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The Daily Vet by petMD

The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.

When Dogs Bite, Who is to Blame?

So yesterday I spoke the words every parent fears: my son got bitten by a dog.


It happened while he was out in the neighborhood riding his scooter, so I didn’t see it actually happen. All I know is that he came running through the front door with tears streaming down his face before showing me the very scary looking mark right where his leg meets his abdomen.


My first reaction was shock. How could this happen? I have trained my kids since they were tiny toddlers on dog safety. My second reaction was to ask him what he did. He explained that he approached a person with two dogs on a leash and asked if he could pet their dogs. She said yes, he reported, and then the dog started acting crazy so he froze, and then the dog lunged and bit him.


The owner was nowhere to be found, so I ran out the front door to try and track her down. I found her, walking a very agitated and massive giant schnauzer on a prong collar. She seemed shocked when I told her what had happened. “I thought he was just sniffing your son,” she said. “Was he bleeding?”


“Yes,” I said.


First she blamed a neighbor’s Viszla for getting her dog worked up. Then she blamed a passing truck. Then she blamed my son for being on a scooter. Finally she admitted she just didn’t have control over her dog.


“I’m just trying to understand what happened so it doesn’t happen again,” I said. “Did my son ask permission to approach your dog? Did he stop when you said to hold on?”


“Yes,” she replied. “I just think it was the perfect storm of bad circumstances.” My son was in the process of backing up when the dog went up to him and bit him. There was really nothing more for me to say.


I have tried my entire life to teach my kids about safe dog interactions, including when to refrain from approaching dogs. As far as I can tell, my son did everything right in terms of waiting for permission to approach and stopping when he sensed the dog was agitated.  I really wanted to be able to pinpoint something he could have done to avoid that precarious bite, but aside from just avoiding the owner in the first place, he did all he could.


I checked my son out very carefully, and we were very fortunate that the bite was very minor. We were very lucky. He is a big 10 year old kid and the dog bit him just a few inches to the side of something he really didn’t want to get chomped. Had he been a younger child, or shorter, or a little less able to follow directions, the results could have been much worse.


I see this sort of thing all the time in the clinic, an owner who has poor control over his or her dog, who laughs when the dog’s response to being scared is to try and bite me and they encourage it. Sometimes they get mad when I tell them they need to get more training, and tell me it’s my job to be able to manage scared dogs. My response to them is always the same: it’s not me I’m worried about.


I tell families all the time that dog safety training goes both ways: for dog owners and for people in the community who may interact with dogs. I’m really glad my son’s training kicked in enough for him to avoid more serious injury. I hope this is a major wake up call to this owner as well. Owning a dog, any dog, is a serious responsibility. Now that she knows her dog is capable of this it is incumbent upon her to 1. Get better control over her dog, and 2. Warn passersby not to approach him.


It could have been so much worse. I am so glad it wasn’t.



Dr. Jessica Vogelsang



Image: Thinkstock


Comments  4

Leave Comment
  • Taking a Bet
    09/11/2015 12:26am

    I'll bet you five bucks that the woman hasn't done a single thing to train her dog.

    I also wonder about people having pets that they cannot control. While waiting for my appointment at the clinic I once saw a LOL (Little Old Lady) being dragged into the clinic by two enormous dogs on leashes. It was obvious she had no control and I was grateful they were happy, friendly dogs because otherwise it might have been a disaster for everyone there.

  • Ban the Prong Collar!
    09/25/2015 12:20pm

    As a force-free trainer, the thing that jumped out at me was the reference to the dog being on a prong collar. These instruments of torture do more to increase fear aggression than just about anything I know, with the single exception of shock collars. If the woman is yanking on the collar and causing her dog pain every time he reacts to something that causes him fear or concern, what's he to think except that those scary things really ARE evil because he gets hurt every time they're nearby?? And what's the option that a dog has when he can't escape those things that cause him fear and pain? Becoming "aggressive" and trying to protect himself with him mouth. In my jurisdiction, any dog bite that draws blood (it sounds like this may have been a Level 3 on the Dunbar bite scale) is reportable to Animal Control officials. Unless and until she learns how to COMMUNICATE WITH HER DOG

  • Thank you
    09/25/2015 01:34pm

    Thank you Dr. for pointing out that the vast majority of dog bites are the human's fault like in this case when the owner didn't handle or train her dog properly or in others where people approach strange dogs in a matter that the dog interprets as threatening, everyone needs to teach their kids about how to read a dogs body language like you did you son and to ask the owner before approaching their dog, this would result in a lot less good dogs being quarantined and even put down because of the mistakes of humans. I had a instance personally years ago, I had a Doberman who was a great dog, but was a little skittish from the time we rescued him, he was well trained and always under control, but one day while out walking him a woman approaches and without asking or warning leans down and sticks her face right in front of my dog expecting him to just kiss her, before I could even get the word NO out it was to late and he bit her in the face, fortunately I was only forced to quarantine him for 90 days, but there was discussions around putting him down and he was officially recorded as an aggressive dog, he did nothing wrong he acted on instinct and I wasn't afforded the opportunity to instruct the woman on how to approach him.

  • Hello, rabies?!?
    09/25/2015 06:00pm

    Where's your detailed account of trying to get this woman's information to verify her dog was UTD on his/her rabies vaccination? And to insure a ten day in-home quarantine was followed by passing her info on to the local AC?

    After all, did you not say the bite punctured your son's skin? As a veterinarian the above steps should be ingrained. The general public, though? Not so much. Thus you have an obligation to include such detail if you are going to publish articles like this.

    Too often, getting bit at the clinic off is brushed off as just one of the numerous "par for course" or "professional hazards" of the field. But your intended audience for this piece is not you or any other person associated with veterinary medicine. You need to finish this article by including what needs to be done so people with dogs who bite start on the path to Actual Consequences™ by having it reported and followed up correctly.

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