I had an interesting call today. The woman on the other line wanted an assessment done on her mastiff type breed. After a few initial questions it was clear that the dog had bitten someone. The woman wanted the assessment to take to court and prove that her dog wouldn’t bite unprovoked.
This is not the purpose of an assessment. The assessment is a training tool. It is used to measure a dog’s reactions in specific situations. It doesn’t matter whether the assessment is the Canadian Kennel Club’s Canine Good Neighbor, or something more technical like B.A.R.C. No assessment can state whether your dog will bite.
Ontario Law and Dog Aggression
The Ontario law is fairly strict when it comes to dog bites. It is the owner of the dog who pays. This leads to some problems. How does the victim prove it was my dog that bit? Unfortunately, it is very difficult to disprove. Worse, the courts appear to side with the victim.
This is why it is important to make sure your home owners insurance will cover dog bites. A small bite can lead to legal compensation worth thousands of dollars. I am unsure whether the $30 001.00 in losses applies to dog bites. It doesn’t appear so.
It doesn’t matter whether you have an assessment or not. If your dog bites someone it becomes a police matter. And yes, there are cases where criminal charges and jail time may be the consequences.
The only exception appears to be if your dog is guarding you, or your property. But even there is a catch. The ‘use of force’ must not be excessive. For example, do not let 3 mastiffs attack someone breaking into your garage.
Dog Biting Dog
A dog is seen as property in Ontario. So if your dog bites another dog then you are liable for all expenses.
Why Dogs Bite
33% of all dog bites are attributed to dog pain. Do not overlook an uneven gait. If your dog is acting stiff or sore then see a vet. Developmental stages can also play a part. But one thing I notice is that many dogs are forced to go on walks when it is not pleasant for the dog. If your dog doesn’t want to go for a walk then drive it to the park and play fetch.
My second rule of thumb is ‘dogs and kids don’t mix’. Most dog bites in Canada are children.
Injuries associated with dog bites and dog attacks were sustained most frequently by 5-9 year olds (28.5%). Of all injuries related to dog bites and dog attacks, 57.9% were to males. Injuries occurred most often in the summer, 37.7%, and most frequently between the hours of 4 and 8 p.m., (32.7%). Most injuries occurred at the victim’s own home, 34.2% or other home, 30.3%. The majority of injuries occurred when the patient had no direct interaction with the dog, 28.9%. Injuries that required advice only or minor treatment accounted for 57.9% of patients, while 36.8% of patients needed medical follow-up after leaving the emergency department and 4.5% were admitted to hospital. Overall, the most frequent types of injury were bites, 73.1%, and the body part most often affected was the face, 40.5%. (Public Health Canada)
Pet Owner Responsibility
The fact is simple. Dog bites leave lasting scars, inside and out. Be a responsible pet owner and take some precautions:
- Do not force your dog to endure petting from strangers
- Do not force your dog to engage with other dogs
- Do not play off leash in a public area
- Do not assume that strangers will welcome your dog’s presence
- Never leave a dog alone with a child. Dogs are not toys. Do not let children maul or play with them.
- Do not assume that a stranger will not provoke your dog
- Make sure you have used prudent care when securing your dog and protecting the public
- Only use equipment made for dogs. A horse stable, garage, or chain are not made to be dog proof.
- Do not let your dog run to the door and bark. Teach it self-control. Teach it to go to a mat and wait when you are talking to someone at the door. This includes not letting your dog rush at people barking. Teach an out command
- Learn to identify your dog’s stress cues and remove him/her from situations they do not want to be in.
My advice to this woman was to contact a veterinary behaviorist who could give the dog medication, and check for any health issues. Then contact a lawyer.
Most important, go to a good dog trainer and teach your dog impulse control, stress/frustration coping skills, and teach your dog ‘not’ to react to stress.