Can You Trust a Dog Who Has Bitten?

It can be difficult to decide what to do with an aggressive dog. An important question to consider: Can you trust a dog who has already bitten?

Can you trust a dog who has bitten before? By: Donnie Ray Jones

I am always amazed by people who charge up to a leashed dog and plunge their hand into the animal’s face. Would you tolerate that kind of invasion of your personal space from a stranger? I wouldn’t.

Yet we expect our dogs to be submissive and permit a stranger’s violation without incident. No wonder there are more than 800,000 physician-treated dog bites reported each year in the United States.

Playful Bites

Few dog lovers have escaped the occasional nip as the result of a play session that got too rambunctious. Puppies are especially prone to being overly expressive by biting — it is a source of communication for them. What is “cute” for a 1-pound baby can become deadly in a 60-pound adult dog.


It is your responsibility to teach good habits, especially those involving biting.

  • Avoid dangling fingers in play; your body is not a chew toy.
  • Teach positive play activities. Never participate in wrestling/fighting games.
  • Avoid jerking or teasing with hands and feet.
  • Never slap or hit a dog’s face — even playing.

Puppies learn bite inhibition through socialization, maturity and training. Trust becomes a learned response.

Don’t Miss: Warning Signs That a Dog Might Bite

Accidental Bites

At my home, we have 5 gentle dogs. I have been bitten twice by the same dog – Juno — and she is the sweetest of the 5.

There is no doubt both bites were accidental. I was trying to clip one of the younger dog’s nails for the first time. She did not like the process and was squirming and whining. I believe Juno thought the younger dog was hurting me, and she sprang into action. My arm was caught in the fray.

Luckily, I came away with only a minor bruise. Emergency physicians report that the highest incidence of dog bites treated in hospitals result from humans intervening in dog fights. Strange dogs, family dogs, friendly dogs — reasons rarely matter.

Few humans are physically able to break up a dog fight without getting hurt. The best thing to do is not try. Instincts provoke us to protect our own.


To avoid serious harm in a dog fight situation:

  • Prepare: Have a procedure in your mind.
  • Stay calm and protect yourself first.
  • Do not yell or scream unless you are calling for assistance; the dogs will not hear you.
  • Use props for distraction (brooms, rakes, cans, boxes, water — spraying the dogs with a hose will break up a fight nearly every time); grab anything within reach and toss it toward the fighting animals.
  • Do not reach for your dog immediately after a fight; the adrenaline is still pumping and he may mistake you as a continuation of the battle.

As with most accidents, some dog bites are the result of careless mistakes on the human’s part.

Protective Bites

Protective bites are those inflicted by a dog intent on keeping his people/pack, food or territory safe. Dogs injured or in pain are also extremely likely to resort to protective biting.

To avoid a protective bite by a dog:

  • Never approach an animal you do not know.
  • Never enter a premises if a dog is on patrol.
  • Never run from a dog.
  • Assume a guard dog will bite.
  • Never roughhouse or “play fight” with a person — especially a child — when that person’s dog is present.
  • Never approach a dog feeding.
  • Remember that a female dog with puppies will protect her babies at all costs.
  • Approach a dog that is in pain with extreme caution.

Breaking the dog rules pertaining to protection is a good chance for a dog bite. Trust in this case is about common sense.

Aggressive Bites

The only other time I was bitten by a dog involved a stranger’s pet.

A college internship provided field work opportunities with a social worker. We had an appointment scheduled at a client’s home. Arriving at the expected time, we saw a large dog chained (bad sign) on the front porch. The dog demonstrated no interest in us. He lay lazily on the porch.

Suddenly, without warning, the dog stood and lunged at my face, breaking the chain as he came at me. I was able to knock him down with my arm, but he nearly tore my finger off in the attack. He got several more less traumatic bites in before he ran and hid under a bush.

The dog was not provoked — he just attacked. A host of sutures and two reconstruction surgeries reattached my finger, but I still suffer nightmares of that attack.

Don’t Miss: 7 Keys to Reading a Dog’s Body Language

Some dogs are simply aggressive. Perhaps it is nurture rather than nature, but it happens. An attack by a strange dog is terrifying, but what do you do if you’re attacked by your own pet? An assault by someone you love is the worst kind of betrayal. It is difficult to understand and even harder to determine the appropriate path for resolution.

I recently read a post submitted to Vet Insights. The article shared some detail about someone who was attacked by her dog. This person made the painful decision to euthanize her pet. It is a moving, intelligent story about the anguish of an attack and the agony of the penalty.

Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD, a fellow Petful writer, provides another compelling article regarding the issue of aggressive dogs from a professional point of view. Dr. Deb empathizes with her clients who face “the mixture of responsibility and guilt, love and affection, of fear and heartbreak” when dealing with the fate of their pet.

People with aggressive dogs assume a huge liability. It is critical to be proactive and obtain professional evaluations and understand risks, limitations and options for control. Trust in this case can be fatal.


Boomer, meaning “full-grown kangaroo,” is a great male dog name for dogs who are tough or outgoing.


