog Bites?
Dog bites vary in degree. And, based on the severity of a dog’s biting problem, we can evaluate how dangerous a dog is. Ian Dunbar, a veterinarian and animal behaviorist even developed a Dog Bite Scale to make this evaluation objective.
The dog snaps at you and bares his teeth. The dog did not miss you. His near miss was intentional. If a dog did this, he probably gave you other warnings like growling or freezing, and you ignored them. The dog was feeling stressed or fearful and so went directly to the “air bite”.
Level 1 behavior is obnoxious and aggressive behavior that threatens, but there is no teeth contact, no actual bite.
This is a more serious warning. The dog purposefully did not break the skin. But he intends to make sure that you understand his warning.
At Level 2, there might be slight nicks on the skin and a little bleeding, caused by teeth moving forward or side to side on the skin. There are no deep penetrating punctures.
Over 90% of all dog bite incidents are at Levels 1 and 2. Dogs who are aggressive at these levels are not really dangerous. They are more likely to be fearful, rambunctious and out of control. This type of dog responds well to training, and the prognosis going forward is good.
This is a real bite and it punctures the skin. However, the punctures are few and shallow. There is no bruising with this bite.
With this bite, there are usually 1-4 punctures from a single bite, and they are no deeper than half the depth of the dog’s teeth. There may be some deeper lacerations caused by the person pulling their hand away or by the dog’s owner pulling the dog away from the victim.
At this level, you cannot ignore training. Treatment can be time consuming and it could also be dangerous, so you should take appropriate precautions, like using a muzzle, if necessary.
Prognosis for this dog is still fair to good, with good training.
The dog’s biting is now more ferocious, there are at least 1-4 punctures, and they are deeper. At least one puncture is deeper than half the length of the dog’s canine teeth.
With a Level 4 bite, you may see deep bruising around the wound. When biting, this dog will hold on for a few seconds and he will bare down.
In addition, there are slashes from the dog biting and shaking his head. This is very serious biting, and the dog must not be allowed to continue attacking without intervention. This is a very dangerous dog!
Prognosis for this dog is poor. When a dog has bitten at this level, it’s really hard to break the habit. He should be confined to his home at all times, except for visits to the vet, with a muzzle.
Only adults should be near this dog, never children or even guests to the home. When outside, the dog should be confined to a roofed, chain-link run.
File a report when a dog bites you this hard
If you have had a Level 4 dog bite, you need to file a dog bite report with animal control or the police. No matter how serious the bite, you should still do this. The report is filed with local city or county authorities.
Filing this report documents your case and actually helps anyone else who is bitten by the same dog. This gives the authorities a paper trail and a history.
You’ll want to ask for a history on this dog. Has it bitten someone before you?
There is a legal category, “potentially dangerous” or “dangerous” that a dog law officer may use. If the dog has been designated in one of these categories, you’ll want to know that.
To be classified as Level 5, a dog must have bitten at least twice at Level 4, and he may have multiple dog bite incidents at other levels.
Because he must be isolated, this dog’s life is very difficult. His prognosis is very poor, because of the difficulty and danger of trying to rehabilitate an adult hard-biting dog.
One of the problems with this type dog is that owners are seldom wholly compliant, and they tend to make excuses for the dog or defend its actions.
This dog’s life is so difficult in solitary confinement that euthanasia is recommended.
This level is horrific, and the victim dies. This dog is extremely dangerous. It is not safe to have him around anyone, including his owner.
What to do when a dog bites you
So, even if you have socialized your dog well and trained him to obey you, you or a family member may still be attacked by your dog or another person’s dog.
What should you do? Well, there are some actions that you should take immediately. If the injury is serious enough, you may well end up in court over the attack.
Here’s what one dog bite lawyer recommends:
Identify the dog and the owner and get contact information.
Ask for proof of the dog’s rabies vaccination. If the dog has not been vaccinated, or you can’t prove that he was, you will be forced to undergo a series of painful and expensive shots. This generally costs over $3000.
Get medical help. Depending on the extent of the injuries, call 911, see your physician, or go to the emergency room of a hospital.
Even if the injury doesn’t seem that bad, you should do this anyway. The risk of an infection with a dog bite is very high.
Photograph your injuries
Have someone take photos of your injuries. Even if the bite did not break the skin but left only bruises.
Include photos of your torn or blood-soaked clothing and make sure you document where the attack occurred.
Get a Lawyer
Legal issues surrounding dog attacks are very complicated. Part of the problem is sorting out who was at fault.
You will want to be represented, whether your dog bit someone or you were attacked by someone else’s dog.
Start a Journal
You need to do this if you anticipate filing an insurance claim or a claim against the dog owner. Legal proceedings can take several years. You need to keep records of your physical changes and your thoughts and feelings.
A good website to check out is https://dogbitelaw.com
Taking Care of the Wound when a Dog Bites You
If you are bitten by a dog, you need to take care of the wound right away. Depending on how serious the bite is, you should seek medical attention.
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) estimates that there are 4.5 million dog bites each year, and nearly one of five bites becomes infected.
Here’s what you need to do, right away:
- Wash the wound with mild soap and warm water. Let the water run for 5-10 minutes. There will be a lot of bacteria in the wound from the dog’s mouth.
- Slow down the bleeding. You can use a clean cloth or gauze held tightly on the wound.
- Apply a cream like Neosporin to the wound.
- Wrap the wound in a sterile bandage.
- Change the bandage several times a day.
- Watch for signs of infection, like swelling, redness, increased pain, fever and pus.
So, of course, the most important approach is prevention. When you commit to having a dog like a Bichon Frise, it’s important to understand that there are responsibilities that go along with dog ownership.
Training and socializing your dog is critical, for your family’s safety and for the safety of others.
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