Join 3,424 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


What happens after you go to the ER with a dog bite?
January 22, 2009 9:19 AM   Subscribe

What happens after you go to the emergency room with a dog bite and what are we doing wrong that this could happen?

My husband was nipped in the face by our 4 year old boston terrier this morning. He's on the way to the ER with a laceration under his eye. He put his head down near her bed to wake her for the normal morning walk and she just snarled and bit apparently before she was fully awake. She seemed just as shocked as we were.

She normally would just roll over for a belly rub and lick his face. She's been stressed for about 6 months by a move and the addition of a second rescued boston to our new home. She went from ringing a bell to go outside to completely starting over with house training.

We thought we had made a lot of progress because the two dogs recently started sleeping close to each other and playing without hackles and snarls. They're both crate trained and have not shown food or toy aggression. Rescue #2 has not been challenging for dominance.

Should we expect a visit from animal control? Will they want to see registration and vaccination papers? shots are all up to date but registration is not. Will they take her away if I can't find the paperwork? Do we need to work with a professional trainer? We live in Los Angeles county.
posted by anonymous to Pets & Animals (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Should we expect a visit from animal control? Will they want to see registration and vaccination papers?

Yes, you will likely get a visit from animal control, if you told the emergency room what happened. My wife was recently bitten by a friend's dog, and lied about it at the emergency room so our friends wouldn't get in trouble (anonymous "dog at the park"), and did not enjoy having to continue the dishonesty when animal control showed up. YMMV.

shots are all up to date but registration is not. Will they take her away if I can't find the paperwork?

Probably no, they'll either ask you to take care of it and send in the paperwork, or give you a court date, at which you'll have to produce said paperwork, depending on your city's laws.

Note, however, that first bite offenses sometimes result in quarantining the dog either at home, or at animal control.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 9:43 AM on January 22, 2009


I can't answer the second half of your post, but I know all about startling a dog that's asleep.

My chihuahua has nipped me twice, on my nose, after I roused him from sleep. He was just as taken off guard as I was. I have since learned to call his name and nudge him gently, instead of putting my face close to him as he's asleep.

If you think about it, it makes sense that a guardian animal would be defensive when they are awakened suddenly. Especially a terrier type dog, who are usually very alert.

Put this down to "stupid human behavior" of which I am absolutely guilty of as well. You're reacting as a primate, putting your face forward. Start considering the canine point of view, which views that type of behavior as threatning at any time, not just when roused from sleep.

I am sorry that your husband was injured to the point of needing to go to the hospital! I don't know aoubt where you live, but in Texas I don't believe that would constitute taking an animal away.

You should be able to contact your vet to confirm vacinations and registration, as that should be on file with them.

Good luck!
posted by lootie777 at 9:50 AM on January 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Even if you get a visit from Animal Control, I would imagine that it's going to be more of a formality than anything. They have much bigger issues than hassling a family about outdated pet registration.
posted by radioamy at 9:59 AM on January 22, 2009


Absolutely emphasize that your husband startled a sleeping dog. Your dog reacted like a dog -- not exceptionally aggressive, but like a normal, startled dog. Hell, a similar thing happened with my cat once: I startled him awake, and he scratched me. The nicest cat in the world. I just hope your Animal Control understands this.
posted by changeling at 10:00 AM on January 22, 2009


I live in Virginia. I was bitten by my dog (a terrier) while trying to break up a fight between him and another (stray) dog. I went an urgent care center and while I was waiting to see the doctor someone came in to ask me questions for a form they are required to fill out when someone comes in with a dog bite. I completely freaked.

My dog was not licensed/registered. I was completely freaked.

A man from animal control called a few days later to make an appointment to come over. We played phone tag for a while. Then we eventually made an appointment. Now I was really freaked.

The man came to the house, saw the dog, looked at the rabies record I got from the vet and we spent ten minutes talking about his dog. If we hadn't talked about his dog, the visit would have lasted one minute. He never came past the entryway.

It reminded me of what I know as a foster parent - people are terrified of the home study process, but the social workers aren't the enemy. They want you to pass the home study, but they have to be able to show that they really checked you out in case something happens (like your dog attacks someone else). I think it's kind of the same thing.

