When the Dogs Bite

A little while ago, I was officially initiated into the world of dogdom. At least, that’s how I’ve decided to view the, uh, “altercation”. That way It sounds more like a formal rite of passage than the sad event it was. You can probably guess from the title: for the very first time, I was bitten by a dog.

The time and the place don’t really matter. Other than the fact that it was a location the dog never should have been.

He was a pretty boy. Energetic and strong. He gave off no obvious warning signs. None that I was capable of picking up on anyway. I could tell he was edgy and I wanted to help calm him down.

Because of who I am, I initially blamed myself for the incident. Something in his eyes should have alerted me. I should have paid more attention. However, the more I look back on it, what strikes me the most was that the dog approached me first. Perhaps he felt trapped, like he had no choice. Looking away, I knelt down and let him sniff. I then offered him a treat, which he took without hesitation. Reaching out, I slowly pet his side. He tolerated this without complaint. A few seconds later, just as I was about to pull away, his mouth was on my arm.

It happened so quickly, so silently, I didn’t know what to do. I just stood up and watched the dog’s owner yank him away. The man growled at the dog, correcting him with the leash, but did nothing else to remove the terrified animal from the situation.

In the intensity of the moment, I just wanted to shake it off. I told the owner it was okay and I carried on. My arm hurt and the dog’s teeth marks were visible, but I pretended not to notice. There was a little blood but I only spotted that later, after the dog was gone. Mostly I was too shocked to take it all in.

Hours after the fact, when I was able to consider the event rationally, I became angry. Not with the dog, of course, with the human who is supposed to take care of him. I have always felt that a dog’s actions are never, ever, the dog’s fault. When a dog bites, the only one at fault is the owner. Period. The way this man handled the situation suggested to me the dog has bitten before. He went through the motions of being upset and telling the dog how bad he was, but he didn’t seem fazed.

Furthermore, the dog gave no obvious warning signals. He didn’t growl, he didn’t curl his lip, he didn’t flatten his ears. No doubt there were cues I didn’t pick up on, but I would have noticed those central ones. This tells me the dog has been punished in the past for giving such cues. The only time I witnessed any clear fearful behaviour was when the owner spoke to the dog. That’s when the tail went between his legs, that’s when the ears pinned to this side of his head, that’s when he started to wildly pant.

I am not saying his owner abuses him, but I do think he is clueless regarding his own pet’s feelings. He had no idea just how freaked out his dog was. If he did, I like to think he would have kept the poor animal at home.

Have you been bitten by a dog? How did you handle it? Was there something I should have done afterwards? The bite itself wasn’t serious and I didn’t bother getting it checked out. The worst part was the ugly bruise but even that has faded now. The only lasting affect is that it has made me more hesitant about approaching strange dogs. That probably isn’t a bad thing.

33 thoughts on “When the Dogs Bite

  1. I have not been bitten by a dog, but my husband has. The owner had it off leash and the dog ran over an bit him. It happened very fast. It broke the skin, so of course we had to make sure the dog was up to date on rabies.

    In that case, I blamed the owner, because obviously he had no idea about his dog and should have kept it leashed. But I disagree that a biting dog is always the fault of the owner. I think sometimes there are dangerous dogs. They are born that way an no amount of training or rehab can help them. Unfortunate, but true.

    Glad to hear you are OK. 🙂

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    • i have yet to hear of a scenario where i blamed the dog. I believe a puppy’s OWNER can train it to be a good dog, even if the puppy’s parents were known man-eaters. I also believe a new owner for older dogs that have developed bad habits can re-trained them to be wonderful companion pets. Sounds like this owner needs to learn how to help his dog so a more serious bite doesn’t occur.

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    • Thanks. I agree, there definitely are some dangerous dogs. But it is still the owner’s responsibility to keep these dangerous dogs from hurting others. If you think your dog is a danger to others, don’t bring her to very public places or events where she will be in contact with people and other dogs.

      Normally I don’t make a habit of petting strange dogs, but due to the nature of this event, where the dogs would be interacting very closely with humans, I made an exception. And paid for it, obviously. 😛

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      • I agree in your scenario and with my husband’s those were the owner’s fault. I did not explain very well, and I am sure that I am not now, but I was thinking about dogs who bite their owners despite the owners best efforts to rehab the dog.

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        • Ah, yes. That’s a separate thing from what I meant. I guess I could have been clearer as well. Those stories are simply heartbreaking. I actually have a friend who adopted a dog, a golden retriever, and recently had to find her a new home because her aggression issues were just too much for her to handle. That’s such a tough situation.

