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What You Can Do About Dog Bites

Dogs are more than pets—they are family. But even well-behaved dogs can bite. In many cases, a bite can be prevented. Teaching children how to stay safe is especially important. This is because they are the ones most likely to be bitten.

Warning signs

Some dog behaviors may signal that a dog is aggressive, afraid, or protecting their territory. Here are some situations in which a dog is more likely to bite. Watch for these signs:

  • Growling, snarling, or barking

  • Crouching with the head low or the tail between the legs

  • Fur that’s standing up, erect ears, a stiff body, and a high tail

  • Obvious injury or pain

Let a dog sniff you or your child's closed hand before petting, and stay away from the face or tail. Pet the dog gently, and don't look the dog in the eye, particularly at first. Always ask the owner's permission before petting any dog.

Preventing bites

If a strange dog comes near you, stand still, keep your hands down, and avoid eye contact. Once the dog loses interest, slowly back away. If you’re knocked down, curl into a ball and cover your head, neck, and face. Interlock your fingers to protect your neck and ears. If you remain very still, the dog will probably just sniff you and then go away. Remember these tips, too:

  • Ask permission from the dog owner before approaching or petting a dog you don’t know.

  • Never leave a baby or a small child alone with a dog—even the family pet.

  • Teach your children to treat dogs gently and with respect.

  • Teach your child to move calmly and slowly around dogs.

  • Stay away from dogs that are cornered, chained, in a car, or behind a fence.

  • Don’t play rough with any dog.

  • Don’t break up a dog fight.

  • Don’t surprise older dogs. A dog that’s deaf or blind may bite.

  • Let a dog sniff your child before petting. Teach your child to keep away from a dog’s head and tail.

  • Pet the dog gently and don't look the dog in the eye.

  • Don’t disturb a dog that’s sleeping, eating, or caring for puppies.

Self-care after a bite

Rinse the bite with running water right away. This may help clean away bacteria. Then, wash the wound gently with warm, soapy water for at least 5 minutes. Cover it with a clean bandage, and call your healthcare provider. You may need antibiotics, a tetanus shot, or rabies shots, or a combo of these. If the bite is bleeding heavily, put direct pressure on it and raise it above heart level until the bleeding stops. If you are severely bitten, call 911 or go to the ER for treatment.

Your area may have a law about reporting dog bites. If so, report the bite to the local health department and animal-control agency. And try to find the dog’s owner. You need to know if the dog's rabies vaccine is current.

Online Medical Reviewer: Eric Perez MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Ronald Karlin MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Stacey Wojcik MBA BSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 8/1/2023
© 2000-2024 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.