As much as possible, I wouldn't worry. They aren't going to take your dog.
posted by orsonet at 10:20 AM on January 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


I hate to be doom and gloom, but "nipping" in the face, even nipping someone in the face when first waking them up, is very serious and unacceptable dog behavior. The determination that something is nipping, and not biting, seems to be made entirely based on the dog's size, age, and cuteness of the breed. But whatever you call it, this is human-aggressive behavior that I would be very alarmed by.

I've talked about this on metafilter before, but when I was a teenager my family owned a mutt that, though generally seemed very sweet, bit me in the face when she was sleeping with me in bed. I had rolled over and disturbed her, sure, but suddenly there was a pair of fangs going through my skin and inside my mouth. I still have scars to this day.

My family thought this was a one-off event, particularly as the dog cowered and seemed upset after. Two months later, she bit a friend of mine in the face when the girl bent over to pet her. The dog snarled, and then snapped before the girl could back off, and the girl required stitches. After this, we took the dog to behavioral training with a specialist, but the behavior kept recurring--she snarled whenever a human got close to her face. It was a dominance issue (and, likely, had more than a little to do with past abuse), but an unacceptable one, and one my family was unable to handle even with professional help. We ended up returning her to the pound where we got her. Because she was unadoptable, she was put down. This was an incredibly difficult decision made after struggling with it for over a year and not one made lightly, but when it came down to it, we couldn't risk the safety of humans that came into our home.

I'm not saying this is necessarily the case, but I would take what happened very seriously, and contact a behavioral specialist so that they can evaluate the dog. They'll tell you if this is something you need to work with further. The people treating this as a "dogs will be dogs" issue are pretty far off--in a dog pack, biting an alpha in the face is likewise unacceptable.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:32 AM on January 22, 2009


I'm not saying this is necessarily the case, but I would take what happened very seriously, and contact a behavioral specialist so that they can evaluate the dog. They'll tell you if this is something you need to work with further. The people treating this as a "dogs will be dogs" issue are pretty far off--in a dog pack, biting an alpha in the face is likewise unacceptable.

I'm pretty sure this is totally and completely wrong. The dog was sleeping. You startled him. He reacted automatically and defensively. I don't think it's unacceptable dog behavior at all.
posted by kbanas at 10:42 AM on January 22, 2009 [3 favorites]


I got bit breaking up a dog fight between my two dogs and winded up at the emergency room (Kaiser) to be treated for a bite.

It was just a routine visit, no one came to my home, no one took a report, nothing. This was about 5 years ago. So laws may have changed since then.

I am in Los Angeles as well.
posted by Vaike at 11:07 AM on January 22, 2009


I'm pretty sure this is totally and completely wrong. The dog was sleeping. You startled him. He reacted automatically and defensively. I don't think it's unacceptable dog behavior at all.

Hey, I'm only passing on what our trainer at the time told us--that facial bites, any facial bites, should be treated seriously and the dog's aggression should be assessed by a professional. Uncle Matty's site is a great place to learn more about dog aggression. I can't find it right now, but there's a question and answer portion on the site. A great many descriptions of escalating aggressive behavior there seem to start off with biting a person when first woken up. It's not that I'm sympathetic to the OP and the owner's desire to protect their dog, but even the slight likelihood that this sort of thing is repeated, particularly with someone who's not a family member, means that it should be professionally addressed.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:10 AM on January 22, 2009


Hey, I'm only passing on what our trainer at the time told us--that facial bites, any facial bites, should be treated seriously and the dog's aggression should be assessed by a professional. U

Okay, but you (and this nebulous "trainer") should realize that it's not the dog going for the face, it's that the face was right in front of the dog and was the first thing that both your dog and the OP's dog got to. In all likelihood, if you had moved the dog wouldn't have bit you, only snapped.

Dogs are not unpredictable. On the contrary, dogs are quite predictable. If you startle a sleeping dog, you stand a good chance of getting snapped at. So don't do that. Certainly don't blame the dog. Are you upset when someone wakes you up rudely? I bet you are. Do we stick you in behavioral training? I certainly hope not.
posted by InsanePenguin at 11:25 AM on January 22, 2009 [3 favorites]


Okay, but you (and this nebulous "trainer") should realize that it's not the dog going for the face, it's that the face was right in front of the dog and was the first thing that both your dog and the OP's dog got to. In all likelihood, if you had moved the dog wouldn't have bit you, only snapped.

