Can a Dog Who Has Bitten Be Trusted Again?

James Glover
by James Glover
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QuestionA friend's dog recently bit her child in the face requiring several stitches. The dog has never displayed this behavior before and the owner feels that the dog might bite her child again. She is heart-broken because she has been told that once a dog bites, he can never be trusted. Do you have any advice? (Missy Hargraves - New York)

Answer

Each year nearly 2.8 million children are bitten by a dog, and nearly 80% of these are inflicted by intact (not neutered) males. Data from the American Veterinary Medicine Association (AVMA) shows that not only are children more likely to be bitten by a dog than an adult, but that dog bites are one of the three main reasons a child will need to visit an ER. In addition, most children are bitten by dogs that they know. While it is often claimed that no dog can be 100% trusted not to bite a child, it is certainly true that some dogs are more likely to bite a child. And unfortunately, if a dog has already bitten a child it must be admitted that the chances of him doing this again are higher than if he had not already bitten.

Whenever a dog bites a child in the face, there is risk of serious injury. If this incident required stitches, it can be safely assumed that had the bite made contact with the eye the child could have been blinded in that eye. And a slightly more severe bite could have resulted in permanent disfiguration. Another factor to consider is that had the dog bitten a child from outside the family, your friend could now be subject to a major lawsuit.

There may be ways to keep the dog and minimize risk. If you were able to provide your dog with a safe, warm and secure outdoor kennel with plenty of space to run about, a daily long walk and plenty of human attention from your friend, it may be possible to provide a high quality of life to both her children and the dog. In this situation her dog would never be left with children unattended, or even never come in contact with them. However, if her dog's quality of life would be substantially reduced this is not an option. If your friend decided to get rid of her dog, the most likely destination is a shelter. She should under no circumstances give her dog to another family if the reason she is giving him up is through fear of biting. Unfortunately, a shelter will not re-home a dog that is a potential danger to people, and therefore the sad but most likely conclusion would be for her dog to be euthanized.

Without knowing your friend's dog, or the circumstances under which he bit her child, it is impossible to pass ultimate judgment. Your friend needs to be completely honest with herself about the risks she feels her dog poses. It would also be helpful to seek the advice of a professional behaviorist who can spend some time with her dog and help her make a decision.

Disclaimer: This service is meant to provide advice only and is not meant to replace an appointment with a registered veterinarian. Users should always seek a second opinion. Unfortunately we are only able to answer several questions per week so not everyone gets a published answer. And, unfortunately we can't answer by email.
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Readers' Comments (Newest to Oldest)
Idaho
redneckrick74
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Added on Oct 20th, 2013
the real quistion is did the child provoke the dog or did the dog just bit the child for no reason if that is the case try to give the dog to a law enforcement agency this way the animal is not put down i feel that is just wrong i had to give one of my dogs away once she was a pit husky mix she is now a police dog she just made lutenit with the police department we gave her two so please dont destroy the dog find a good place for it two go
Idaho
lkfairchild
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Added on Nov 3rd, 2009
I once had a dog that bit my grandson - twice, 2 years apart. The bites were in the face but didn't require stitches, just medical attention. That was almost 20 years ago and my grandson has since admitted that he stepped on the dog's tail - twice. While this may or may not have been accidental, it is still not ok to bite a child in the face for any reason. I think any dog can bite a mischievious child. The sad part of all this is that the first bite is my grandson's very first memory (he was 2). Also, he's still very leery of any dog and will never be a dog lover. Best to prevent any bites at all by not having a dog in a very young child's home.
Maryland
HorsetoHound
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Added on Jan 30th, 2009
Yeah Spiritdogs for such valuable sane and humane advice.
Washington
Diamonzgirl
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Added on Jan 28th, 2009
I agree, that the reason the dog bit should be researched first before doing anything drastic. If the child provoked the bite, chances are it will happen again with other dogs.
   
As a kid we had a farm dog that was a great kid sitter. Where ever their were children, Twinkles was there watching over them. She fell asleep under a big shade tree that was great for climbing. One of the neighboring farm children, climbed the tree and jumped out, landing right on Twinkles who was snoozing. She was understandably startled and bit him on the arm.
   
We were forced to put her down and a huge riff was created through out the community because of it. Most believed it was vastly unfair for the parents of the bitten boy, to insist we put her down but it was that or face a lawsuit.
   
Most dog bites involving children stem from lack of parental education on how to behave around a dog. Children do not recognize the warning signs and will press ever on until the dog has reached it's limits.
   
Minnesota
pattypetlover
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Added on Jan 28th, 2009
We had a dog, that bit my 12yr old, once or twice. We found out it was my 12 yr. old's fault. She would pester him, while he was sleeping, or eating. She just wouldn't leave him alone. We eventually, gave him up for adoption. The Human Society, gave him to a loving older couple, who had no children.
   
