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.

See my post: How to prevent a puppy’s food aggression.

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.

45 thoughts on “5 mistakes I’ve made that resulted in dog bites”

  1. 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.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      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. 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. 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.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      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.

  4. 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.

      1. Scout tends to “snap” when my wife gives treats to our 4 dogs. He is smaller than other 3 and has to look up when she offers the treat and may not see it well or needs to snap to catch it. When offered a treat at mouth and eye level he is always a gentleman.

  5. 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.

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

  7. 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.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      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! 🙂

  8. 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 😉

  9. 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!

  10. 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.

  11. Miel D'Rodilique

    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 😉

  12. 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…..

  13. 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.

  14. 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?

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      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.

  15. 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….

  16. My dog is a good dog and hasn’t bit anyone including my 2 yr old granddaughter. We have felt his teeth but he has never bit except at bath time! He has bit me twice now. The only way I can give him a bath now is to muzzle him. He is a 80 lb lab and border collie mix. Any suggestion? Am I doing wrong by muzzling?

  17. i made the mistake of being to friendly with other dogs. and one time at a dog park there was a fight and i went over and grabbed the bigger dog by his collar, and the other dog accidentaly bit, i later learned that you are supposed to grab then by the hind legs?

  18. I did not read all of the other comments so sorry if this is a repeat, but it bares saying again if so. We have a 6 year old Boxer male and a 3 year old boxer/pit mix female. My kids are all over 18 so thus the dogs have been raised around adults mostly. We love going to the dog park to socialize our dogs as they don’t get much contact with other dogs. My major concern I have discovered is when at the dog park, how many families come with their dogs and small children. If I had my way, no kids under 10 would be allowed. My first experience at the park came when a family with 3 small kids came in and proceeded to let their dog AND KIDS run loose. The parents walked over and started talking to other people totally not watching their kids at all. One of their kids who looked about 3 or 4 ran up to our dogs and proceeded to grab our boxer/pit girl by the collar on both sides of her face and stuck their face in hers. She started backing up and growling and of course the child would not let go. I intervened immediately, but my guard now went up 100%. I ended up having to watch their kids for them and was constantly telling them not to grab the dogs and not to put their face in the dogs’ faces. The parents were clueless the whole time. Please pass the word that DOG parks are for DOGS not play grounds for kids. These kids would watch people throw a ball for the DOGS to chase and, you guessed it, the KIDS would chase after it and jump right into a bunch of dogs trying to get the ball and grab it away. These kids obviously had no dog knowledge and I was on pins and needles the whole time that one of them was going to get bit if not worse. Needless to say, we left because of the poor behavior of KIDS not DOGS. Please tell others with kids that dog parks are for dogs to learn to socialize, not for kids to come play with dogs. I don’t think my dogs would bit anyone, but then I don’t know that for sure as no one can totally know what a dog is feeling and thinking, thus this should be dog and people training 101 for anyone who is going to be around dogs. Thanks for letting me rant.

  19. katherine clark

    Comments on giving treats, w hen I give my service dog Coco treats she is very gentle and careful not to get my fingers,but when my husband tries to give her a treat she is rough. She just grabs it than my husband is laughing counting his fingers. The only thing he could be doing wrong is giving her the treat the wrong way a nd not talking to her. He really doesn’t know how to handle dogs would you agree with that

  20. One of mistakes was giving treats to my dog, and my sisters husky.
    My sister warned me that her dog was food aggressive with other dogs. I thought I could control the dog. My dog was taking his treat and I accidenly dropped it. My lab went to eat it, and her dog attacked him for the treat. It was terrifying for me and my dog. Never again. This dog is a lovely dog, but she is fed alone and never fed from the table or allowed near the toddler when food is involved for safety. Boy, I learned, I’m not the handler I thought I was. Even With a dog who knew me since a pup.

  21. I was at the horse stable were I boarded my horse on a hot day.
    I went to move the water bowl closer to the dog that was tied outside near the door to the barn. I was told years earlier that the dog wasn’t friendly at all. Well I thought that since he’d seen me all these years that he’d let me move his bowl closer to him. Wrong I got bit in the thigh. I just walked away. It was my fault. I told the owner that his dog was tangled and couldn’t get his water. He said thanks and took care of it.

