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Dog Bites: Why They Happen and What to Do


We all believe that our dogs are angels that can do no wrong, and often that is the case. Unfortunately, dogs, like all animals, can be unpredictable. While some dogs are just aggressive by nature, even the nicest dog in the world can have unpredictable moments — like biting someone.

We spend so much time training and socializing our dogs so that they are well behaved and good with other dogs and people. Sometimes, though, animal instincts take over and bad things can happen.

What situations might cause your dog to bite someone? What should you do if it happens? Keep reading to learn more:


Fear biting is one of the most unfortunate reasons dogs bite people. When a dog feels scared or threatened, a natural reaction is to bite the source of their stress. This might happen in a number of situations, such as at the vet’s office, groomer’s, and instances where a person or object might startle them and catch them off guard. It’s also common for dogs that have experienced a trauma such as an attack or abuse to be fear reactive, which might result in them being more likely to bite.

While you can never be 100 percent sure that your dog will never bite in one of these situations, you can do your best to train and socialize your dog to be familiar and calm in these environments. For example, if your dog fears going to the vet, there are ways to help them become more comfortable, such as bringing treats, visiting your vet when it’s not a check-up, and pairing a trip to the vet with a fun outing. You want to make sure any situation your dog might be in is associated with positive experiences.


Some dogs are naturally protective, and they are quick to act in a situation they perceive as dangerous. The problem is, what a dog might perceive as a dangerous situation might not actually be one. This could be as simple as a maintenance person coming into the house or yard while the owner isn’t home. Dog are very protective of their territory, and many won’t hesitate to take action, whether the person has nefarious plans or not.

Dogs might also find certain people threatening based on feelings alone. This could be because dogs are really good at recognizing and sensing human emotions. If you are feeling uneasy about a person in your vicinity, chances are your dog is sensing that; they might also be sensing the feelings of another person, whether they be feelings of malice or fear.

The most you can do to try and prevent a bite in these situations is socialize your dogs as much as you can as early as you can. Socialization is best started when a dog is a puppy, but socialization at any age will help your dog become familiar and comfortable with different people and situations.


Unfortunately, some dogs are just naturally aggressive. This typically derives from personality, past trauma, and lack of training and socialization. This is why it is extremely important for people who get puppies to start training and socialization right away; the older dogs get, the harder it is to train out aggression.

When you adopt a dog, you can’t always know what their history is or what their temperament will be. While you may not have been responsible for them becoming aggressive, you can do your best to understand your dog’s body language and recognize the situations in which they get aggressive. Some dogs get aggressive with strangers, with other dogs, or when it comes to their food or toys — also known as resource guarding. Once you know your dog’s aggression triggers, you can avoid those situations or find ways to safely work around them — for instance, if your dog is stranger or dog aggressive, you should never take them to a dog park or other public places with high volumes of other dogs and humans. It’s also imperative that you seek out professional trainers who can help you and your dog

In the Case of a Dog Bite . . .

In the unfortunate event that your dog bites someone, you need to take action immediately. Dog bites can turn into messy lawsuits, so it’s important that you take the correct actions for the situation.

If your dog bites someone out of legitimate protection or provocation, call the police right away. They will document and assess the situation so that you aren’t held liable. Typically these situations will be on your property, in such cases as an intruder in your home or yard, or someone teasing or harassing your dog. These might also happen while you are out and about and someone tries to harass or attack you — though, having your dog with you might be enough to deter someone from trying any funny business in the first place.

If your dog bites someone in any other context other than legitimate protection, this is when you might find yourself in trouble. From a legal standpoint, dogs are technically property, so any bite — or “damage” — is your responsibility, and you are liable. Best case scenario: the bite is minor and you are responsible for hospital bills, and — depending on where you live — your dog is likely to get put on a “bite list.” Worst case scenario: the bite is serious, you find yourself in a lawsuit, and your dog is put down.

Another factor will be whether you knew your dog was aggressive or not. In the case of a previously non-aggressive dog, most likely the “one bite rule” will apply: for a minor bite from a previously non-aggressive dog, you will be held accountable for medical fees. For a bite from a known-aggressive dog, you are likely to face serious consequences, such as lawsuits, fines, and perhaps your dog being put down.

Do the best you can do to prevent bites from happening in the first place. Make sure your dog is well trained and socialized for every possible situation you can think of. If your dog tends to have aggressive tendencies, make sure to avoid situations that might trigger them. Of course, always make sure to keep your dog up to date on their vaccines, especially their rabies vaccine.

Being vigilant and doing everything you can to avoid a potential bite is part of being a responsible owner, and you owe it to your dog and the people around you to make sure they stay safe.


About Author

Brooke Faulkner is an animal advocate and mother of two. When she's not writing, she can usually be found zipping around on her ATV. She first fell in love with animals as a young girl, on a family visit to a goat farm in New Hampshire. She's dreamed of adopting a Great Pyrenees ever since. To read more of her words, follow @faulknercreek.

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