- Not a substitute for professional veterinary help.
Dog bites can be distressing and dangerous for everyone involved, and it’s understandable to worry about what to do next. Taking prompt and responsible action can make a significant difference in preventing further physical or emotional harm. If the dog bite is severe, seek medical attention first and foremost. “Then, take a break; breathe. Assess the situation practically. If you need help, reach out to a positive reinforcement-based trainer,” says Ali Smith, founder of Rebarkable and an award-winning trainer certified through the United Kingdom-based Institute of Modern Dog Trainers.
She explains that dogs typically bite out of fear rather than malice, so punishing them — which could prompt another fearful response — shouldn’t be your first reaction. We’ll focus on the immediate aftermath of a dog bite and strategies for dealing with the behavior.
The Aftermath: What to Do After A Dog Bite
A dog bite doesn’t necessarily mean the dog is aggressive or that biting will always be a problem. However, it requires immediate medical attention, behavior training, and precautions. While most of us love dog kisses, their mouths aren’t sanitary, and first and foremost, the wound needs appropriate medical attention. If you’ve been bitten by an unfamiliar dog, ask for proof of their rabies vaccination.
When your dog bites you or someone else, follow these important steps:
1. Get out of the dog’s line of sight
If a dog bit you, don’t attempt to restrain them. “Get out of reach, even if it means trespassing,” Smith advises. Restrain a dog only when they are your dog and it feels safe to do. If you must fight back to protect yourself, use a stick or umbrella, not your limbs.
For small dogs, the most effective approach is to scoop them up and move them out of harm’s way. If it’s a large dog, it may be best to take hold of the scruff of their neck and scoop up their waist. This will remove them from the situation and prevent harm. Lastly, Smith says if the dog bites while trying to guard resources, it’s best to leave them alone or establish a tradeoff.
2. Dress and disinfect wounds
If you or someone else was bitten by a dog, immediately clean the wound with gentle soap and water. Even if the bite appears minor, seek medical attention or encourage the victim to seek medical attention. Depending on the severity of the bite, you may need to consult with a doctor, go to urgent care, or rush to the emergency room.
Dog bites can lead to serious infections, including tetanus and rabies. In some cases, the wound may need to be stitched or treated with antibiotics to prevent infection. However, if you’re unable to seek medical attention, monitor the wound for any signs of infection, like redness, swelling, or discharge. Seek medical attention as soon as possible if you notice any of these symptoms.
If a dog is injured, Smith disinfects wounds with hydrogen peroxide. For dogs with long fur, you may need to shave the area in question to better determine the severity of the wound. Overall, Smith says when in doubt, or if skin has been punctured, go to the vet.
3. Carefully reapproach the dog afterward
“Don’t punish your dog for their emotions,” Smith says. Give your dog some downtime, then consider the next steps. If the behavior is out of the norm, go to a check-up with your veterinarian. Once they’ve ruled out any medical conditions, focus on training and providing plenty of exercise to expel excess energy. In more severe cases, consulting a certified dog behaviorist or implementing muzzle training may be necessary.
Will A Dog Have to Be Put Down for Biting?
Most dogs that bite do not need to be put down. If your dog has bitten someone, seek the help of a professional, such as a veterinarian, animal behaviorist, or certified trainer, to address the underlying issues and prevent future bites. Additionally, it is your responsibility to respect your dog’s body language and boundaries. You should use modern no-harm training methods and take proper precautions when your dog is around others.
However, if the attack leads to a criminal charge, the court may determine the dog is a danger to public safety and may require that they be euthanized. If you’re looking for other solutions, Smith says rehoming a dog after an incident could be problematic. “There are risks involved in rehoming the dog, because [it] creates more stress which makes the dog more likely to bite,” she says.
A Brief Overview Of Why Dogs Bite
Dog bites can vary from gentle nibbles to severe wounds. Reasons they might bite include:
- Puppy mouthing
- Prey drive
- Maternal instinct
While play biting may seem harmless, it’s crucial to teach puppies appropriate behavior and discourage biting behavior altogether. This can be done through positive reinforcement training and socialization. Additionally, it’s important to recognize the difference between play and aggressive biting and seek professional help if your dog displays any signs of aggression.
What’s the difference between play and aggressive biting?
Aggressive biting is often a reaction to fear, anxiety, or possessiveness. Dogs show signs of aggression before the bite, including the following. On the other hand, play biting is common in puppies but should be discouraged. When playing, dogs are typically excited with tails wagging and perked-up ears.
- Pinning back ears
- Showing “whale eyes,” or the whites of their eyes
- Dilated pupils
- Furrowing their brow
- Stiff body posture and/or facial muscles
- Raised fur
- Lowering or tucking tail
- Breathing fast or shallowly
- Panting excessively
- Baring teeth
How Common Are Dog Bites In The U.S.?
Dog bites aren’t uncommon in the U.S., making prevention crucial:
- More than 5 million people are bitten by dogs each year in the U.S.
- Approximately 800,000 people receive medical attention for dog bites each year — that’s 1 in 5 victims.
- About 19 people are killed by dogs each year, with the most occurring in Alaska.
- Children are the most common victims.
How to Reduce Or Prevent Dog Biting
Most dog bites occur due to a lack of awareness of how to interact with dogs and respect their space. To prevent dog bites, it’s crucial to understand your dog, socialize them, build trust, and learn to communicate with them.
If you are uncertain about how to handle a dog bite or have any questions, seek assistance from a canine behaviorist. A behaviorist can help identify the cause and work with you to develop a plan of action, such as behavior modification training and reactive leash training. They can also teach you how to recognize and respond to your dog’s body language.
If your dog is acting out of character, Smith says they should be seen by their veterinarian to rule out any underlying medical causes. In short, while dog bites are scary, they don’t have to be a disaster. There are many professionals who can also provide guidance on training, counter-conditioning, and desensitization to help you put them at ease.