My Dog Bit Someone What Should I Do?

Mar 29 / Sally Gutteridge
In this excellent guest post Chris Salmon of Quittance Legal Services tells us what to expect legally if our dog ever bites someone. 
Over a quarter of all UK households have a pet dog, and the number of canine companions is growing year on year, with smaller breeds becoming increasingly popular. 

Dog Bites In The UK

One in four people has had some sort of nip or bite from a dog, according to a study by the British Medical Journal.

In fact, similar data from the Royal College of Surgeons suggests that dog bites in the UK have grown by 5% in the last three years. This increase may be a result of people being more likely to seek medical attention for bites than in previous years. The rise may also result from the growing popularity of smaller breeds, which are often mistakenly assumed to be less aggressive.

Thankfully, the number of people requiring hospital care following dog attacks is still low, with only 0.6% of all bites requiring hospital admission.

But although serious dog attacks are rare, even the most responsible owners can lose control of an agitated animal - and an incident can have legal ramifications.

Appropriate training will allow you to better manage your dog when it is becoming agitated or aggressive. Knowing what to do if your dog does bite someone can help you achieve the best outcome for everyone involved, including your dog.

Dogs And The Law

There are various pieces of legislation concerning dog ownership in the UK.

Dangerous Dogs Act 1991

The Dangerous Dogs Act was introduced in 1991, making it a criminal offence for a dog to be “dangerously out of control” - meaning biting or threatening to bite - in public. In 2014, the scope of the act was extended to also apply to incidents on private property.

This law also bans the ownership of certain breeds, specifically the:

  • Pit Bull,
  • Japanese Tosa,
  • Dogo Argentino,
  • Fila Brasiliero,


or any crosses with these breeds. Critics of this law say that there’s no scientific or statistical evidence to support banning these particular breeds, and that the law has failed in reducing the number of overall attacks.

Dog-related offences are covered by various other pieces of legislation and common law. For example, it is legal for a farmer to shoot a dog (as a last resort) if it is worrying livestock.

Animals Act 1971

Under the Animals Act 1971, a dog’s owner or handler is liable for their dog’s behaviour. An owner or handler can be sued if their animal injures someone. It is possible for an injured claimant to take legal action even if no formal action is taken by the police or local council.

What To Do If Your Dog Bites Someone 

If your dog has bitten someone, the following steps can help resolve the situation:

Secure your dog

The first thing you should do is secure your dog. Try to calm the animal down using training commands or a favourite toy, or remove the animal from the situation. Try to avoid shouting or making eye contact; this can cause some animals to become more aggressive. Get your dog on a lead if you can safely do so.

Medical help

As soon as the dog is secured, you should support the injured person and consider what first aid may be necessary, even if the injuries are minor. It may be necessary to call an ambulance if the bite is more serious, or if the person has fallen and may be concussed. You should stay with the person until the ambulance or a friend or family member arrives.

Exchange contact details

Ensure you exchange contact details with the injured person - this will show the authorities that you are cooperating from the outset. If there are any witnesses that can support your version of events, for example, if your dog was provoked, make sure you have their contact details as well. If appropriate, it may be worth taking photos or videos of the scene as evidence.

Prevent it happening again

You should take extra precautions, whatever the immediate outcome of the attack, in order to prevent something similar from happening again. Precautions could include keeping your dog on a lead, seeking advice from behaviour experts about how to manage certain situations, or warning people who want to stroke or pet your dog.

A failure to take precautions following an attack could be used as supporting evidence against you, if your dog is involved in another incident in the future.
What will happen if my dog bites someone?

What Will Happen if My Dog Bites Someone

The authorities are less likely to take official action following minor incidents, particularly for a ‘first offence’, although enforcement does vary across the country.
However, if your dog has attacked someone, it can technically be confiscated or even destroyed under the Dangerous Dogs Act (1991) - and if your dog is suspected to be one of the banned breeds covered by the Breed Specific Legislation, severe sanctions are much more likely.

If your dog is deemed to be ‘dangerously out of control’, the penalties for the owner can be serious and could include:

  • A permanent ban from owning a dog
  • A control order
  • A prison sentence
  • An unlimited fine

The circumstances surrounding the dog bite will determine the consequences. These might include factors such as whether:

  • The dog has attacked before
  • The dog was provoked
  • The owner warned the injured party and that warning was ignored
  • The injured person was trespassing on property the dog was guarding
  • Someone was responsible for the dog at the time whom the owner reasonably regarded as ‘fit and proper’
  • The injured person put themselves in danger, e.g. to break up a dog fight, or they approached a visibly stressed animal.

Chris Salmon, Director of Quittance Legal Services said,

“If a person injured by a dog seeks compensation under the Animals Act 1971, a key factor in successful claims will be whether the owner was deemed to be negligent. It may be more difficult to claim if the dog had never attacked anyone before and the attack was not reasonably foreseeable.”

Preventing Dog Bites

All dogs have the potential to injure someone, especially if they are frightened or in a stressful situation. Even the most docile of family pets can become aggressive in certain circumstances.

In order to reduce the risk of your dog attacking someone, there are various steps that owners can take:

Reward-based training

Using reward-based training with your dog can help you to keep control of it if a situation is escalating. If your dog is used to responding to reward-based commands, it is more likely to trust you and remain under your control when it is becoming stressed. Spending time training your dog will also give you a much better understanding and awareness of the dog’s moods, so you can anticipate any problems before they arise and act accordingly.

Socialising your dog

It’s important for your dog to be at ease around other dogs, so gradual socialisation is an essential step in reducing aggressive behaviour. This is particularly important when it comes to rescue dogs, which may have a history of abuse; in this case, it is best to seek advice from a professional dog behaviourist or experienced handler.

Leads

Using a lead will help you to control your dog, particularly in a busy or unfamiliar environment such as a new park or busy high street. Having your dog on a lead will support your defence that you have tried to control the animal if it does suddenly become aggressive.

Be aware of what’s around you

Taking note of what’s around you, such as other animals and young children, is an important skill for pet owners. Monitor anything that might trigger your dog to react, particularly if something is likely to make it scared or stressed. If you spot that your dog is becoming anxious or aggressive, warn people in the vicinity and remove your dog from the environment and help to calm it down.

Insuring your dog

The financial implications of a dog attack can be significant if someone decides to seek compensation for an injury. Securing appropriate pet insurance can help to mitigate the financial consequences of an incident, and some policies will cover both your legal fees and compensation.

Finding Help & Support For You And Your Dog

Organisations such as the Dogs Trust and the RSPCA can provide owners with advice on training, helping to manage animals in stressful situations and dealing with difficult behaviour.

Thankfully, serious dog attacks are rare, and animals are generally only confiscated as a last resort.

If your dog was provoked or the events that led to the attack were unforeseeable, then no action may be taken. For a ‘first offence’ or minor injury, you may receive a caution or small fine, but you should be extra vigilant in future, as further attacks will be more likely to be considered ‘foreseeable’.



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