Showing Concern for People Doesn’t Mean You Love Dogs Less – Good for the Dog; Good for You

Honey the Golden Retriever nibbles Sally.

Don’t blame me. Her ears are so big they just keep ending up in my mouth.

Imagine you’ve been in a serious car accident. You’re scared, in pain, and trapped. The fire rescue worker arrives and the first thing he asks you is, “So, were you going a little fast? Maybe changing your radio station? Had a little too much to drink?”

Insane, right?

Then why, when a person is bitten by a dog, do the recriminations and fault-finding happen before anyone expresses concern for the person with the injury?

Blame the Victim, Save the Dog?

I recently read a short blog post urging dog lovers to unite to save the life of a dog who bit someone in his own yard. The article was so short it omitted that the bite victim needed 200 stitches and that she was not trespassing, as widely assumed by commenters, but a friend of a child in the family.

But of course, it didn’t take much to start a fury of dog lovers to abuse the bite victim for causing her own injuries.

Do I believe that people who misunderstand dogs can act in ways to encourage a bite? Of course. But cursing at a child online does nothing to rescue a dog from death or to prevent future bites.

The Problem of Dog Bites

Dog bites are serious. Dog owners can be jailed for failing to prevent a bite. And the biting dog might be killed.

But first, express concern for the person who was bitten. They are in pain. They may fear dogs for the rest of their lives.

And even if they did something that led to the bite, they’re no different from any of us who have done stupid things while managing not to pay the price we deserve for our stupidity.

Showing concern for a person who has been bitten in no way means you care less for the dog. And reaching out to a bite victim may ultimately help the biting dog in the end.

Apologize for No Harm Done

While ruminating on this bite story all week, I had an interesting experience myself yesterday.

A major street in the center of town was closed off to cars so people could enjoy walking, biking, and playing in the street. It was a pretty bustling scene.

All of a sudden I saw big, happy dog with his leash dragging nose-to-nose with Honey. A few seconds his person caught up with him in a panic saying, “Don’t worry. He’s not aggressive.” There was no harm done and I told him so.

What I didn’t realize at first was that on his rush to greet Honey and Sally, the dog had knocked over a girl walking with her friend. She was crying, had scrapes on her elbows, and was holding the small of her back. The dog person did eventually go back to check on her. But he spent less time seeing if she was all right than he did reassuring me his dog was no threat to mine.

Sally is a basset hound foster puppy.

Sometimes the foster mom calls me the Puppy Teeth of Death. She’s not going to sue me, is she?

Maybe it’s part of living in a litigious society.

People are afraid to apologize or express concern when they’re responsible for someone’s injury because they don’t want it to work against them in court.

But research into malpractice claims found that doctors were less likely to be sued for mistakes during care if they had a good rapport with their patient. The doctors most likely to be sued were not less skilled in medicine but less skilled in their bedside manner.

What if the same thing is true in dog bite cases? What if a person whose dog bites reaches out to the bite victim? Pays for his treatment? Apologizes?

I’d bet they’re less likely to face a victim’s demands in court that the vicious dog be euthanized.

And that sure would be good for the person and good for the dog.

Your Turn: What do you think is the most effective way to deal with dog bites? Has your dog ever bitten someone? What happened?




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  1. Jen’s dog Lucky (OTRB) once escaped her backyard and attacked another dog. She said she would pay for the other Dog’s vet bill and did so. She also consulted with a lawyer after the owner reported the incident to the police. But she did what she felt was her responsibility.

    • Jen was very smart. We people have to take a lot of responsibility for our fur family members.

      Remember that the next time you’re thinking of stirring up trouble, Rumpy. :)

  2. Sally is a winner in every photo.

    One of my rescues bit me on accident – she was going for the dog passing her crate and my hand was in the way. Unfortunately, the site of the bite led to infection up my arm and a 4 day hospital stay for IV antibiotics. I was honest about being bitten but terrified Angel would be taken away. Animal control was understanding but I , when I relayed the story, was advised to lie by a rescue colleague. Sorry, isn’t in me and I knew Angel was not going to be adopted nor was she aggressive; she just didn’t want Elvis near her food.

    When I expanded my fencing, I made sure the steps to my front door were without dogs; well, except for now with the two jumpers, who do NOT bite. I’ve been asked to take in dogs who have bitten within their families; not knowing the entire circumstance, I can’t do this because I could never adopt out a dog who bites :(.