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  2. Sometime it is the dog – sometimes it is the owner. I have been bit more than once – both times the dogs were running loose – a doberman bit me when I was a kid delivering newspapers – and my neighbors dog bit me once when I was breaking up a fight. With the owner there to handle the dog – you need to then look after yourself. If the owner is there make sure the dog is up to date on its shots. You need to clean the wound as soon as possible – and keep an eye out for infection. Dog’s do not always give you notice they are going to bite – but if they are in a non familiar – stressful situation, it can happen. Glad you are healing up

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    • Thanks! I will be okay. The whole thing just kind of surprised me. Mostly I feel bad for the dog, who never should have been there. It was just a huge fail from the very beginning.

      I still can’t understand the owner’s reaction. If it had been me with Shiva, and she had actually bitten someone, I would have been horrified and immediately removed her from the scene, realizing the gigantic mistake I’d made in bringing her there. This owner carried on as if nothing had happened. That’s what throws me the most.

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  3. I am so sorry to hear you were bitten! When I got bitten, the owner didn’t apologize or anything. Like you, I wasn’t mad at the dog, I was mad at the owner for not being more responsible. Everyone told me I should confront the owner, but I never did. I am bad at confrontation…

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    • I am terrible at it, too. Actually, my first thought was about the owner. I didn’t want to make him feel bad. Isn’t that silly? I was so worried about offending him and being polite, that I tried to cover the bite marks so he wouldn’t see.

      I am so sorry you were bitten as well. It’s not a fun experience. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be seriously hurt that way.

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  4. I’ve been bitten three times, twice my fault once the owner’s fault. The first two were by my own dog (childhood) and the latter was a little tiny squeaky dog that bit my heel as I walked away from it on the sidewalk.

    The owner let the dog out and the dog started running at me, so I ignored it and just kept walking and the little stinker ran up behind me and bit me!

    I said, “Your dog bit me” and the guy said, “he’s never done that before.” Picked the dog up and went inside.

    I called the dog warden because the dog broke the skin and I needed to make sure it was up to date on shots. We found the guy and the dog was up to date and that’s the end of it as far as I know.

    I think in general we should always be careful approaching a new dog especially one on a leash, a leash really changes things for dogs.

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    • We should, absolutely. It is a mistake I won’t make again. I assumed the circumstances of the event made it okay, but that was clearly very wrong. I can’t trust others to know their dogs well enough. It’s just not worth it.

      I am sorry you’ve had three unfortunate encounters. Really I guess it’s surprising this was my first time. I have almost been bitten by several little dogs in the past but they never made real contact. I hope it never happens again.

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    • I thought about that but I don’t trust our local animal services. Also, I was in a unique position and I worried about potential fall-out in other ways. Foolish, I know, but I just really felt uncomfortable reporting the details. At this point I don’t know the owner’s name or where he lives anyway. I would hope this person would keep his dog far away from children. But then, if he brought him to the event in question that hope may be in vain. 😛

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  5. It’s common for fearful dogs to allow petting and then to act out once what is scaring them (you) is withdrawing. We had this issue with Sadie when we first adopted her – she would let strangers pet her and then she would snap at them as they withdrew. She even once did this to a child! Luckily, we adopted her before her fear snapping turned to bites but that was definitely the road she was headed down. That is why I NEVER let strangers pet her while we were out and about until I was 100% convinced she was rehabilitated and no longer at that level of fear. We’ve had her for 4 1/2 years and it’s only been the last 6 months that I’ve felt she is confident enough to say hello to strangers and no longer fearful of them. It is seriously irresponsible for that owner to have allowed you to interact with his dog if that situation has happened before. Unfortunately, it’s likely that someday the dog will pay for its owner’s irresponsibility.

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    • I agree, and those are my primary concerns as well. The dangerous dog laws in this city concern me greatly, and are part of the reason I decided not to report the bite. The owner needs to be educated on how to live and work with his fearful dog. This dog should not have been at this event. End of story.

      Thank you for working so much with Sadie to help her conquer her fears! I know it is not easy. Shiva still gets a little nervous around people and I would rather strangers not pet her until she can relax. I almost never let children go near her. While she has never snapped at anyone as far as I know, I have worked very hard to keep it that way. I take my job as her human very seriously. Congratulations on all your success! That is no small hurdle to climb.

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  6. I agree with sara (in theory.) I’ve never been bitten and I’m sure I would have handled it like you did. But all bites should be reported in case this dog does more serious harm.

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    • You are probably right, but I just didn’t feel good about it at the time. Unfortunately, I don’t have this person’s information anyway so there isn’t much they could do. For the dog’s sake I hope this owner gets a clue before it is too late.

