Can a Dog Who Has Bitten Be Trusted Again?

A 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?

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.