    The gentleman in your story should have been concerned about Honey being aggressive – not just his dog. She, of course, is as sweet as her name. People who see Justus from far off and near think he is a Dobermann. Fine for me when I’m walking him – makes me feel a bit safer but he is a wuss and a Whineramer, not a Dobermann – only in looks.

    • Unfortunately a bite, like in Angel’s resource guarding situation, is usually more serious for a fragile human that it would be for a fur-covered dog. I’m sorry you had to suffer. I suspect your emotional anxiety about Angel was as great as your physical pain.

      BTW, very smart to exclude the steps from your fenced area. Good planning.

  3. Hello Pamela and thanks for including a link to my Ethical Nag post on “Why Doctors Get Sued”. There’s actually interesting research out there confirming your theory that apologies do NOT cause further litigation, but instead may well defuse a highly emotional situation for all concerned, preventing escalation of reactions, including legal ones.

    Excellent article here – so many common-sense points!

    • Thanks for writing such a clear post on the issue. I originally read about it in Gladwell’s book but your post did a nice job of summarizing the research.

      Thanks for the tip about apologies and litigation. Maybe I’ll do some digging into the research.

  4. I did a stupid thing and got accidentally bit by one of my own dogs trying to keep them from fighting. Luckily for me it didn’t break the skin much, but I had quite a bruise on my hand and wrist, and it really, really hurt, for several days. So if it had been someone else’s dog biting me, I don’t think I would have been impressed if the first thing they did was point out that I was stupid. Very good article, Pamela, you made alot of good points. We all need to be reminded sometimes not to rush to judgement until we know the whole story.

    • Every smart article in the world tells people not to get in between fighting dogs. And almost all of us do it at one time or another. It’s not smart. But it sure is human. :)

  5. Hi! GREAT POST, Pamela!! And what you said certainly needed to be said!
    Ducky embarrassed the **** out of me a few months ago when I was getting ready to leave the daycare facility with her. She tore a hole in the pants leg of a gentleman who was there to pick up his dog. I was absolutely mortified! I offered to pay to replace the pants, but he said not to worry about it. if she had been a child instead of a puppy, I probably would have given her a spanking & sent her to bed without dessert. Instead, I cried when we were finally home and in the house. And then I called Julie — my mentor trainer during my externship — and asked what I was doing wrong with my own dog. And meanwhile, the daycare’s owner & I decided it would be better for one of them to bring Ducky out to the car & into her crate for me when anyone else was there at the same time since Ducky only goes into “protect” mode when I’m there.
    The other customer and I haven’t crossed paths again since, so I assume he’s forgotten the incident by now; but I haven’t. I’ve been working with Ducky on my own, but I’ve asked Julie for help. And in return for her help with Ducky, I’m helping her with her classes as she had surgery on her shoulder recently.

    • It’s great that your daycare’s owner is a good observer and willing to work with you and Ducky. Many business owners would not bother to bring their creative thinking to resolving your situation.

      I hope you’re seeing improvement in your work with Ducky. Given your earliest posts about her I can only assume yes. :)

  6. Luckily I’ve never had a dog bite someone or another dog, but I have had them scare some folks in various situations. I always apologize profusely. I heard that same report about doctors with good bed-side manners being less likely to be sued. Interesting stuff.

    • My mom always taught me to apologize. Too bad we can’t teach our dogs how to say “I’m sorry” when they mess up.

      Hope you never have a biting dog. It’s horrifying.

  7. Recently my dog Lucas tried to bite someone. I was shocked, horrified, and embarrassed. I apologized profusely. The woman was understandably upset. I consulted a trainer immediately. She pointed out that very, very few bites are truly unprovoked. Sometimes the circumstances are clear to anyone with even a smidge of dog savvy (an undersocialized dog chained in a backyard bites the unsupervised child who wanders too close). Sometimes, like in Lucas’ case, the circumstances are only clear to the dog. Regardless, I think animal welfare advocates jump to the defense of the dog by considering the circumstances as a knee-jerk reflex to protect dogs in general, especially when others are pointing the breed-specific finger. And I can totally understand that because the reality is that we forget that dogs are not people, despite how smart and well-adjusted they are. Yet we expect them to operate according to our very human rules. Dog bites are very serious, no question. To prevent them, though, we do need to examine the circumstances surrounding bites and educate people on how to avoid a bite. Unfortunately, it’s sort of become an all-or-nothing situation where people either advocate for the dog or for the victim. We need to find a common ground where the victim receives the care, sympathy, and concern the situation requires without neglecting to investigate the cause of the bite.