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  7. Eesh. This must have been scary. I have been bitten by a few little dogs, because I tend to not adequately respect them and therefore not pay attention to their signals. I have never been bitten by anything bigger than 15 pounds, for which I’m thankful. Ben was bitten by Baby Blue, our poor little foster dog who just couldn’t get her wits together in this world. That was scary, but not actually dangerous — she was clearly giving him the “I’m scared, please back off” warning signs with her little nip, rather than trying to actually hurt him. But still — lack of obvious and visible signs is always dangerous in a way.

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  8. Wow – how awful, for you and for the dog. Sorry you got bit – lucky it wasn’t worse! That’s the biggest problem you hear about dogs that are punished for displaying their discomfort.
    😦
    Take away their communication and they’re left with fight or flight. And if the dogs on leash….not many choices left.

    Aside from several “play” accidents, I’ve only gotten bitten once, and it was minor, by a dog we were “trial adopting” for a weekend. He also snapped at Nick’s face, and he too gave no visible warning (at least to us) in either instance. He was a very dominant rottie cross who immediately felt he owned the house, he wouldn’t even let Nick in the door from work the first night he was here.

    He was also only around a year old, (but already outweighed me), and most likely could have been rehabilitated, but we had just lost a dog with severe anxiety and dog aggression, and at that time we just we’re not willing to take on such a challenge and so we agreed he wasn’t right for us and returned him at the end of the weekend to the vet’s office where they were boarding him. We also told the techs about his issues, and they didn’t seem surprised. 😦

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  9. Hi Kristine, my mom’s been bitten, twice by her own dogs. I bit my dad’s thumb and punctured his nail when they first came to see us for adoption. My dad has said that I was lucky my mom said that they’d take both Owen and I because I had bit my dad earlier (oops, sorry Dad). Anyways, my mom had to go to the hospital to get a tetanus shot. She wasn’t happy about that. I’m not going to tell you who did that one. Anyways, it’s all water under the bridge and they haven’t put us up for adoption in 7 years so I think we’re okay. Oh yes, my dad always asks approaching dog owners whether their dog is “friendly”. My dad wants to avoid any problems.

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  10. Scary stuff. One of my biggest “biting” concerns is all the dog owners out there who have trained their dogs that it is NOT ok to growl. In my opinion, teaching your dog they can’t growl is like setting a bomb, then taking away that ticking sound, so you have no idea when the explosion is coming. It’s such a sad and misguided way to train your dog and it puts the dog and the people around them at a huge risk for bites.

    You can’t get mad at yourself – the owner should have known better – and that fact that you didn’t want to put the dog at risk, due to the owner’s stupidity only shows what a caring person you are.

    I was bit once, by a GSD at our local park in a very similar situation and it broke the skin, with some minor bleeding. His owner showed me exactly what the problem was in the seconds that followed: him. I was lucky that our trainer had just started a training class with fearful dogs in our neighborhood and I informed him that he and his dog would be taking the class or I would be reporting the incident. I don’t know what I hwould have done if the trainer and I hadn’t been talking about the class that very morning and considering taking Koly to it (he was a very timid baby). Probably – I would have done exactly what you did. The guy was legitimately upset that it happened, he just had no idea how to train or handle his fearful dog – and in retrospect, I probably should have realized the angle of the wag and the low slow movement of his tail probably wasn’t the “friendly” greeting the owner declared it to be. You live, you learn!) According to my trainer, he had a much better working relationship after the classes were completed.

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  11. Wow, I’ve never been bitten by a dog but I imagine it had to be a scary thing to have happen. I’m so sorry that happened 😦 I would have been livid with the owner. From what you described, it definitely sounds like it’s something that’s happened before and that owner should have alerted you to that fact.

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  12. you might not believe this but it’s true –

    i was bitten several times when I was a child. mostly because i was mad for dogs and was friendly with most of the ones in town. truly.

    anyway, the 2 incidents i most remember are 1. being bitten by a pack of daschunds [around the ankles of course]

    2. another dog that drew blood [i was on my way to class and it goes to show how cool i was about these things that i continued on to class. it was some hours later when my parents found out, that i got my rabies/tet jabs.] what was strange however, was that the dog died a few days later. while i understand some people have died from dogbites, this is the only case i know of where the dog died from biting someone [possibly].

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  13. I was bit once by Brut, having to do with food and my careless actions. Scared the crap out of me and my feelings were hurt deeply. My stupid mistake.

    I do know that sometimes dogs give no warning and wait until you are in striking distance.

    I’m really sorry you had to experience that. It sounds like you handle the situation well with the dog, but I think when you touched, it crossed a boundary for the dog. I know with my dogs, touch is extremely sensitive thing especially if they are/have been abused. I probably would have done the same thing, wanting to give the scared dog some comfort.

    Hope you are feeling better.

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  14. I’ve been bitten a few times, mostly by my first dog, Princess, Who was a Lhasa Apso cross, so go figure. I was bitten once by a strange dog and that was *totally* my fault.

