Table of Contents
My Personal Experience
It was a harrowing experience August 16th 2022, My partner had just moved in and was taking our son to nursery, thinking I could quickly drop off the moving van and then get back to the dog which I left in the garden securely and humanely chained to his kennel / run, I popped out as well. I couldn’t even imagine what happened next.
When I arrived back at home 20 minutes later to police cars and an ambulance parked outside my house I could feel my heart drop through my stomach. I still remember the rain and the cold wind blowing as I was escorted to my garden where Bruce, my rescue, was being held by a group of people I had never met.
Bruce has always been a very reactive dog but loves people, he has always been kind and gentle towards my children and anyone that has been in the house, even when playing. Dogs and small animals however scare him to death. This was his downfall at the time of me leaving in the moving van a lovely lady and her small dog were walking past my front garden and the small dog, off lead, walked right in.
Bruce broke free of his restraints and went to see off the dog, sadly he not only bit the dog but also nipped the lady owner causing some minor wounds and some serious mental distress.
Thankfully both were okay after some minor treatment.
Going through this experience and learning about the law, punishments and liability of dog ownership motivated me to write this article, in it we will cover
How Common are Dog Bites in the UK
Although very serious attacks involving dogs and dog bites are heavily reported on in the news here there are a massive amount of minor incidents involving dog bites, attacks and close calls which are miss reported or passed over by most reporting agencies. In the article above it indicates there has been a 34% increase in dog related incidents in the last 5 years and it is only predicted to increase.
The increasing popularity of smaller breeds coils also play a part in the rising number of incidents. It’s assumed that these breeds are assumed to be less dangerous, but they absolutely have the ability to cause serious damage.
Bruce as a large breed rescue falls into the category of dog bites caused by aggressive looking dogs and can often fall into the category of looking like he can cause harm even when he shows absolutely no aggressive behaviour.
What Is The Law On A Dog Bite?
The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 makes it a criminal offence for a dog to be ‘dangerously out of control’ in public. A dog is considered to be dangerously out of control if it injures someone, or causes someone to have a reasonable fear they could be injured.
A court could also decide that your dog is dangerously out of control if either of the following apply:
It attacks someone’s animal
The owner of an animal thinks they could be injured if they tried to stop your dog attacking their animal
So a Dog on Dog attack is still a crime.
In 2014, the law was extended to include dog attacks on private property, including homes, meaning even if someone has come onto your property invited or otherwise you would still be liable for harm or distress caused by your dog.
The Act also includes a list of dangerous dog breeds which are illegal to own in the UK;
- Pit Bull Terrier
- Japanese Tosa
- Dogo Argentino
- Fila Brasileiro
It’s also against the law to:
- Sell a banned dog
- Abandon a banned dog
- Give away a banned dog
- Breed from a banned dog
Living in the UK the above list has often been criticised as it is not based on scientific evidence or even the trends of incidents reported but historic information, this often leads to dogs being confiscated and destroyed even when they have done nothing wrong.
There are a wide range of exceptions to the rules as well. For example If a farmer believes that a dog is worrying / harassing their livestock, the farmer can offer this as a legal defence for killing the dog.
Why Do Dogs Bite?
Dogs are normally social animals and tend to steer clear of situations that might get aggressive, saying that a dog is attacking is often not quite right, normally they are defensive and just looking to escape or put distance between them and the cause of their anxiety. This is not always the case though!
Normally there is something which triggers a change in your dog. I know for Bruce this is his past before he was rescued, but it could also be because they got a sudden fright, or because the warning signs are showing they are uncomfortable are being ignored
A short list of triggers:
- High Prey Drive
- Maternal instinct
Fear; This as you would probably expect is a common issue, sometimes your Dog can be fearful if they have made a mistake or a punishment is on its way this can lead to some out of character behaviour including dog bites. Anxiety although not in its own category is often another cause for dog bites or seeing red and triggering an attack.
If your Dog is feeling threatened just like a human it is much more likely to lash out. If you find your dog bites or threatens to, it is important to gain a professional opinion of a trainer or Vet as well as building as much trust as possible with your Dog to alleviate any fears they have.
Pain; How are you when you are in pain? I know I am significantly more irritable! If you’re bitten unexpectedly and none of the other reasons apply, it’s a good time to consider going to the Vet. Pets are very good at hiding pain, but if you touch a sore spot, they can react instinctively, a dog with bite or nip in particular. Your vet can determine whether your dog is feeling pain, or if they have any other issues which need to be addressed.
High prey drive; this one is a particular issue for Bruce and gives dogs the instinct to chase and bite small pets or farm animals, especially if they are running away. This is a common cause of Dog Bites in the UK. My advice would be for dog breeds that are well known for this to take steps to make sure your dog can’t accidentally hurt other animals. This may include making your home and garden secure, i added a 6ft solid fence and keeping them on a lead when outside with a muzzle for added protection.
