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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.

Related articles:

Stop a dog from biting the leash

Euthanizing aggressive dogs


Thursday 21st of March 2019

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!

Lindsay Stordahl

Thursday 21st of March 2019

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.

Serina J Rieckman

Tuesday 19th of March 2019

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

Lindsay Stordahl

Tuesday 19th of March 2019

Yes, so true!


Sunday 18th of March 2018

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!


Sunday 18th of March 2018

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.


Sunday 18th of March 2018

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.