Once Bitten

So back to that initial question. Can you trust a dog who has bitten? I would say no. Any dog will bite. The numbers do not count. As a responsible caretaker for your dog, you must respect provocation from the dog’s perspective.

Most crimes in the human world require due process. Our legal system tries to understand who, what, when, where, how and so on before handing down a penalty. Judging the reason for a dog bite, the consequences and the potential for a repeat should use equal measures.

C.D. Watson

View posts by C.D. Watson
C.D. Watson has been researching and writing about pets for many years. She is a freelance writer and a corporate refugee. C.D. lives on a farm in the beautiful Great Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee with her husband, 3 dogs and a variety of other pets.

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  1. Holly McCleary
    October 24, 2015

    My female Doberman gave birth to her litter Tuesday. She lost 11 of 16 puppies. However, she did not get aggressive until Thursday night. She does not bite my hands, but she lunges when my face is in the vicinity. She also snapped at my mom’s face, as well. Why does she only attack faces? And why is she being so aggressive when she sees that I’m only moving them when she is sitting or standing on them?

    1. Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS
      Pippa Elliott
      October 24, 2015

      Hi Holly,
      Maternal aggression is a well recognized syndroe and something that needs to be respected. Please keep yourself safe and I would advise against handling the pups where ever possible. All your bitch’s hormones are geared to protecting her young, and if she has a strong maternal drive she’s unlikely to tolerate even the most well-intentionned of interventions.
      Also, I would strongly suggest getting her checked by your veterinarian. Losing so many puppies does raise a concern that she has a health problem.
      Best of luck,
      Dr Pippa

  2. Mildred Mele
    March 2, 2016

    I took my puppy from a dog foster home about a year ago. I love him to bits; he has a great personality, and I feel that he loves our family so much. BUT, he bites a lot. How to stop it?
    My husband and I were thinking about taking him to ‘doggy school’, but then again, it’s extremely expensive, and the nearest ‘doggy school’ is far away from us. Maybe you have some advice? THANK YOU!!!!

    1. Melissa Smith
      March 2, 2016

      Hi Mildred! I have never had experience with a biter, unfortunately. I will say that my first go-to is always the veterinarian. They see it all in there, so they usually have decent advice to help pup parents out!

  3. Neela Gerayli
    May 1, 2016

    My dog is about 4 in dog years and is a poodle terrier mix. My brother had some Freind’s over. One of his friends was playfully grabbing my sister and my dog thought she was grabbing her to hurt her. We went inside when she was about to leave and wanted a hug from me, who was holding the leash. My sister came to grab the leash from me because my dog had growled at her before and didn’t want him to bite her. While she was doing so, the friend went in for the hug and stepped out as soon as my sister stepped in, causing him to bite my sister. Is it possible that he did it on accident? Or is there some other explanation?

    1. Melissa Smith
      May 2, 2016

      Neela, I am certainly not a behavior expert in animals; there was a lot going on at the house it sounds like and it may have been stressful for your dog – but I certainly can’t be sure. Any time you have concerns I would definitely check in with your veterinarian, even if it’s just a phone call. He or she is trained and has the benefit of knowing your dog personally, and can give you more definitive advice.

  4. Shawn
    February 28, 2017

    So my dog went after the family cat the other day and but the cat on the face and would not let go, I got bit as well trying to separate the two, I don’t know if this was the dog being aggressive or just following its instincts since it was bred to hunt large rodent like creatures, any insight into this would be great, thanks

    1. Melissa Smith
      March 1, 2017

      Hi Shawn – unfortunately, it’s impossible to tell if they will be okay in the foreseeable future or not. There could have been many triggering factors, but some dogs just don’t do well with cats while others can live peaceably side by side for years. I hope your kitty is okay 🙁

  5. Uviwe
    May 14, 2017

    Hi, so at home we own two Boerbull (2 year old) dogs, generally they quite protective dogs but we had never had an incident with them, one day a friend had come over to our house and the dogs were obviously on the protective side as there was stranger but the weird thing is when the dogs charged and bit my younger( who was well acquainted with the dog) as he was coming out to join us outside, which was fare distance from where were standing. This resulted in a serious wound which had to be treated at the hospital. Now the predicament we in now, and the question question i want to ask you is, can we trust the dogs being alone with my younger brother after such an incident, as we not sure what could’ve been the cause for the dogs to charge and bite. Your opinion on this would be greatly appreciated thanks.

    1. Melissa Smith
      May 15, 2017

      HI Uviwe! Until you determine what the trigger was for the bite, my opinion would be: No, you should not leave them alone together.

  6. kaitlyn stoddart
    July 1, 2017

    I work at a dog kennel and there is a german shepherd female who is about 6 years old. Last year when I was letting her outside to go to the bathroom she turned on me and bit me, breaking skin. This dog is now back in our kennel and is showing extreme aggression towards me. She barks continuously and growls when I try to get close to let her outside. I have tried giving her a treat, talking in a calm manner, and trying to get her to sit or lie down. None of these options have worked. Can anyone give me some advice?

    1. Melissa Smith
      July 1, 2017

      Hi Kaitlyn! Has she displayed aggression towards anyone else? Any other animals?

