National Dog Bite Prevention Week: How to Be a Responsible Dog Owner

This week, May 16th through the 22nd, the U.S. Postal Service continues its tradition of calling attention to one of the nation’s most commonly reported public health problems: dog attacks and bites.

This visual shows four things that dog owners can do to ensure that we keep our postal workers safe.

Kay Van Wey: Dog Bite Prevention Week

Let’s do our best to be responsible for our dogs around others. What are some additional tips you know of that will help us to be responsible dog owners? Please share so we can all learn more!


Man’s Best Friend…Or Foe? Texas Among Top 10 States for Dog Bite Claims

The Lone Star state is known for ranking among the top in the nation for positive reasons, but U.S. Postal Service workers beware: Texas is third in the nation for dog bites according to State Farm.

While pet owners claim that their dog would never bite or intentionally harm someone, any dog has the ability and unpredictable tendency to bite. There are a variety of reasons this may occur. State Farm states,

“a dog’s tendency to bite depends on such factors as heredity, obedience training, socialization, health, and the victim’s behavior. There are good dogs and bad dogs within every breed.”

The best defense for keeping yourself and the ones you love safer from dog bites is to be knowledgable about what may or may not influence a dog to attack. BARC animal shelter in Houston provides some guidelines to staying smart and safe:

  • Look for the indications of aggressive behavior such as “wrinkled muzzle, teeth showing while growling, lips/facial muscles tense, hair on back standing up, dog freezes and holds breath, hard and direct stare, [and] tail up and held in place.”
  • Be aware of your surroundings and stay alert.
  • Remain calm if you are ever approached by an unfamiliar dog or a dog who exhibits any of the aforementioned indicators of aggressive behavior.
  • Don’t ever startle, chase, tease, or run from a dog.
  • Never leave a child unattended with a dog, even a family pet.
  • Be cognizant of triggers for aggression, such as approaching a dog when puppies are present, messing with a sleeping dog, or challenging a dog with your body language (“making direct eye contact, facing the dog directly, or reaching out to make contact”).
  • Under no circumstances should you try to break up a dog fight yourself. Use a hose or other long object to separate them instead of your bare hands.

BARC also provides some tips on what to do if you are attacked:

  • Give the dog something else to bite instead of your body, and be sure that it makes contact with the dog’s mouth.
  • If you are in an area that you do not have an object to substitute your body, you may need to “take the bite.” In such a situation, do your best to use your non-dominant arm or extremities.
  • Once the dog has bitten down, do not provide any resistance by pulling back, as this may further excite the dog and potentially worsen the attack.
  • If all else fails, “go limp, curling up into the fetal position and protecting your head and trunk with your arms and legs. Do not fight back or struggle, and do not try to get up until the dog is at least 20 feet away. Back away from the dog.”
  • Immediately clean the bite site and seek medical attention, and don’t forget to report the bite.
 If you happen to be the victim of a dog attack, you should be familiar with your legal rights. Please read my brief article, “Legally Speaking: Every Texas Dog Gets One Free Bite,” to better understand your rights and resources.
To discuss your case with me, please email me directly at [email protected]

Legally Speaking: Every Texas Dog Gets One Free Bite

I remember learning this legal theory in my first year torts class in law school. The theory is that “every dog gets one free bite,” and it’s known to lawyers as the “one bite rule.” What this means is that a dog owner can only be held liable if:

  1. the dog previously bit a person or acted like it wanted to, and
  2. the owner was actually aware of the dog’s previous contact.

-Marshall v. Ranne, 511 S.W. 2d 255 (Tex. 197)

Even if someone was seriously injured or even killed, they may not be successful in bringing a lawsuit against the dog owner unless they provide evidence of both of these conditions. What this means in practical terms is that states like Texas protect a dog owner from liability for the first time his dog bites someone unless it can be proven that the dog had a known dangerous propensity and was likely to bite people without justification.

Texas dog bite lawyers also may employ a negligence theory when advocating on behalf of clients injured by dog bites. Even if there is insufficient evidence to satisfy “the one bite rule,” a dog owner may be liable for their negligent handling of the animal. The standard is commonly referred to as the reasonable man standard, meaning:

“Did the dog owner fail to exercise the kind of care a reasonably prudent and careful dog owner would have under the same or similar circumstances?”

-Marshall v. Ranne, 511 S. W. 2d 255, 259 (Tex. 1974)

In order to bring a Texas dog bite lawsuit, it may also be important to research local animal control laws. Many Texas counties and cities have leash laws which require dogs to be on a leash. Below are some links to leash laws in the following areas of Texas:

If the dog bite victim can prove that the dog owner violated an applicable leash law, then the Court could determine that the dog owner was negligent as a matter of law. This is commonly referred to as “negligence per se.”

It is important to realize that even if you are attacked by a vicious dog, the dog owner can defend himself by blaming the attack on you. Therefore it is important to read our article on Dog Bites on how to keep yourself safe from dog attacks.

If you were attacked, but fortunately you were not injured or seriously injured, you should nevertheless report the attack in writing to the homeowner and to the local authorities. This may prevent another attack to someone who might not be as lucky.

If you have recently been seriously injured by a dog attack, it is important to contact a dog bite attorney promptly. One of the first things a dog bite lawyer will want to do is hire an investigator to interview neighbors about the dog’s prior conduct to try and find evidence that the dog owner knew of the dog’s dangerous propensities and failed to protect others from harm. Most homeowners policies cover dog bite claims and are sure that if the homeowner reports the dog bite to his insurance company, that they will have their investigators on the scene very quickly. So, my advice is that you contact a lawyer right away.