Maternal Instincts; As a father myself I can’t really blame a dog for this one, its really important to respect a mother’s space when she is looking after her pups. A mother can fiercely protect her litter and even surprise you with an unexpected dog bite. When she is ready it’s normal for behaviours to return to normal if any changes have occurred.
Dogs should always be kept on a lead around livestock. It’s a serious crime to allow your dog to injure or kill a farm animal and this could lead to serious penalties for both yourself and your dog
Possessiveness; Finally we have possessiveness, the worst kind of bite that happens when you try to take something away from your dog, like a toy or food. This sadly is not a spontaneous reaction and is the start of a very poor behaviour. It’s your dog responding to you with dominance and defensiveness and can often lead to aggressive tendencies in your dog.
What Are The Signs My Dog Might Attack?
There are loads of resources available to help us out with this ensuring we can recognise the signs before a dog bite is suffered. A great example is this site where you can see examples of how your dog might act when they are uncomfortable or anxious.
It’s really important to recognise your dog’s body language to avoid dog bites, most of the more common signs are well understood but gaining experience in the identification of when your dog is uncomfortable is not as well known.
Signs of anxiety or being uncomfortable;
- Licking lips
- Ears going backwards, flattened on their head
- Frequent Yawning
- Showing the whites of their eyes or hyperfocus
- Turning their face away
- Trying to move or turn away from the other dog
- Standing crouched or walking low to the ground.
Normal signs of aggression;
- Baring teeth
What should I Do If My Dog Bites Someone?
After the incident Bruce was immediately confiscated by the Dog Warden and held in a local police kennel scheduled for destruction. It was a harrowing experience and the police in this example were less than helpful as they gave me no clear information on my options or what the potential consequences would be. After that I put together this KEY information below
It is not always the case even if your dog bites a human or another animal that it needs to be confiscated or scheduled for destruction.
A conditional warning can be applied as long as you are willing to put all of the safety measures in place and the person involved in the incident is willing to drop the charges or come to some out of court agreement.
As an owner, you can do everything right, not even be involved or around and still have to deal with a Dog Bite. Dogs are unpredictable.
I wish I had taken better precautions and I would really recommend putting into practice the following steps to reduce the risk of a Dog Bite or incident to as low as humanly possible!
- Stay Calm
- Ensure your Dog is Safe
- Get Veterinary attention
- Witness Statements and Evidence
- Avoid dangerous situations
It’s so important to stay calm during these situations, Dogs just like children pick up on social queues of their owners meaning if you are feeling stressed, panicked or anxious they will to. I know I really struggled with this even though normally I am a very calm person. Seeing something you love in distress is very difficult but do your best to stay in control of the situation.
Ensure Your Dog Is Safe And In A Safe Place
You may not be able to get to your dog depending on the Police but it is your right to get into your own home so if your Dog is there after a Dog bite incident you are able to access and see your animal. Use methods you know work with your dog ensuring you are not putting yourself or others at risk, you know your dog best so distract them from the high anxiety and panic stricken situation ensuring they feel safe and secure.
If you have completed any training use it, or use a familiar toy to distract them. As soon as it’s safe to do so make sure you get them on a lead and into a comfortable environment.
Get Veterinary Attention
After the incident it is really important to make sure any animals involved are okay, if you are the victim of course you will need to take your animal to the vets after a Dog Bite but even if your dog is the “aggressor” it is really important to get a health check too. We mentioned it earlier but there might be a preexisting health condition which is making your beloved Dog act like this.
Witness Statements And Evidence
Sadly like most people involved in an incident I was in shock when this happened so I wasn’t thinking correctly. I wish I had the advice below at the time of the incident!
It is often looked on favourably if you cooperate with the authorities after a dog bite and make yourself useful, following their instructions and making sure not to cause a disruption. The police will want to take a statement depending on the circumstances but do not allow them to force you to comply at the scene, you will probably be in shock and they have to propose a date for you in the future to go to the police station.
If you think your dog was provoked or that there were any other mitigating circumstances, you should make sure you collect the contact details of any witnesses to support your defence. You could also take photos or video of the scene which can be used later in court.
Avoid Dangerous Situations
Whatever the incident involving your dog, you should take steps to prevent something similar happening again.
Ensuring you recognise the triggers that cause your dog discomfort and putting plans in place to make sure your dog is happy and healthy is one of the keys to a happy pet life.
Walking your dog on a lead and using additional safety measures like a muzzle, a securely fenced area or walking in different places with low pedestrian and canine traffic.