      How was her posture before she bit you? Did she seem afraid, nervous or anxious? It could be any number of factors – a certain smell, for example. Perhaps you came up and startled her by accident and now she associates you with fear.

      For right now, it is not safe for you to approach her so I suggest you talk to your bosses about not handling this particular dog. In addition, if this is a boarding kennel her owners should be contacted to discuss her aggressive behavior.

  7. Andrea DeBardelaben
    July 4, 2017

    My dog bit my son on the arm while trying to get to another kid who he was holding but was kicking and screaming on my sons head. He has never ever bit anyone before this and has never even shown agression he is 2. And even after the bite has not been aggressive. Should he be put down?

    1. Melissa Smith
      July 4, 2017

      Hi Andrea – that is really tough question, because there are so many external factors at work here. I think the best thing to do is discuss the incident with your veterinarian. They have seen so much in their line of work plus they know your dog just from seeing him on his checkups and medical history.

  8. DoctorDan
    December 6, 2017

    My wife has a 5 year old Wheaton Terrier. He bit me the other day for the 3rd time. This time he took off the end of my finger. I was leading him downstairs by the collar (he was not fighting me) and then all of the sudden he snapped and went crazy. He has been around me for the 2 years that my wife and I have been together and has always been possessive of my wife and literally comes bet ween us when we are together or showing affection. He barks and growls when we hug or laugh and goes crazy with barking when we have “alone time.” He ignores me and is depressed when she’s not home but when she is he is happy and energetic. He chases me out the door and bites the doorknob when I leave if she’s home but ignores me if she’s not home. What should we do? Everyone is telling us we should euthanize the dog but my wife doesn’t want to. I am afraid to be around the dog anymore because I know what he is capable of and he knows he is allowed to bite me.

    1. Melissa Smith
      December 7, 2017

      This is tough situation for you all! I think euthanizing might be extreme. But he definitely needs some behavioral training – is that possibly an option?

      1. DoctorDan
        December 7, 2017

        Yes. We have a shock collar to start off with and we are looking into behavior training.

        1. Melissa Smith
          December 8, 2017

          Please keep us posted on how it goes!

  9. Tracey Mitchell
    May 25, 2018

    I had to have my Springer Spaniel pts 6 weeks ago due to his aggression issues, he was only 3 years old and I had him since he was 6 weeks, he was my 4th springer, the other 3 all lived natural long lives so putting my young, otherwise healthy dog to sleep is very difficult to come to terms with even though I believe I had no choice. He was such a loving, cuddly dog, no dominance at all but just after his first birthday, we were chilling on the sofa after coming back from a run and out of the blue he attacked me, biting me multiple times, he was like a wild animal, then he came out of it and wanted to sit on my knee like nothing happened. I put this down to being my fault, I had somehow startled him and became more vigilant when beside me at rest. We had no issues for a few months until we were lying in bed, he was at the bottom sleeping and I was on my computer, I reached to get my mouse which was next to me, he woke up and again attacked me, again biting me numerous times. I took him to the vet, had him checked for illness or pain but nothing found, he was put on valium and because I knew he could become aggressive at rest or sleep, kept away from him at those times, the vet said there was really nothing that could be done for him but tried the meds which didn’t work, a behaviourist didn’t help because he had no clue what he was doing. Unfortunately though he started to wake, bolt upright snarling and growling at nothing, this would last a few minutes and he would go straight back to sleep again, he went from doing this a couple of times a month, to 3 or 4 times a day, even when just resting on the sofa, I started walking on eggshells around him and was getting increasingly nervous because I have 2 small grandchildren. He loved cuddles and always like to be really close to you but it got to quick cuddle then he had to be moved for fear of him getting rested and attacking. My decision to put him to sleep came when I came home from shopping, he was all excited to see me and as usual had his nose in the shopping bags to see what I had brought him. We went into the kitchen and he sat waiting patiently for his treat while I unpacked. All of a sudden he jumped up on the work top snarling and growling at the wall, like he was distressed, there was nothing there and I made the mistake of asking him what was wrong as he had never shown any aggression unless he was resting or sleeping, he lunged at me, thankfully though I was near to the kitchen door and managed to get out and shut him in, I looked though the glass and he was snarling and growling, I thought he had calmed again so opened the door but he hadn’t so I ran inside and locked him out. He had only ever done that once but once was enough, I really felt the future looked bleak for Ollie and this was another stage and he was a potential disaster waiting to happen, I could not take the risk anymore, not with young grandchildren around who I have often overnight and I have to be honest, I was afraid of him myself, scared to move in case he woulld attack if resting. I know I made the right decision but it doesn’t make it any easier, I just couldn’t take the risk of looking back wishing I had taken action sooner. The vet never said ‘rage’ syndrome, just that he was having something similar to seizures but I knew for a while that’s what it was, I just never wanted to believe the condition actually existed and that it was really just a training issue, I knew deep down it wasn’t, I just wanted to keep my dog, I loved him so much, it was only me and him, best buddies but I felt I had no option, the situation was becoming out of control. I thought I had a handle on it but I had to accept I didn’t. i am heartbroken.


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