To the person, who child was bitten. I think first of all, the person needs to find out, what prompt the dog, to bite. Was the child harrassing the dog, maybe when no one was looking. If thats the case, maybe interaction between the dog and child need to be supervised. And if the child is old enough, maybe educating the child, on how to treat the dog.
   
You could also, maybe looking into putting up the dog for adoption, maybe to a family, that has no young children, or children at all. Personally, I'm against putting the dog down. To me thats murder. They're other ways to deal with the problem.
Florida
burnitt1294
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Added on Jan 24th, 2009
I have a dogo argintno and he became aggressive and started to growl and push me around. We had many recomendations to put him down. We had one recomendation to get him nuetered. We did, he got better. But, a few months after the surgery he became agressive agin. and agin, we searched for an answer. It turns out, his thyroid went out. So, before claiming a dog is dangerous after it has bitten someone, I say check for medical problems first.But dont just go to one vet go to several, and you will find the answer.
   
I know how you feel, and its not the best feeling when you think your going to have to destroy a family member.
   
But the best of luck to you.
New York
Carolann
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Added on Jan 24th, 2009
I would have to say that once a dog has seriously bitten a child, the dog should not be trusted unsupervised with a child again. Many times the dog is blamed for an attack when the child provoked the attack in the first place, and that's why they must be supervised. There was a case, a very sad case years ago where a rotty attacked a child and was put down after much violence had taken place in the home afterward. Upon examination of the dog, it was found the child had jammed a pencil in the ear of the poor dog and the pain caused it to go berserk! That child was the cause of the attack and should never have been left alone with that gentle old dog. But of course it is the responsibility of the adults to be there every moment.
   
Once a dog has bitten a child, they may be too nervous around children to be in that household again. Children are rough , fast and loud which makes some pets nervous and they fear they will be hurt. So remove the dog from the home if you need to, but do not discount this dog as a wonderful pet for an adult home. I don't think it's punishment should be death when there are many calm, appropriate homes for him to live out his life in. The old dog I now have who just turned 16 years old bit me the first day I brought him home from death row. He had been un neutered and passed around from family to family, hit and finally kept outside to live a cold lonely life. I brought him home, had him neutered , gave him lots of love and huggs on a daily basis and let him into my heart. He has been around my granddaughter since she was 9 months old and been the most gentle, loving pet who has ever owned me! So take each situation on a case by case story and at least give the "offender" the benefit of the doubt and try to place him in a more appropriate home.
Texas
DJTEEL2004
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Added on Jan 24th, 2009
my terrier likes to playfully nibble on fingers and hands and it would be easy for him to bite a young child innocently while merely attempting to be playful.i by no means would eutahnize my dog or give him up under such circumstances. i think it's important to find the reason the dog bit to begin with.out of meanness or being playful..there IS a difference and there would be a different way of approaching both of those.
New Jersey
palgal
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Added on Jan 23rd, 2009
My friend's english setter bit her daughter when he was a puppy on Christmas day with company in the house. He was wonderful up until that point. They were heartbroken and had him neutered right away hoping that would help. I am happy to say it was the only time he ever bit anyone and he lived to be 15 years old.
   
I hope it all works out, but the childrens saftey must be priority.
Illinois
Sue56
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Added on Jan 22nd, 2009
A child's safety and well-being should come first no matter what! A 3-week old girl was mauled and killed this week by the family's dog. Once a dog bites, it can never be trusted again. I stand by my earlier comment. Get rid of it.
   
http://daily-journal.com/archives/dj/display.php?id=434219
Illinois
Sue56
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Added on Jan 22nd, 2009
You cannot trust a dog after they bite the first time. My parents had a dog that would bite without warning. My 6 year old son was bitten twice and my 23 year old sister once - both in the face. The dog was friendly, his tail wagged the entire time he was biting people. There was no warning, no provocation on anyone's part. My son was standing next to the dog watching me walk out to my car. My sister was sitting down, just talking to family members. If you have the misfortune to own a dog that has bitten someone, get rid of it.
Massachusetts
spiritdogs
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Added on Jan 22nd, 2009
Any time a dog exhibits sudden or uncharacteristic aggression, the first thing to do is have a veterinarian check the dog for a medical cause that might have a solution - anything from vision loss, to hypothyroidism, to seizure activity, to abscessed teeth, to arthritis.
   
Granted, you do not want to take chances with a child, but to say that isolation, relinquishment or euthanasia are higher on the list than a face to face vet check is irresponsible. The dog can be fitted for a secure basket muzzle until all evaluations are made, and options explored for how to manage or re-home the dog. There are many dogs that bite only once, then never again. It would be sad to just shuffle a family dog off to a shelter without any proper evaluation of the incident by a professional. No one should ever euthanize a dog based on Internet advice!
   
Great references: "How to Live With Kids and Dogs Without Losing Your Mind" by Coleen Pelar
   
"Raising Puppies and Kids Together" by Pia Sylvani