5 mistakes I’ve made that resulted in dog bites

I’ve been bitten by several dogs.

It’s not that I’m a bad dog handler, but I’ve worked with a few thousand dogs, and when you work with dogs all day, sooner or later you’re going to get bitten. (I’ve worked as a dog walker and pet sitter and also at a boarding kennel, in addition to fostering dogs.)

I thought I’d share some of the errors I’ve made (there are way more than 5), because it’s always a good idea for us “dog people” to stop and review how to behave around dogs.

Please share any mistakes you’ve made as well. If we can prevent even one dog bite, it will be worth it.

Mistakes I’ve made that led to dog bites

I got bitten by my foster dog Cosmo lots of times

1. Knowingly pushing a dog’s limits.

This is where I’ve gotten in trouble many times. I’m aware of the dog’s potential aggression, and I push the dog’s limits.

Unfortunately, we dog lovers sometimes like to think that “oh, dogs love me” or “oh, I know dogs.” Well, yes, but if we know dogs, then we need to respect them and remember the reality that dogs can bite us, and they will.

For example, a friend asked me to come over and give treats to her fear-aggressive dog. All was going fine with this until I decided “just to try” to pet the dog. Well, that was an incredibly stupid and unfair idea, and I got what I deserved.

2. Stepping too close to a dog’s food bowl.

I was bitten in the ankle while stepping too close to dog’s food bowl while she was eating. This occurred at the boarding kennel I worked at. I’m the one who gave her the food in her pen, and then I must’ve stepped over the bowl while turning to leave. I didn’t know this dog very well, and she didn’t know me. I should’ve known to place her bowl away from where I’d be walking to get out of her pen.

You may recall another time when I wrote about getting unfairly close to a rescue dog’s food bowl.

3. Getting up close and personal.

My foster dog Cosmo the American Eskimo dog

Thankfully, this one hasn’t resulted in a dog biting me that I recall, but I’ve been growled at oh so many times for giving dogs hugs or just getting too close to their safe place such as a kennel.

Once a dog growls at me, I feel incredibly bad for my rude behavior. Thankfully, the dogs have always had good communication skills and decided to warn me first rather than bite.

Lesson: Be careful about which dogs you hug or put your face close to. Even if the dog knows you, he may not be comfortable with you putting your arms over him or around him. This is really invasive behavior on our part, and luckily most dogs put up with it well.

4. Putting too much trust in others.

Sometimes I trust other dog people to make smart choices around the dogs I’m handling, and this backfires. For example, grown adults would sometimes reach out to pet my fear-aggressive foster dog without asking. He’s the white dog you see in the pics. This resulted in a nip more than once, and while no one has any businesses petting a dog without asking, I’m still responsible for the dog I’m handling.

5. Rough play and dogs snatching toys or treats.

My dog Ace has nipped my hand accidentally while trying to grab his rope toy from me, but only after I’ve gotten him extra excited. I’ve also put my hands in the mix between Ace and my parents’ dog Elsie while they were playing tug of war and I apparently decided to join.

What a dumb thing to do.

When dogs are excited and grabbing with their mouths, of course they can accidently bite our hands.

Seriously, I could go on and on with the mistakes I’ve made, but I’ll keep the list to just five items. Please share your own examples if you have any. Or perhaps things you’ve seen other people do.

Have you made any dumb mistakes around dogs?

What advice do you have for others around dogs? Let me know in the comments.

27 Readers Commented

Join discussion
  1. Jessicavy on May 19, 2014

    All great stuff to keep in mind! I’m mostly guilty of the “putting too much trust in others”. When I’d first gotten my dog, I knew he was shy, but when a friend came over I didn’t stop her when she rushed at him, scooped him up with no introduction, and proceeded to bounce him around the room like a baby. All I thought was, “that’s a weird thing to do with a dog . . .” but after a moment my dog panicked and snapped at her. I knew she didn’t know anything about dogs; I should have stopped her before she even touched my dog.

    Another mistake I sometimes make is assuming a dog is “just being a brat” or even “challenging me” when he’s really just scared and I’m pushing him too hard. This makes me want to just push harder, when really I just need to back off.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on May 19, 2014

      Oh gosh, I can just picture your first example. I’m sure that happens all the time with other people’s dogs too. Then the dogs get blamed.

