You may think your dog is too well- behaved to bite someone, but there’s no guarantee it won’t ever happen. Here’s how to protect yourself, and your dog.
Melinda was shocked when her Pomeranian cross snapped at her five-year-old grandson, Bryce. “Petey is normally so friendly with everyone,” she says. “But this time, something went wrong.” Luckily, Bryce wasn’t injured from the bite but the incident made Melinda think. “What if we were out walking and Petey bit and hurt a child? Would I be liable?”
The answer is yes. Whatever a dog’s breed, size or temperament, they all have teeth and they can all bite. The consequences of your dog biting someone can be far reaching. It could result in a crippling lawsuit, and/or an order to have your companion put down. Accidents aren’t always unavoidable, but it’s important to do what you can to prevent a biting incident and protect yourself and your dog.
• If you think there’s the least chance your dog might bite or snap at a stranger, don’t let anyone – especially children – pet him when you’re walking him. Don’t let him roam free and keep him on a leash at the park and in other public areas.
• Rabies vaccines are currently required by law every one to three years, depending on which state or province you live in. Keep your dog’s rabies shots up to date, and keep the paperwork for proof.
• Find out if your homeowner’s insurance covers you for dog bites. There are breed exclusions in some policies.
• Many animal control laws don’t differentiate as to why a dog has bitten someone. Believe it or not, a woman in New York City had her dog cited for biting a man who held her up at gunpoint!
• Talk to the victim. Regardless of whose fault you perceive a dog bite to be, the victim will be feeling a mix of emotions – and pain – and ultimately as the injured party they can decide whether or not to take a legal course of action or settle it personally. If they require medical attention, offer to pay for it, even if you believe your dog was provoked.
• Consult a professional trainer who uses positive reinforcement methods. He or she can help eliminate or minimize the chances of your dog biting someone. An animal behaviorist can also be invaluable.
• Learn something about canine body language. Most dogs give indications that they are uncomfortable, angry or afraid. Learn to recognize the signals a dog gives before he resorts to biting – e.g. lifted lips, ears that are back, tail tucked between the legs, etc.
As Melinda realized, even a nip from a small dog is a red flag. Don’t ignore the issue, or the next time it occurs, your dog’s fate might be taken out of your hands. “I talked to a trainer and she said Petey didn’t have enough experience with young children,” says Melinda. “Like most five-year-olds, Bryce is loud and active, and it was making Petey nervous. Bryce and I worked with the trainer to help them both respond more appropriately to one another. Bryce learned to be gentle when petting the dog, and Petey learned that my grandson wasn’t a threat.”