Protecting Your Family from Dog Bites
If you’re like many people these days, you’re spending more quality time at home and taking advantage of fresh air when you can get it. Unfortunately, this can also mean less than friendly interactions with your neighborhood dogs.
Under Michigan’s leash law, which dates back over 100 years, precludes dogs from being off-leash in public. Unfortunately, not all dog owners follow the law. If a dog owner violates this statute, they could face misdemeanor charges and fines up to $10,000.
Michigan also has a dog bite statute that holds a dog owner strictly liable for injuries sustained by a person who is bit by the dog without provocation, provided that the injured person was not trespassing.
Here’s what you can do to protect your family from dog bites—and what to do if you get bitten by a neighbor’s dog.
Avoid the Situation
The best way to protect your family from dog bites is to avoid the situation altogether.
If you are aware of a dog on your usual route that the owners leave off leash and is likely to rush at you and your family, take a different route. While it is frustrating to change your behavior because of someone else’s inconsiderate behavior, your safety should always take priority. If you know that a dog owner isn’t going to keep their dog under control, don’t walk into the situation.
Of course, we understand that not every neighborhood makes it easy to alter your route. Maybe the aggressive dog lives a few doors down and they’re difficult to bypass. In those cases, hop in your car and drive somewhere else. Yes, it’s frustrating, but it guarantees that you’ll avoid confrontation.
If you’re dealing with a leashed dog who seems to be aggressive or overexcited, keep a wide berth and maintain a safe distance. If a dog is being walked on a long leash, alert the owner to rein their dog in as you pass and make sure to pass at a distance. You should always be aware of dogs a block ahead of you so you have ample time to plan.
Be on the Lookout for When the Dog is Ready to Bite
A dog owner who is not paying attention may believe that there was no time to prevent the dog attack. But, the reality is that dog body language is a complex ballet, and dogs usually provide ample warning before they bite.
Growling and snapping are the most obvious signs of aggression in a dog. If a dog is growling, it’s a clear message: stay away.
However, many dogs bite out of fear, not aggression. In those cases, signs are still there, but they’re not as obvious as the aggression red flags many humans recognize.
For example, lip licking (when food is not involved), yawning, and avoiding eye contact are three of the earliest signs that a dog is uncomfortable. They do not necessarily mean a bite is coming, but they do mean a dog is unsettled—better to stay away just in case.
Another confusing red flag is tail wagging. Most of us think a wagging tail means a happy dog, but you can tell based on subtle body language whether a tail is happy or anxious. A happy dog will wag their tail with their whole body. A nervous or aggressive dog will hold their tail higher than usual and wag only their tail, keeping the rest of their body still.
Don’t forget to look at the dog’s face, specifically their eyes—if you can see the whites of their eyes, a dog is anxious. When a dog feels threatened, they’ll keep their eyes fixed on their target, maintaining intense eye contact and tracking the threat. No matter how their head moves, their eyes will stay locked. Anxious dogs aren’t automatically biters, but the risk is much higher.
What to Do If You Encounter a Dog Ready to Bite
If you encounter a dog that’s already prepared to bite, the most important thing is to stay calm. Don’t panic. The more agitated you become, the more agitated the dog will become, and the more likely they are to bite.
If a dog is threatening you, don’t run. Running activates a dog’s prey drive—their eagerness to stalk, chase, bite to grab and bite to kill. It may not seem like the best idea at the time, but the best thing you can do is stay still, assume a tree position (arms extended alongside your body) and avoid eye contact with the dog.
This will make you appear less threatening to the dog. Dogs respond to dominance, and anything that threatens their dominance makes them more likely to attack and defend. Ideally, this will calm the dog down or make them lose interest.
If this doesn’t work, try to distract the dog. If you happen to have dog treats in your pocket, distract the dog with one of the biscuits. If you don’t, try something else, like throwing a stick.
If a Dog Does Attack
If a dog attacks you, your dog or a loved one, shout commands in a solid, firm voice. For example, you can shout:
It may take a few tries, but a well-trained dog will respond. Dogs that are overly exuberant (rather than aggressive) may also respond calmly to this. Don’t try to get your hands involved if you can help it—this will make the attacking dog perceive you as a threat and they may switch to attacking you. Also, if your dog is fighting back, they may bite you accidentally.
Keep in mind that this method doesn’t necessarily work on untrained or stray dogs.
If a dog attacks you and you have space (I.e. the dog is running at you) try to put something between yourself and the dog if you can. Feed them your jacket, purse, shoes, bicycle—anything you can use to distract them, use it to buy yourself time to get away.
If a dog jumps on you and you fall or are knocked to the ground, you’re going to have to act quickly. Pull your knees in as high up as you can as fast as you can—your legs form a barrier between your face and the dog, and you can kick if necessary. Either way, cross your arms in front of your face immediately.
If You or a Loved One Suffered Dog Bites
Unfortunately, sometimes all the precautions in the world aren’t enough. If you or a loved one has suffered an injury due to a dog attack, you do not have to suffer because of an owner’s negligence.
The dog bite attorneys at Giroux Pappas Trial Attorneys go the extra mile to meet you where you need us. Our firm is founded on the principles of hard work and focus on the details, and we’ve protected clients like you since 1984. If you need to speak with an attorney about your options, schedule your free consultation today.