Know what to do when you encounter a threatening dog

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How to avoid dog bites … and what to do if a dog does attack

Many circumstances can lead to a dog bite. Whether it happens when a homeowner opens the door and the family pet escapes, or when an improperly socialized dog views a visitor as an intruder and attacks, the harm may be minimized if the victim understands how to react.

Every year, more than 800,000 Americans suffer dog bites serious enough to require medical attention. About half of victims are children. Here we will provide not only tips for how to react to maximize your safety, but also the basics of Ohio legal remedies for those who do get bitten.


What makes dogs bite?

Dogs act aggressively for many reasons:

  • Asserting dominance
  • Territorial/protective instincts
  • Predatory instincts to chase
  • Fear of harm
  • Dog is injured or ill
  • Reaction to abuse or taunting
  • Misdirected anxiety
  • Trained behavior

Certain breeds such as pit bulls are the most likely to cause severe injury or death when they attack. But any dog will attack if it has not been properly socialized to humans or if it has been conditioned to be aggressive.

Encountering unrestrained dogs

Pedestrians and bicyclists may encounter dogs that are not on a leash or restrained by a fence or electronic collar. Dogs may attack if they perceive a threat to their territory or their owner. They are more likely to bite or chase when their master is not present. Two or more dogs together tend to be more aggressive than one dog by itself.

A whistle, dog treat or spray bottle may deter or distract an approaching dog, and if not, a walking stick may be useful for further protection. If a person had identified a home with a problematic dog – or any dog that is habitually unrestrained – it is best avoid that route if possible.

If a loose dog charges, chases or barks, resist the urge to scream, shout, flee, wave your arms or kick at the dog. Running away may actually trigger a more aggressive attack. Pepper spray is rarely helpful. Walk away as calmly and quietly as possible. Avoid direct eye contact, which the dog may perceive as a challenge.

Avoid tied-up dogs

Dogs that are chained or tethered can be even more dangerous than a dog running loose. Many fatalities and maulings involve tethered dogs. It is likely the dog is tied up because of a history of vicious behavior. Never approach or try to slip past a dog on a chain, especially if it is growling or barking.

Approaching new and unfamiliar dogs

Even when the owner is home or the dog is on a leash, dogs may bite. Newer dogs tend to be more skittish — or more aggressive — than dogs that are comfortably settled in. Likewise, dogs are more likely to snap at people who are new to them.

Good advice for children (or anyone) around an unfamiliar dog:

  • Ask the owner for permission to pet it.
  • Let the dog sniff the back of your hand (rather than offering your fingers to be bitten).
  • Petting the dog under the chin is less threatening. Some dogs don’t like to petted or patted on the head, especially if you are new to them.
  • Never try to take any object from a dog, even playfully.

If a dog does attack

It is not always possible to avoid or retreat a menacing dog. Identifying the best defensive technique depends on which area of the body is at risk from the dog in question. Curling into a ball and covering the head and neck may minimize the damage from a larger dog because it characteristically lunges for the neck or face. While performing this maneuver, raise a knee to protect other body parts that are still exposed. A small- or medium-size dog may bite the victim’s feet and legs. Protect your hands and fingers.

Dog attacks are scary and traumatic. Even with a textbook response, a bite could lead to a serious outcome such as scarring or nerve damage. An attack can exert a physical toll as well as an emotional one, and Ohioans may not be fully aware of their legal rights for recovery. Consulting with an attorney may be helpful in the aftermath of a dog attack.

Ohio dog-bite claims: strict liability or negligence

Ohio law recognizes two types of dog bite claims: strict liability and negligence. Ohio courts allow either or both claims in one lawsuit.

Dog bite claims under strict liability are based on Ohio statute. An owner, keeper or harborer of a dog is automatically liable for resulting injury, death or other loss from a bite, except when the victim was:

  • Trespassing or attempting to trespass on the property of the dog’s owner, keeper or harborer
  • Committing or attempting to commit a crime on the owner/keeper or against any person
  • Teasing, tormenting or abusing the dog on the owner/keeper’s property

Under strict liability, the owner is financially responsible even if the dog never bit anyone before or displayed any vicious propensity.

A negligence claim is based in common law and is valid if the owner, keeper or harborer of a vicious dog that caused injury or loss knew the dog was vicious and negligently kept such a dog.

An attorney’s thorough investigation and advice is important because different kinds of damages may be available under the two theories, and the defenses vary.


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