Reactive dogs can be really difficult to manage on a lead especially after going through a dog bite incident, our How to train your dog to walk on a leash tips massively helped me ensure Bruce is safe and still able to enjoy his walkies!
What If My Dog Is The Victim Of A Dog Bite
- Stay calm, as mentioned above your dog will pick up on your signs and panic as well.
- Do not step between the dogs to break up a fight. This is the most common cause of dog bite injury to a human.
- Focus on your dog and getting your pup away from the other dog. A loud clap or dog whistle may help, then call your dog away.
- Do not shout at the other dog or make eye contact.
- Ask the other dog owner for details such as contact information and whether their dog is up to date on their vaccines. If the other pet owner is absent or uncooperative try to take pictures or videos
- Once you and your dog are safely away from the other dog, contact your vet immediately for advice
Why You Should Take Your Dog To The Vet After A Dog Bite
A dog’s mouth is one of the most bacteria ridden places on planet Earth. When a dog bite occurs to a human or another animal the risk of infection is very high.
When you or your dog is bitten, through saliva and physical contact bacteria is transferred to the victim, I could go into loads of scientific detail here on how the bacteria spreads, how long it takes for an infection to spread and how to treat a dog bite infection but that information can be found here
If your child is bitten or you have been nipped by an animal it is common practice to go to the doctors and get a tetanus jab especially if you are in the 10 year vaccination window or just cant remember the last time you had one.
Because the hole in the skin is relatively small, the skin tends to heal itself very quickly but in doing so, traps the bacteria within the pocket where it can quickly multiply and turn into an abscess.
While infection is normally the primary concern for any dog bite, especially the bacterial infection capnocytophagia, other serious health issues can develop depending on the location and severity of the bite. A few common issues include
- Infection of the bone
- Infection of the joint
- Cellulitis (tissue infection)
- Accumulation of pus in the chest cavity or abdominal cavity
So What Happened ?
In my case Bruce was detained in a police kennel for 3 weeks whilst the police sorted out a meeting / out of court settlement between myself and the person involved, it was decided that I would pay all the veterinary bills for the victim, attend a Responsible Dog Ownership course and apply some serious upgrades to the security of Bruce and my garden.
I was very lucky and I will forever be thankful to the person involved in the incident as thanks to them I have got to spend all this extra time with Bruce and happily watch him become a Senior Dog. I combined all my senior dog care information here as well if you want to give them a lovely retirement!
Punishments And The Police
I managed to save Bruce from this horrible circumstance thanks to the generosity of the person involved and the addition of several additional security measures, a large fence, muzzle, strong lead and to avoid busy areas. I also had to pay a fine and attend a Dog awareness course. But in the the worst case penalties imposed on the owner of a dog that is ‘dangerously out of control’ could include:
- A permanent ban from owning a dog
- A control order
- An unlimited fine
- A prison sentence
The legal consequences really depend on what has transpired. Normally factors that may be considered include:
- Has the dog has attacked someone before
- Was the dog was provoked
- Did the owner gave a warning
- Was the dog was guarding property and the injured person was trespassing
- If someone else was responsible for the dog at the time of the incident, the owner reasonably believed they were ‘fit and proper’
- Did the injured person put themselves in danger, e.g. if the dog was fighting with another animal, or they approached when the dog was already visibly stressed and aggressive
A dog’s keeper can be held liable for a dog’s behaviour. A key factor in any legal proceedings is if you are deemed to be negligent or not. If the dog had never attacked anyone before, or the attack was not reasonably foreseeable, then a claim may not be possible but i would recommend getting legal advice from a trained professional who deals with these types of claims.
Finally here is a quote from the DirectGov website in the UK regarding Dog related punishments
You can get an unlimited fine or be sent to prison for up to 6 months (or both) if your dog is dangerously out of control. You may not be allowed to own a dog in the future and your dog may be destroyed.
If you let your dog injure someone you can be sent to prison for up to 5 years or fined (or both). If you deliberately use your dog to injure someone you could be charged with ‘malicious wounding’.
If you allow your dog to kill someone you can be sent to prison for up to 14 years or get an unlimited fine (or both).
If you allow your dog to injure an assistance dog (for example a guide dog) you can be sent to prison for up to 3 years or fined (or both).
From speaking with a solicitor after the incident I know it is very expensive to go to court for the dog owner even if you had all the mitigations in place and did everything you could. I was quoted over £1000 pounds just to go over the case information before it even went to court!
I would strongly recommend getting some free advice from one of the many free solicitors specialising in these claims and keeping an active and open line of communication with the police to see if some solution can be made between you and the victim out of court.
Dog bites are a traumatic experience for all of those involved and hopefully my experience above will help you if you ever find yourself in this situation!