  22. Years ago our sons were 22 months old and 10 months old in January 1982 It was -5 outside. We brought our 6 yr old German Shepherd in the house. My husband and I and another couple were in the living room when our oldest son sat on the SLEEPING dog. The natural reaction was to bite. Dog realize he messed up right away. Rushed son to hospital were he got 24 stitched in his face. Gave dog to a friend who always wanted him. He now says the dog was the best dog he ever had. It was an accident. Now our son is 37 yrs old and you can’t see any scars. We are now on our 5th Shepherd (10 Yrs old) and 6th Shepherd (14 wks old) Ours sons have left home and have families of their own. When they come over there is no problem with any of the
    German Shepherds through the years. In fact the youngest has 2 Shepherds.

  23. I love this article! Particularly the bit about invading a dog’s space as my Border Collie is an ex working Sheepdog who was very badly treated by the farmer. As a result he was terrified of strangers when we rehomed him, particularly old men and people with sticks. We’ve made lots of progress over the last year and he can tolerate being stroked by strangers now unless they stick their faces in his face which he absolutely hates and he will growl. He is okay with my face and a couple of other people’s but he doesn’t like most people’s faces, even if he knows them. I tell every stranger who wants to touch him that my dog would prefer it if they didn’t touch him and to not put their faces near him or lean over him please as he finds this very scary and will growl. People usually then touch him anyway,put their faces near him and say that all dogs like them/ they have had dogs all their lives etc. This really winds me up and it’s really difficult for me to speak to strangers in the first place so when they don’t listen it’s really hard to know what to do. I think they are asking to get bitten. He hasn’t bitten anyone yet (although he has lunged at one man who was pushing and pushing him to be friends when it was obvious my dog didn’t like him. I hate people putting my dog in that situation. There’s no need for strangers to touch him and we’d both be much happier and more relaxed and comfortable if they didn’t!
    I think some breeds like BCs generally aren’t comfortable with too much touching and with strangers anyway, particularly dogs like mine who are very much working dogs and don’t really have pet personalities.

    Really great article!

  24. Great article, so timely for me! We have new rescue who shows some fear aggression towards other dogs/strangers. BUT I’ve seen over time, people who come and visit and who don’t act afraid of him, by the second visit with them, he’s fine. However, from the first visit when he went into aggressive lunging at my sister’s dog, she hates him! And is terrified of him as is her dog. She’s positive he’s just a “bad” dog and it’s really tearing apart our family. So any family dog advice really appreciated. I even took videos of the person who is going to sit overnight for us. On the first visit barking and some growling, by the second one he was loving on her wanting in her lap.

  25. I want to add this to previous comment…your article was so timely because in our case it is ALL my “horrible, aggressive” dog’s fault. Not my sister’s who’s made all of the mistakes you cite, except he, thankfully, has no food aggression. Thanks in advance.

  26. I have a lovely border collie who just loves pats! But the amount of time she rolls on her belly for pats from strangers and they then proceed to try to hug her or put their face right up in her belly!! She usually gets startled and jumps up but she has also growled at people and once almost nipped a lady who was trying to hug her! I’ve got to the point where I warn everyone who pats her but she also now has a little vest that says “please don’t pet me unless my mom is here” for when she is tied at the front of our coffee shop. So many people just treat dogs like plush toys and forget that they each have different personalities, fears, likes, dislikes etc. I don’t trust anyone anymore!

  27. Serina J Rieckman

    One thing that has helped me with my shy dog is learning that I need to be her voice. She can’t speak up and say “you’re making me uncomfortable”. Do I’ve tried to let people know at a distance “hey we’re in trainin! stay over there!” Many people still want to push the boundaries but at least this way I’m speaking up for her

  28. My rescue Border Collie tries to bite me and others whenever we get in his face or he gets too excited. I had a scary experience when I first got him where I was running with him on the leash and he was so happy and excited that he bit me pretty hard on the leg. It’s hard for me to figure out where his limits are because he’s my first rescue and I can assume a lot of his behaviours come from not being treated properly as a puppy, but I am always learning with him and this article is really helpful!

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I’m sorry to hear your dog has bitten you. Yes, it sounds like he has some issues with how to manage his excitement levels. I would definitely work on providing him with a lot of structured exercise and training and giving him a “job.” I’m sure he is a very smart and very high-energy dog. It might work to give him a toy to hold when he’s excited so he bites on that instead of people. However, for some dogs, the toy makes them even more excited.

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