Dog bites: what causes dogs to bite, how to prevent being bitten, and what to do if you are bitten

Home treatment or an emergency trip to the vet or doctor? We’re here to help.

Even though dogs are man’s best friends, they can behave unpredictably, and aggressive behaviour or even biting is not uncommon. The majority of dog bites occur in children, simply due to the fact that they are smaller and are unaware how to behave around dogs.

A number of factors can cause a dog to bite:

  • They are very possessive over food, toys or property. So someone entering their property or getting between them and their food can result in biting.
  • They’re frightened. They could be frightened of anything from the postman to the vet and a fearful dog is a dangerous dog.
  • If there are no other obvious reasons for your dog to bite, he might be in pain.
  • Instincts (be they maternal or hunting). A mom will be extremely protective over her puppies. And if a dog sees someone cycle or jog past, their instinct to chase might kick in.
  • Puppies tend to nip at any and everything, especially when they’re teething.


Any of the following signs could be a warning your dog is about to display aggressive behaviour, often resulting in biting:

  • The hair on the back of their necks standing up
  • Growling
  • Stiff legs
  • Ears pinned back
  • Teeth bared


What to do immediately after a dog bite has occurred:

  • Remove yourself or the victim from the situation as safely as possible
  • If the dog runs off, don’t attempt to chase it, rather see to the victim
  • If the dog’s owner is present, exchange contact details (for possible proof of vaccination certificates etc.)
  • Assess the wound and treat accordingly


If the wound is superficial:

  • Clean it thoroughly with warm running water and disinfectant
  • Put a topical antibiotic treatment on in case of infection and apply a clean bandage
  • Keep an eye on the wound for any infection


If the wound is deep/the skin has been punctured:

  • Clean it with warm running water
  • Don’t be afraid to let it bleed for a few minutes. The blood will cleanse the wound and help to prevent infection
  • After a few minutes, try to stop the blood by elevating the limb and applying pressure using a clean bandage
  • Head to the doctor’s or emergency room for treatment where the doctor will assess whether any tendons, bones or joints have been affected by the bite. He will also assess for the risk of disease such as tetanus and rabies and a tetanus shot might be necessary. He will ask a bunch of questions about how the bite happened and will want to know details about the dog in question, so make sure you have as many answers as possible ready. With all this knowledge at his disposal, he will then treat the bite accordingly.


How to prevent a dog bite:

  • First, make sure you get a dog with the right temperament, one that suits your family and your lifestyle.
  • Train your dog so that he knows the basic sit, stay and leave commands as well as how to walk on and off a lead.
  • Socialise him, so that he knows and understands how to behave outside the walls of your property.
  • Train your children how to behave around dogs. Aside from the obvious (don’t kick or hurt them), they need to know not to remove food while they are eating, not to startle them, and not to get in-between a mom and her pups.
  • If a dog does start to chase you, or displays aggressive behaviour, avoid eye contact but stand tall, don’t run away and scream – this will just vilify your behaviour as ‘prey’.
  • If a dog does attack, try and curl up in a little ball, face down, with your hands protecting your ears


Always report incidents of dog aggression to the local authorities. This will help with your insurance claim if you decide to claim for damages.

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