      Great examples!

  2. Anu on May 19, 2014

    Wow. I never knew that there were so many different ways to get bitten. This is really interesting and I will keep these tips in mind. Thanks for sharing! – Petnetio Anu

  3. jan on May 19, 2014

    I used to have a habit of getting my dogs worked up in playing and they think they’re wolves. I have learned to moderate play time.

  4. Patti on May 19, 2014

    Cooper is sorry he tried to bite you. 😉

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on May 19, 2014

      Haha! Tell him I’m so sorry I made him uncomfortable. Totally my fault! 🙂

  5. Emma on May 19, 2014

    Mom broke up a fight and got a small bite. She says she would do it again without thinking twice.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on May 19, 2014

      I haven’t had to break up too many fights, thank goodness. I would probably do the same. Seems like this is how a lot of people are bitten though, unfortunately.

  6. slimdoggy on May 19, 2014

    Great examples – going to share this. I’ve gotten chomped by Jack a couple of times while taking a treat from me. It’s something we are working on very hard, but he forgets and I forget to set him up to take it properly.

  7. Pete on May 19, 2014

    These are great to remember! Thank you!
    I’ve gotten in the middle of a small dog fight (they can still bite and it can still hurt, although mostly it didn’t).
    I’ve tried to handle my dog when she was in distress.
    I tried to corner a scared dog.
    I did these all with small dogs, probably because they’re not as threatening, and it wasn’t so awesome. I’ve *mostly* learned my lesson.

  8. Rebekah on May 20, 2014

    These are all excellent reminders, particularly for me. Bruce is particularly “jumpy” so I have to be careful around him, but am sometimes forgetful.

  9. Sharon Wollenberg on May 20, 2014

    I too have been bit. All nice dogs. Stupidity on my part. The dog ran out the front door. Of course I was frantic. I got her in the car, phew… i thought. She was scared bc I was crazy yelling. Dogs will pick up on your energy. I went to leash her in the car and she bit me. OUCH!!
    Live and Learn!
    Excellent reminders. I am going to have my dog walkers read this too.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on May 20, 2014

      Sounds like something I would do, too. Glad I’m not the only one who’s made stupid mistakes. Thanks for sharing this with your dog walkers, too! 🙂

  10. Jana Rade on May 21, 2014

    Fortunately the last time I was dumb enough to get bitten on purpose was when I was about five. Did I get some accidental bites during play? Oh yeah. Some bruises, some blood blisters. No punctured skin. Yeah, my fault for trying to be a dog 😉

  11. nancyspoint on May 22, 2014

    Great tips. I’m trying to remember if I’ve ever been bitten, and I don’t think I have been. I guess I’ve had those accidental nips happen when getting in the middle of things – like tug-of-war and when handing out dog treats to Elsie. Oh wait, I did get a nasty bite from a puppy once right on my lip and it bled and bled. It was totally my fault as I was holding a squirmy puppy right up to my face. And puppy teeth are very sharp. What was I thinking? That’s the key I guess, think!

  12. Nick on May 23, 2014

    Great article with some sound advice.

    I would just like to add a couple of things which most people would file under common sense but unfortunately, I occasionally hear stories of dogs biting people in such situations.

    The first instance is getting too close to a nursing dog. It may be exciting for the owner and their family when their dog has pups but it can be a stressful time for dogs.

    Also, along the same lines. Getting too close to a convalescing dog.

    I suppose these fall under the ‘Getting up close and personal’ section but thought I would mention them anyway.

  13. Miel D'Rodilique on June 14, 2016

    It’s so nice to hear that even the experts goof occasionally!

    My Greyhound, an 11 year-old rescue, spent the first four years of his life on the track, being treated as a commodity. He’s very sweet, very gentle, and VERY quiet, so I let children approach him WHEN ASKED. This usually takes place in a pet store, where I make it my business to expose people to him and where it’s a reasonable expectation that any dog in the venue is on-lead, socially adept and vigilantly supervised. I see it as my obligation to this wonderful breed to educate kids (and their adults) about Greys’ carrying their ears back and their tails down so as to minimize wind resistance, rather than its being a sign of aggression as most of us have quite legitimately been taught. My guy is enormous and black so I work extra hard at exposing people to him as an ambassador — any Grey rescued from the track is a life saved.