I'm not blaming the dog. But this was a dog that later seriously injured someone in the middle of broad daylight when fully awake. I'm not entirely sure why people here think the suggestion of just speaking to a behavior specialist when a dog's behavior has caused its owner to get sent to the emergency room is so alarmist. It's responsible dog ownership to professionally address potential behavior problems before they escalate, and, in fact, the time to address them is before they escalate, reducing the chance that another human is injured or the dog has to be put down.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:32 AM on January 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Nthing that it's the startling and the face-in-the-face, probably nothing at all to worry about and something to avoid in the future. The Pomeranian I mentioned in a different dog-thread was an ex-show dog. Exceptionally well trained and well behaved. All defiance and anti-sociability she might have had was drummed out of her before we met her. She would put up with anything. Except a person putting their face inches away from her face--then she'd start growling and occasionally bite.
posted by K.P. at 11:38 AM on January 22, 2009


Strictly anecdotal, but a few years ago my aging greyhound accidently cut my cheek with his canine tooth when he slipped on the ice outside, yelped in pain, and I simultaneously tried to catch him. The next morning my cheek was hugely puffed up and Mr. Adams insisted on taking me to the Urgent Care clinic. I was hesitant, because I didn't want a big official "dog bite" investigation, etc. But when we got there, I told my story (dog is 12 years old, a tall greyhound unsteady on his feet, it was an accident) and that was that. No further questions other than "When was your last tetanus shot?"
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:54 AM on January 22, 2009


I live in Los Angeles and went to the Emergency Room as a result of my dog biting me in the face (Nearly took off half my lip).

The doctor was well aware what happened (as she put six stiches in my lip) and we never ever had any follow up from Animal Control or anyone else.

I was playing Alpha male and (gently) nuzzled the dog in the back of the neck. She didn't like it and next thing I knew I was holding my lip together with a piece of ice.

In my case, our Border Collie remained an aggressive dog who never learned to get along with other dogs or small children (Despite extensive training). We learned to avoid problematic situations but her aggressive behavior (which I believe had something to do with being the runt of the litter and needing two triple osteotomies for hip dysplasia as a puppy) never ever went away.

In fact, though I loved her dearly, when she died at the age of 12, part of me was grateful that she never did anything worse.
posted by cjets at 12:13 PM on January 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


The key to this incident is the new dog.

Your old dog is determined to maintain her place in the hierarchy, so she is hypervigilant about any kind of challenge from dog number new. You say they only recently started sleeping near each other; I'd say the old dog is still very wary about an attack while she is vulnerable, i. e. sleeping.

Your dog reacted to your husband waking her up as if it was the feared and anticipated attack from the new dog before she realized what was really happening. And, by the way, I'd guess she did not have to start "over again with house training," she merely decided the necessity of making certain territorial claims within the house, in the usual doggy way, overrode all other considerations.

The worst of this incident is that she knows she has made a terrible blunder, and will fear the loss of her status even more sharply than she was, and the conflict between the two could worsen dramatically.

I believe you need to respond to this, paradoxically, by praising her at every turn and telling her that you love her and she is a really good dog, while at the same time you avoid praising and rewarding the new dog very much.
posted by jamjam at 1:02 PM on January 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Don't be sticking your face in a dog's face. Just don't. It's aggressive and rude and a recipe for getting bitten, and there is no reason to do so, and it is ESPECIALLY dangerous to do this with a sleeping dog who is in what should rightfully be their safe place (bed or crate).

This is not an indicator of aggression, it's an indicator of a dog being a dog and reacting like a startled dog does to being woken from sleep by rude, aggressive, startling stupid human behavior. The dog bit the face because that was the part closest to it, it did not leap six feet in the air to bite your husband's face (Uncle Matty is a wee bit behind the times), bypassing hands and feet in the process, it is not significant that the dog bit your husband's face in terms of the dog's behaviour (but is likely significant to your husband!).

Your dog will likely now have a "bite record", through no fault of its own, and you may get a visit from the health department or animal control. Be sure to explain the situation fully: this was not an unprovoked attack, this was a person doing exactly the wrong thing to this dog at exactly the wrong time.
posted by biscotti at 3:01 PM on January 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


It certainly sounds like the new dog is causing some anxiety in your terrier.

I can't recommend these Comfort Zone pet calming diffusers enough.

I purchased the feline variety for my cranky kitty who was suffering from some serious anxiety. He was so anxious that he was to the point of jumping when someone walked into the room or made noise. He was rescued from an abusive home, so he was constantly wary of anything happening in the room.

Within an hour of plugging it in, he was purring and cuddling up and not jumpy at all. It was shocking how much of a difference it made in such a short time.

