Dogs are typically wonderful, loving companions: they provide many benefits to the lives of their owners and those around them. Dogs influence social, emotional, and cognitive development in children; promote an active lifestyle; provide companionship, and have even been able to detect oncoming epileptic seizures and the presence of certain cancers. Dogs are also known to help relieve stress and anxiety among humans. Around 38% of US households have at least one dog, and it’s estimated that there are nearly 77 million dogs in the United States.  

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The attorneys and staff here at Foley & Small are dog lovers. Most of us own dogs and one staff member is even a certified dog trainer. Unfortunately, though, we have also seen far too many victims of dog attacks: victims of all ages from adults to small children. The attacks are also not exclusive to humans; other dogs can be victims resulting in severe injuries, if not death. It’s also not uncommon for a human injury to occur in the effort to stop the dog-on-dog attack. 

It is no small problem. While most dogs are not aggressive and will never bite a human or another dog, the CDC reports that there are approximately 4.5 million dog bites each year in the United States. The American Society for Plastic Surgeons reported that in 2018, nearly 27,000 people underwent reconstructive surgery as a result of being bitten by a dog. In the United States, there were 46 dog-bite-related fatalities in 2020. That year, homeowners insurance paid out an estimated $854,000,000 in liability claims related to dog bites and other related dog injuries.  

Below are Dos and Don’ts to familiarize yourself with and, hopefully, add to memory to help reduce the chances of a dog bite: 

What to Do if a Dog Bites:  

  1. Be alert, look, listen, and be aware of your surroundings.  
  1. Teach your children never to pet a strange dog. Monitor children’s interactions with dogs. Children may assume that all dogs tolerate the same behavior from them that their own dogs do.  
  1. Be prepared for an encounter with a loose dog before you go out walking, biking, running or hiking by carrying pepper spray, an air horn, or a stick and have it readily available.  
  1. If you confront a loose, aggressive dog, soften your eyes, open your mouth, face the dog at an angle, breathe, and relax body posture. Learn to recognize the warning signs of aggressive behavior such as stiff posture, wrinkled muzzle, teeth showing, growling, lips/facial muscles tense, hair on back standing up, dog freezes and holds breath, hard and direct stare, tail up and held in place (think of a unicorn). 
  1. While standing at a front door, after knocking, take several steps back to create space between you and the door in case the resident opens the door and lets their dog out. 
  1. Remain calm if ever approached by unknown dog. 
Dog bites

A wagging tail does not always mean a dog is friendly. Be on the lookout for other body language signs that the dog may be displaying.

What Not to Do if a Dog Bites: 

  1. Ever leave a child unattended with an unknown animal. 
  1. Reach out to pet a dog’s head or extend the back of your hand towards a dog’s nose. This can easily result in a fast bite.  
  1. Don’t always trust strangers who tell you their dog is friendly or that it is good with kids or other dogs. Err on the side of caution and know that any dog can bite.  
  1. Don’t assume that because a dog has met you before it is not going to ever bite you. Many dog bites involve people the dog already knows. 
  1. Pet a dog when it is tightly leashed, held by its owner or otherwise confined. They feel trapped and unable to get away from approaching strangers, forcing them to bite. Always allow the dog distance.  
  1. Scream, chase or run from a dog. 
  1. A dog rolling over and exposing their belly is not always an invite for a belly rub. It is a submissive gesture that could signify stress. Give the dog space.  
  1. Tease or startle a dog. 
  1. Approach a strange dog, especially if there are puppies present. 
  1. Touch a sleeping dog; awaken it with your voice first from a safe distance. 
  1. Violate a dog’s “territory” or cause it to feel cornered. 
  1. Bother a dog when it is eating or meeting another dog. 
  1. Get between a dog and its owner. 
  1. Turn your back on a dog or allow it to get behind you. 
  1. Challenge a strange dog with your “body language” such as making direct eye contact, facing the dog directly, or reaching out to make contact. 
  1. Never try to break up a dog fight with bare hands. Turn a hose on them, use a broom or other long object to try to separate them. 
  1. A wagging tail does not always mean the dog is friendly. If a tail is wagging in a quick, upright position, that signifies a high state of arousal that could turn to aggression.  

Steps to Take Following a Dog Bite 

If you are the victim of a dog attack, here are some recommended responsive steps:  

  1. Substitute something for the dog to bite down on such as a stick, notebook, sleeve, anything you may have. Make sure it gets into the dog’s mouth. 
  1. If you do not have an object, you may have to sacrifice, or “take the bite”: give it your left arm if you write with your right hand. 
  1. Once a dog has bitten, DO NOT pull back; the damage is already done and will not get worse by going in the direction it is pulling, and resistance can excite the dog further. 
  1. If you get loose, square off and face the dog in an intimidating stance and in a firm voice command, “NO.” Back off slowly while facing the dog. 
  1. If you have the physical strength, you may try to push it on its side and kneel on its chest, pushing out the air and making more difficult to breathe. Do not push it on its back as it may enable the dog to use its legs to push you away, or to put a paw in your eyes. 
  1. If all else fails, go limp, curling up into the fetal position and protecting your head and trunk with your arms and legs. Do not fight back or struggle, and do not try to get up until the dog is at least 20 feet away. Back away from the dog. 
  1. Immediately wash and rinse all bite injuries and seek medical attention as soon as possible. 
  1. Call the city or county animal control agency to report the bite. State law requires all bites to be reported. 

Foley & Small is Here for You 

While many of us here at Foley & Small are dog owners and love our dogs, we also have significant experience in handling dog attacks and bite matters. We are familiar with ordinance requirements in our cities, towns, and counties for the handling of dogs. We’ve worked with local humane societies and government entities. We’re familiar with the court system and what needs to be done and the laws applicable to dog attack claims. If you or a family member find yourself a victim of a dog attack or other animal attack, please do not hesitate to contact Foley & Small. 

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