    • And the truth is, the people who can best educate others about dog bites are people who spend lots of time around dogs. But no one will want to listen to us if we’re always on the attack.

      I remember Lucas’s encounter. Has the trainer provided any help? Have you seen a repeat of the behavior?

      • There hasn’t been a repeat, though I’ve been careful on our walks to put LOTS of space between us and other people. Lucas has always been reactive toward other dogs but extremely friendly with people, so I’m inclined to think/hope that was a one-time occurrence. In hindsight, I think there were numerous contributing factors, but it’s still totally unacceptable behavior. So immediately after the incident, I signed us up for a reactive dog course. We just finished on Sunday, and I think we’ve made some big progress. However, at least in the short-term, I’m staying cautious and avoiding other pedestrians while focusing on getting (and keeping) his attention on me.

  8. I’ve paid vet bills for another dog that my dog injured. It was a terrible event and I don’t want to relate it here. But it was bad enough that it could have ruined a friendship. Thankfully, my friend was understanding and I’m sure it helped that I took responsibility.

    I’ve also been bitten by a dog. The most recent was definitely my own fault when I was trying to break up a fight between two other dogs (not my own dogs). Stupid. I should have known better.

    • My childhood dog bit someone and I’m sure that my parents taking responsibility for him (although the “bitee” disobeyed a direct command to stay away from the dog) was what allowed Duchess to be rehomed as a guard dog instead of being put down.

      Even so, losing my beloved dog broke my heart and I’ve never gotten over it.

      I can understand how traumatized you must have been by your situation. It’s good that you and your friend were able to work things out together.

  9. Dog bites are indeed serious. However accidents do happen. Have a terrific Tuesday.
    Best wishes Molly

  10. Fantastic, thought-provoking post as usual. I must admit, whenever I hear the dog bite stories, I’m immediately more worried about the dog than the human. But I think if I had been the victim of the dog-bite, the tables would turn. I had a recent incident when a dog ‘rushed’ me; it didn’t bite me, but even then, my heart was racing and it was not a pleasant moment. That gave me a taster of how frightening it must be to get bitten by a dog.

  11. Thank you for this very insightful article. The comments are very enlightening as well. I’ve never been bitten by my own dogs, but I did require 6 stitches after a very large 8 month old pup jumped up on me and came down with his teeth in my arm. I was greeting him for the first time, and of course I know how to greet dogs. We chalked it up to puppy exhuberance, but I’ve never trusted that dog since. It’s the first time I’ve ever been afraid of a dog, and he’s not good with people – they have to lock him and his sister up when they have friends over. I think the dogs are a disaster waiting to happen.

  12. I’ve read recently about a family dog, a sheltie with no history of aggression, never bitten before, that nipped the granddaughter when they were left alone together. She needed 4 stitches and is healing fine physically and emotionally. The family admits they shouldn’t have left them unsupervised and that the 3 year old startled or hurt the dog. But the dog was taken away and scheduled to be euthanized. I feel that the family has taken the appropriate responsibility for the child and dog, and that the dog’s history and temperament should be taken into consideration–which it hasn’t. The family has even agreed to give the dog back to the breeder if it needs to be rehomed, where it would live on a farm with other shelties and no children. They have a petition “Save Jack” and are appealing this in court, meanwhile the dog has spent months away from his family in a cage in a shelter. Not good for the dog, good for you.

  13. Every situation is unique but if my dog bites someone then I feel I am totally responsible. I think most of the time if you would admit to whatever you did wrong and apologize and just in general do the right thing most people are ok with that. Interesting you brought up the doctors. We had a situation and I won’t name the top dog at the hospital but bottom line is they screwed up, nobody died or anything but it was a rather significant opps, the head guy personally let us know they indeed DID screw up and apologized and had ideas so this error wouldn’t happen again and you could just feel the sincerity and knew he meant it and that was enough for us to know it would be corrected and end of story. Could we all have gotten rich? Maybe…could we face ourselves in the mirror after someone was honest and did all they could to fix/correct the problem no, of course not!