All this is to say that it might be worth a try with your pups to put them more at ease while they're still getting used to sharing space.
posted by burntflowers at 3:17 PM on January 22, 2009


But whatever you call it, this is human-aggressive behavior that I would be very alarmed by.

No, no, no, no, no, no. This is absolutely normal behavior for a dog -- a normal reaction to an abnormal invasion of the dog's space.

Remember the joke about the animal psychologist -- that they actually try to fix the owner? It's true. Learning how to have a domestic animal in your home is as much or probably more about you learning what you need to do. The dog doesn't need to be "dominated" or "retrained" or whatever, the owner needs to stop doing the thing that alarmed the dog.

I love dogs. I was bit by a dog when I was 11. It was a really weird thing where this girl down the street told her family's German Shepherd to "sic 'em" when I rode by on my kiddie bike. If I concentrate I can still see the bite marks in my thigh. Do I blame the dog? No, I blame the owners for training their dog to be aggressive and the girl for her malice.

My niece was bitten on the face by our 99.44% placid PBGV when she tried to nuzzle her while the dog was chewing on a rawhide bone. That's a mistake nobody should ever make. When eating and especially when playing with certain toys the dog will be in a psychological state that approximates wild hunting and take-down instincts. Don't stick your face -- or hands -- anywhere near a dog at those times and you'll probably be fine.

The animal control response to that was roughly "Okay, but the next time you might not be so lucky and we'll take serious action starting with the second bite incident."
posted by dhartung at 3:31 PM on January 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Remember the joke about the animal psychologist -- that they actually try to fix the owner? It's true. Learning how to have a domestic animal in your home is as much or probably more about you learning what you need to do. The dog doesn't need to be "dominated" or "retrained" or whatever, the owner needs to stop doing the thing that alarmed the dog.

I think it's really unfair to characterize all owners of aggressive dogs this way.

It's a complex interplay of human and animal behaviors, for sure. For example, I wouldn't sleep in bed anymore with a dog. I'll certainly be teaching my children to ask owners before petting strange dogs. And I don't put my face anywhere near a dog's face. And everything you said about training dogs to be aggressive and harassing dogs while playing with toys, bones, or eating is absolutely true.

But some dogs will still bite people. And, no matter how vigilant you are, it can be incredibly difficult to monitor the behavior of other people for things that will trigger your dog. You might say that it's someone's fault for "sticking their face in a dog's face", but if you watch people interact with dogs, this is how a great many people approach them. Yes, in an ideal world, people would be taught not to do this at a very young age. It is, absolutely, the wrong way to approach a dog. But the truth is, legally, at least, if someone bends down to pet your dog and gets bitten, you're responsible.

The decision to relinquish ownership of our dog was an incredible difficult and painful one. We did all sorts of things to accommodate her in terms of changing our household to be a dog-friendly, non-threatening environment. I stopped having my teenage friends over. We crate trained her. But one day I was walking her and a passing teenage boy bent over and made a jokey barking noise. She crossed in front of me to get closer to him and lunged. We were lucky it wasn't a third biting incident. Shortly after, we decided we just weren't capable of handling the situation. I mean, we were the opposite of the owner here and had just become paralyzed with fear that this sort of thing would happen again, despite our best efforts. So please, don't assume that 100% of dog bite incidents are due to owner stupidity.

So anon, I stand by what I said about talking to a behavioral specialist, despiteall of the vocal objections about how wrong I am. I actually doubt that it's exactly the kind of situation my family was in--and I hope it was just a one-off incident that happened because the dog was startled. A behavioral specialist can help you learn to interact with the dog in a way that doesn't threaten it, and a phone call to one should help determine whether training is necessary in light of this situation. It certainly can't hurt, can it?

Anyway, bowing out now. This is really too emotional of an issue for me, and one that I loathed bringing up because when I tell this story people either seem to posit that we were awful, irresponsible dog owners, or cruel people because we didn't do enough.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:18 PM on January 22, 2009


There's a reason "let sleeping dogs lie" has become proverbial. Threatened-feeling dogs even more so. Wake them up with your hand and mouth, not your face.
posted by eritain at 5:30 PM on January 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


I trust my dogs completely and I still don't put my face where they can bite it.
posted by fshgrl at 9:15 PM on January 22, 2009


« Older There are lots of pages that d...   |  I have managed to book a phone... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.