What to Do If Your Dog Bites Someone

Help, my dog bit someone!

A boy in front of a rottweiler
Destinations by DES - Desislava Panteva Photography / Getty Images

If your dog bites someone, you will probably find yourself worried and upset. Will there be legal ramifications? Could your dog be euthanized or taken away from you? After a dog bite occurs, your first reaction might be shock or panic. However, it is important to take swift action if a dog bite occurs.

What to Do If Your Dog Bites Someone

Don't delay! if your dog bites someone, take the following steps:

  1. Remain calm.
  2. Confine your dog to a crate or another room.
  3. Help the bite victim wash the wound thoroughly with warm, soapy water.
  4. Be courteous and sympathetic to the bite victim. Avoid laying blame or getting defensive. This does not mean you need to admit fault. Remember that what you say may be used against you later if legal or civil action is taken.
  5. Contact a medical professional for the bite victim. Depending on the severity of the bite, an ambulance may be needed. No matter how minor the bite is, the victim should still seek medical care. Dog bites that look mild on the surface can get serious very fast.
  6. Offer to contact a friend or family member for the victim.
  7. Exchange contact information with the victim. Provide your insurance information, if applicable.
  8. If there were witnesses, obtain their contact information.
  9. Contact your veterinarian and obtain your dog's medical records.
  10. Inform local authorities of the incident and comply with their orders.

    Dog Bites and the Law

    Dog bite laws can vary greatly depending on local jurisdiction. It is important that you research the laws in your area, so you will know what to expect. The following conditions typically apply in dog bite cases:

    • A quarantine period may be required. The period will likely be longer if the rabies vaccination is not current.
    • Depending on the situation and your dog's history, it is possible for your dog to be designated a "dangerous dog." You may have to comply with specific laws regarding the handling of your dog.
    • Laws may require that your dog is euthanized if your dog is considered "dangerous," if the injury was very serious, or if a fatality occurred. Also, you could be held legally responsible and face criminal charges.

    Your Role After the Dog Bite

    The dog bite victim may choose to press charges and/or file a civil suit against you. In either case, you should immediately hire an attorney.

    While you may or may not be legally ordered to cover the victim's medical expenses, it is a good idea to offer up front to pay. This shows the victim that you are accepting responsibility for your dog. It may even help you avoid a messy lawsuit. Above all, it is the ethical thing to do, even if you have an explanation for the dog bite. In reality, proving your dog was provoked or somehow justified will be difficult unless it can be proven that the victim was committing a crime. Ultimately, this simply may not be an argument that is not worth having.

    If you are fortunate enough to get to keep your dog, it is your responsibility to prevent this type of thing from happening in the future. Take steps to prevent your dog from biting again. In most cases, a dog bite can be easily prevented by taking the proper safety measures. If you are able to determine what triggered the bite, try to keep your dog from getting into the same situation. Work with your dog to adjust his reaction to the trigger. It is absolutely essential to work on training and socialization with your dog as soon as possible after the bite. The best plan is to contact a professional trainer and possibly a veterinary behaviorist.

    Many dogs with aggression can be helped through training, socialization, and behavior modification. Sadly, in some cases of major aggression that cannot be reversed, the most humane thing to do is euthanasia.

    Of course, this is a last resort.