When a Dog Bites: How We Investigate to Prevent Further Aggression
Have you ever seen a dog growl, show its teeth, or give a quick nip? What about punching you with their nose, or snapping at you? Those are warning signs of aggression. Aggression is the most serious behavior problem in dogs. It starts with warning signs, and can end up in an attack if you’re not paying attention. Unfortunately, many times people don’t recognize the signs and don’t step in fast enough to prevent bites or attacks.
Our Animal Services Team starts a Dangerous Animal Investigation when a dog has bitten or attacked multiple times, or an attack caused severe injuries or death. In a typical year, the Team investigates about 5 to 10 dogs. Unfortunately, there are already five ongoing investigations so far in 2022. It’s not clear what’s causing this spike because there’s very little in common between the cases. In these cases, there are different breeds, ages, sexes, and backgrounds. The dogs in these cases have repeatedly bitten people and injured other animals. One incident involved a cat dying from injuries after a dog attack.
What a Dangerous Animal Investigation involves
Our Animal Services Program follows a multi-step investigation process that includes:
- Interviewing victims
- Meeting the dog and learning about its history and environment
- Asking neighbors about their experiences with the dog
- Meeting with the owner to discuss how to prevent future incidents
They use this information to decide if the dog poses an ongoing threat to people and pets in the community. If they determine that the dog is dangerous, they then decide if the dog can stay with its owner with restrictions, or if the dog needs to be euthanized. Luckily, the decision to euthanize is rare. If it is made, it’s usually because the dog can't be controlled or the owner refuses to do what is necessary to keep the dog and the community safe.
To prevent future incidents, Animal Services may require restrictions, like training classes, fencing, or leashing and muzzling when the dog is off the owner’s property.
In every case, they require:
- Mandatory spaying or neutering
- Getting a current dog license
- Banning visits to dog parks
Dog owners can appeal our department’s decision to declare a dog dangerous. Some owners decide to give up their dogs during the investigation because they feel they can’t make the changes or keep their dog from causing another incident.
You can prevent aggressive dog behavior
Dogs might act aggressive when they’re protecting their territory, their family, or their possessions. They may also act aggressive when they’re afraid, frustrated, or in pain. There’s no easy answer to why a dog becomes aggressive, but you can prevent aggression in your dog.
- Learn as much as you can about any dog you adopt or buy, including its history and breed traits
- Take classes to help you bond and learn about each other in a safe and structured environment
- Take your dog to a veterinarian for an exam, vaccinations, and spaying or neutering when they are old enough
- Always make sure your dog is leashed and under control when off your property
- Never allow your dog to run loose or wander
- Learn about types of aggression, risk factors for aggression, and behavior changes you can make.
Get help for your aggressive dog
If you recognize aggressive behaviors in your dog, don’t hesitate to reach out for help, because problems tend to worsen if you don’t take action. There are many behaviorists in our area that can help if you see concerning behavior from your dog. There are also low cost veterinary and behavior programs for those who need them.
Our Animal Services Team is always happy to answer questions or help with resources. You can call them at (608) 267-1989 or email them at PHAnimalServices@publichealthmdc.com.
And remember, even if you own the dog or know the owner, it’s important to report bites. Call (608) 255-2345 and ask for an Animal Services Officer.