When we bring home a new dog, we focus on the happy possibilities: long walks, snuggle sessions, learning new tricks and more. But dogs can have challenging behaviors, too, and one of the most serious is biting. Aggressive behavior such as dog attacks that result in dog bite injuries can have dire consequences—for you and your pup.
Every year in the United States, dogs bite about 4.5 million people. Around one out of five of those people require medical attention, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And more than half (51%) of the people bitten by dogs are children. Most people who suffer a dog bite got it from a dog they know.
So, what happens if your dog bites someone? We spoke to legal experts to help you understand the risks.
Disclaimer: While this article offers a general idea of what to expect in a dog bite situation, it is not intended to take the place of legal counsel.
In This Guide
What To Do If Your Dog Bites Someone
Dog bites are, unfortunately, a risk of pet parenting. Even if your dog has never shown signs of aggression, there’s always a chance that something might trigger them to react with their teeth. While that doesn’t necessarily mean you have a dangerous dog, there are still strict liabilities, and the dog bite victim might want you to cover their medical expenses.
Should you ever find yourself in this situation, you need to act responsibly. Taking the right steps can help minimize the legal risks to both you and your dog.
So, what are the right steps? Follow this advice.
Note: These steps are for a situation in which your dog bites someone who was not committing a crime at the time of the attack. If your dog is defending you from an assailant, not all these steps are relevant.
1Remain at the scene.
In many states, it is illegal to flee the scene if your dog bites someone until you provide the victim with your name, address, telephone number and the name and license tag number of your dog.
2Contain your dog.
In the immediate aftermath of a dog bite, the first thing you should do is contain your dog away from other people and pets, to make sure they do not bite or injure anyone else. Removing your dog from the situation will also allow them to calm down after the event. Because you should stay at the scene, you may need to call a friend or family member to pick up your dog.
Approach the individual who was bitten and ask if you can call an ambulance for medical attention or drive them to the hospital. If your dog has bitten another pet, ask if you can call a vet or help them find an emergency veterinary clinic. Offer to pay their medical bills if it’s within your means. This is the right thing to do to ensure any injuries caused by your dog are properly cared for, and it also shows the injured party that you take the situation seriously, which may reduce the chances of a claim or lawsuit against you. If the victim declines your help, respect their decision.
4Exchange contact information.
Swap phone numbers and any other pertinent contact info with the injured person. Having a clear line of communication with the victim can help avoid a future lawsuit. It’s also a good idea to gather the name, address and phone number of every witness to the bite.
5Alert your insurance company.
After the bite occurs, immediately call your homeowners or renters insurance company to tell them that a bite occurred. Be truthful with them, and be sure to tell them all the facts you know of at that time.
What Might Happen After A Dog Bite
Depending on the state where you live and the circumstances of the bite, the following may happen to you and/or your dog:
Your dog may be taken from you.
In some states, law enforcement is authorized to remove your dog from your premises after they bite someone. If they are taken from you, your dog will likely be quarantined at a local animal control center or veterinarian’s office. If you can provide proof of a current rabies vaccine, it may reduce the amount of time your dog is held in quarantine—and it will spare the bite victim from having to undergo painful rabies treatment.
You may be liable for damages.
Different states have different rules when it comes to liability. In California, for example, a strict liability statute ensures that dog owners are held responsible for the actions of their dogs, with very few exceptions to that rule. In other states, liability depends in part on the circumstances of the attack.
You may have to pay damages out of pocket.
Many homeowners and renters insurance policies will cover damages, aka costs related to the bite such as the victim’s medical expenses, up to a certain amount, as dictated by your policy coverage, as long as the victim is not a member of your household (such as your child or spouse). However, some carry exclusions for certain breeds of dogs, such as Pit Bulls or German Shepherds. If the pet parent’s homeowners or renters insurance does not cover the dog bite damages, the owner of the dog will have to cover those costs themselves.
You could be found guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree, and could lose your dog.
Some states have a “one bite rule” saying, essentially, that if a dog owner knows that a dog has a propensity to bite—aka, if the dog has bitten a person in the past—they can be found guilty of a misdemeanor if the dog bites someone again. Authorities may also declare the dog a dangerous animal and require them to be euthanized—a truly terrifying thought for any pet parent. For this reason, it’s essential to practice extreme caution with your dog in public if they have a history of biting. Many states do allow pet parents to request a hearing to attempt to prevent their dog from being euthanized.
What if the person my dog bit was trespassing? There is a chance that you would not be considered liable, or that your liability would be reduced, if the bite victim was on your property illegally or without your consent—but it’s not a sure thing. Laws vary by state and situation.
Dog Bite Prevention
You can do a lot to reduce the chances of your dog biting someone by following these guidelines:
- Don’t ignore signs of aggression. If your dog snarls, growls or barks aggressively at someone in your family, or a person who has been welcomed by you into your home or on your property, seek help from a professional trainer.
- Keep your dog securely confined when outside in your yard. Dogs can become aggressive to passersby and may bite if they break out of the yard.
- Supervise young children. Keep an eye on kids when they are around your dog, especially if they are visitors. Children who are unfamiliar with how to behave around dogs are most at risk for bites.
- Teach your kids about canine body language. Tell children to leave dogs alone when they display signs like a still, tense body, pulled-back ears, an intense stare, backing away and growling.
- Vaccinate. Make sure your dog is up-to-date on all vaccines, especially rabies.
As a dog parent, it’s important to know the laws in your state regarding dog bites just in case an incident occurs with your dog. In the meantime, training can help prevent future dog bites. Here’s how to find a great professional dog trainer for your pup.