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 avoided. 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 his or her territory. These are 3 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

Preventing bites

If a strange dog comes near you, stand still, keep your hands down, and avoid eye contact. If you’re knocked down, curl into a ball and cover your head, neck, and face. Remember these tips, too:

  • Ask before petting a dog you don’t know.

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

  • Avoid 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.

  • Keep your face away from a dog’s head.

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

Self-care after a bite

Rinse the bite with running water. This may help clean away bacteria. Then, wash the wound with warm, soapy water for at least 5 minutes. Cover it with a clean bandage, and call your healthcare provider. If the bite is bleeding heavily, apply direct pressure and raise it above heart level until the bleeding stops.

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: Daphne Pierce-Smith RN MSN CCRCDonna Freeborn PhD CNM FNPEric Perez MD

Date Last Reviewed: 2/1/2019

© 2000-2019 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.