    I’ve learned, however, that he’s twitchy around people carrying anything that resembles a stick, for what I assume are historical reasons. He’s fine under any circumstance with me in public, but when he’s at home, in his bed, I tell people to leave him alone. He’s old and that’s his space, so it doesn’t seem to me to be an undue hardship to just let him be. But, there’s always that one person who imagines herself to be so irresistible to dogs as to be the exception to Natural Law.

    I had a group over for a meeting and one woman, somebody I frankly loathed (that didn’t help one bit), approached my Grey while he was sleeping. She’d never met him before and worse, she had a cast on her arm which must’ve resembled a weapon to him. It was the first time I ever heard him growl at a person (it’s only happened twice and the other instance involved a person with a mop) and it’s a good thing he did because I was able to intervene before she insinuated herself into his space further. Fortunately, I never had to interact with her again.

    My GSD is the antithesis of this. He’s acutely leash-reactive, but only to other dogs. Early in his training, I suited him up for walks in a flaming yellow (he’s also black) vest that said, “IN TRAINING – Please give me some space!” I never had a problem with peoples’ approaching him (assuming, that is, that they didn’t have a dog in tow), but this gave me some peace of mind and allowed me to focus on his behavior rather than the attitudes of passersby. I recommend any humane technique or gadget that allows a dog walker/owner/guardian to be comfortable enough to relax and exercise common sense.

    Sorry to be so long-winded, I just had to talk up Greyhound rescue 😉

  14. Izzak on December 5, 2016

    Never ever bend down to offer a strange dog a treat !! Stand erect and put the treat in your hand by your side. When the dog sees the treat and approaches “close the treat in your fist” , the dog will smell the treat as you gentle open your fist to expose the treat. Should the dog act like it is going to snap or lung at the treat Immediately close you fist again. Rel-open and more than likely the dog will take the treat more gently … This is what you should do when you take your animal into a store and the sales person wants to offer your animal a treat.. Keep your dog under control until the sales person understands your instructions. I have witnessed to many sales persons getting nipped by an aggressive dog and the person 9 times out of 10 is bending down and extending the treat out towards the dog…..

  15. N.L. on December 5, 2016

    I can, and do, take food and toys from my dogs all the time. They know it’s mine, not theirs. The first few times they growled and snapped. Not anymore. I am firm, but fair. I do not abuse my dogs. But they know I’m the HBIC. It has to be this way. Humans are the Alpha, NOT the dogs.

  16. Kelli Kakish on December 5, 2016

    Hi Lindsay! Is your rescue in the pictures an American Eskimo? My Sugar is an american Eskimo and I’ve had her since she was a baby. She is very fear aggressive. She is great when people come into our home but she will go crazy when she sees another dog when I walk her or when she is in the car. I’m not much of a dog trainer. I’ve tried everything that has been suggested to me via books and the internet and I haven’t made any headway. Do you think I should hire a trainer to work with her?

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on December 5, 2016

      Yes, that is Cosmo the American Eskimo. If you can hire a dog trainer, I recommend it. Also look into the book Feisty Fido by Patricia McConnell if you haven’t already.

  17. Scott Wollins on December 6, 2016

    Breaking up a dog fight – or more to the point – trying to shield my dogs eyes from a biting and violent attack from another dog – I covered my dogs eyes with my left hand and tried to pull the dog off him with my right – the dog was stronger and bit down into my left hand which was covering my dog’s eyes and head – I took the bite that was meant for him – I would do it all over again – the depth of your relationship with anything including your dog is about willing to take risks to protect them from harm – that was a few months ago – my poor guy just went 99% blind this week after years of vision loss – but the love survives and in fact increases with the wound and the loss of his vision – I will likely end up with a scar (two bite marks) on back of left hand – but for the rest of my life – it will testify that my love for Shian is/was so great that I was willing to risk myself for him – it has been really tough week watching the ‘lights go out’ in his eye-sight – he is a fetch obsessed fur-son and watching him run around not being able to see the ball right next to him – is heart-breaking – this dog-thing is a deep relationship – with so much joy and pain – a life of meaning….

  18. Sue on December 6, 2016

    Great information girl!!!!’ We need to be respectful and aware being around all dogs