    To most disconcerting dog bite was when a friend of mine got bitten. She was bitten by a Neo Mastiff and if she wasn’t wearing a thick coat, she would have needed surgery. The dog knew her, she was just petting it. I suppose the dog didn’t like it, so he (an intact male) bit her.

    What is most disturbing is that the dog is known to be “miserable” AND he has a handicapped owner who cannot control this massive dog even if he wanted to. My girlfriend never reported the bite to animal control since he is a “neighbourhood” dog and she was trying to keep the peace. I’m just waiting for the day when I see the news paper headline of that dog mauling a small kid.

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  15. Whoa, that’s terrible. I’ve never been bitten by a dog, though I’ve been bitten by a few cats in my day — most of them just like what you describe. Sometimes the signals (growling, tail twitching, or whatever) just aren’t really there, or the change from happy to upset happens too quickly to prevent a bite.

    That dog’s owner sounds really irresponsible! It’s too bad you’ll probably never get to tell him what you think now that you’re no longer in shock — he isn’t some kind of guy who’s likely to do anything about the problem on his own.

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  16. OUCH … scary and upsetting – painful too, of course. 😦 I’m glad you’re okay.

    I agree with Kolchak and Jodi. I am extremely disturbed by the number of people – supposedly [i]dog-savvy [/i]people – who think it’s not only fine, but a[i] good thing [/i]to teach their dogs not to growl when they’re upset. I am stunned by this, because as K & J says, it takes away the most important warning signal they have! I’m an owner of retired racing greyhounds, which are dogs who can be very low-key on giving signals anyway, and unfortunately, there are many people on the Greytalk forum who believe that dogs should never, ever be allowed to growl. And then they seem surprised when their dog bites ‘without warning’, and they blame the dog.

    Your guy sounds like one of these hideously misguided people, unfortunately. To me, it sounds as if the dog was fearful. I’m working with a dog right now who spent the first nine years of his life in kennels living with other greyhounds and who is fearful of other breeds. He is fine with most, unless he’s too close and then, until he’s had a chance to greet them [i]on his terms[/i] he’s likely to snap. He’s improving, but it’ll take a while, and until he’s learned, it’s my job to keep everyone safe.

    Luckily for me, he’s fine with people, though he growled at me a few times when we first had him. I recognised that his boundaries were close to being breached and backed off, and now he allows me to do pretty much what I want with no growling whatsover, and even enjoys cuddles and bellyrubs – two very threatening things for an insecure dog.

    Let me tell you that, unless a dog is actually mentally unstable or suffering from a disorder which affects their mood (low thyroid, seizures, or side effects from some medications etc) 99.99% always give a warning. People might not recognise it, unless they’re fluent in ‘dog’ speak, but they give one. To take the most useful warning away from a dog is plain stupid, but maybe that’s what your guy has done.

    A very useful book for those wanting to understand dog’s social signals and natural canine behaviour is Stanley Coren’s How To Speak Dog. I recommend it for anyone who wants to learn how to be safe around dogs.

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  17. Oh, yeah, and I’ve been bitten by dogs. The first time when I was about six and wanted to pet a stray dog which didn’t want to be petted. No harm done, just a little bruising.

    The most serious was when I was working as an animal nurse in a busy veterinary practice. We had a fear-aggressive GSD in for a tumour removal. We all knew this dog would bite if fearful enough, and I simply didn’t take enough care. I approached her in her cage, with someone else holding onto her collar and bent down to clip on a leash. She got me in the face, sending me to hospital for stitches in three places, one of which pierced my lip, and it was entirely my own fault. Sure, the owner should have worked with her, but she had warned us, and accepted her for treatment knowingly, and the owner was not there at the time. My fault, and nobody else’s that I got bitten at that time.

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  18. I’m sorry you were bitten Kristine 😦 I was bitten by a dog when I was 15 – it was a big Afghan dog and I was petting the dog when it curled its lips and bit me! I turned away as it was lunging at me and it bit me right on the bottom! As an adult, I’ve been bitten several times by small dogs – after I asked the owner if the dog was friendly and if I could pet it! Last night I was at a shopping mall in San Diego and there was an adorable pittie puppy and naturally I asked if I could pet the puppy and he chomped down hard on my hand twice! He didn’t break the skin, but those razor sharp puppy teeth hurt! And I can’t help but be worried that his biting is only going to get worse (maybe he was taken away from his siblings too early and didn’t learn how to have a “soft” mouth).

    I always feel that it is the owners responsibility to know what their dog can tolerate. I don’t have a problem with someone telling me that I shouldn’t pet their dog – but I do have a problem being bitten! I guess I should refrain from petting dogs I don’t know 😦

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