It is easy for dog owners to regard their beloved dog as a valued member of the family. Because of this, it can be disconcerting when a dog acts out, or displays uncharacteristically aggressive behaviors. When a pet dog bites someone, the knee-jerk reaction is to assume that it means you must get rid of the pup or put him down. However, there are many reasons why dogs bite which should be taken into consideration before making that decision. Here are some helpful tips about what to do if your dog should bite you.

After the Bite

Stay calm, and separate yourself from the dog. Avoid retaliating or raising your voice, since this could trigger the dog’s defenses even more, causing him to become more aggressive. Instead, go to a separate room where you can consider the situation.
If you can, wash the wound as soon as possible with warm water and a soap, and cover it with antibacterial ointment. If you have any questions about your dog’s health (a lack of the rabies vaccine status, or gum disease, etc.) give your vet a call and ask for his opinion about the incident and what your best plan of action is. If the injury is severe, you may need to go to the doctor to ensure that no bacteria or infection is taking root.

Once the injury has received attention, review the circumstances of what just occurred. In order to determine how your dog will be dealt with, begin by asking yourself some of these questions.

Questions to Consider

  • What kind of “attack” was that? Was the dog being aggressive out of the blue, or unprovoked? Or was he defending a toy, his food, or startled while napping?
  • Where did he bite you? Was the wound severe?
  • How did it make you feel? Were you more taken aback and surprised, or did you feel threatened and afraid, perhaps not even recognizing your dog? Does this change how your view your dog? Would you be frightened to walk around your house at night, for fear this could happen again?
  • Where did it happen? What noises, distractions, other factors may have contributed? Could these things reasonably be avoided in the future?
  • Where other people present, or other dogs? Was it an unfamiliar place that potentially caused your dog to be stressed?
  • What happened just before the dog bit you?
  • (This is important) How did you separate yourself from the dog? Did you just get up and walk away? Did you have to back away slowly (i.e., was the dog still snarling at you?), did a friend have to intervene?
  • Who else do you live with? Are there children? Is the size of the dog threatening at all?

Making Decisions

If your dog’s bit you because your neighbor’s kid was petting him too hard, right where the dog has skin sensitivity, or if you were trying to take a toy away from him, all while airplanes flew overhead, or loud fire trucks drove by, perhaps this was a stress-bite situation which can be avoided. If he bit when you went over to him while the dog was eating, staying away from the pup during meals might become a small adjustment you make to daily life. However, if the dog behaved aggressively, arbitrarily toward whoever was the nearest person, if he tried to exert authority over you by means of force, etc. these are serious concerns to be weighed. Consult a professional dog trainer or canine behaviorist an explain the circumstances. Have them come over and work with the dog to test their trigger points and see if your pet may be easily incited to biting again. They will help you with a prognosis to determine whether or not your dog might improve with some training and desensitization toward his triggers, OR if the nature of the bite and the dog’s behavior merit rehoming him or putting him down. This might seem like a harsh conclusion, but if the humans in the home could be irreversibly impaired or fatally wounded by another attack, it is not worth the risk. Discussing the situation with a behaviorist will help you assess what is best for you and your family.