This post was reviewed by Nicholas A. Battaglia, Esq., an attorney licensed in New York and New Jersey. He is owner and legal content writer for a law practice marketing firm and a realty group focusing on new construction builds in upstate New York, where he lives with his lovely wife and his counselor-at-bark Flora, a mixed breed rescue.
Are doggie play bites lawsuits waiting to happen? Usually, a play bite comes with no liability since dogs are playful. Their behavior like chasing a squirrel, biting toys, and even mouthing your hand is not considered vicious.
Taking care of a dog comes with lots of responsibilities and considerations, and also possible lawsuit if you are not careful. That is why you should be aware of particular laws like this play-bite liability that we will talk about in this article.
So, stay focused and understand for you to avoid your pet from getting into trouble.
Dogs And Their Playful Nature
We usually think of dogs as happy and excited animals that jump on their owners when they come home after work hours. Moreover, they enjoy chewing on bones and treats after doing the trick you thought, or just being a good girl or boy.
However, there are times that they would chew, mouth, or even bite their owner’s clothes, limbs, and hands; not because of their aggression, instead their way of playing.
It’s alright for puppies, but it can be painful for bigger dogs because their jaws are enormous. And worse, it could cause severe injuries if they get overly excited with their new human friend.
Yet, this kind of behavior is hard to control, especially if your dog is already old. If you’d only teach your dog while still a puppy, it would be a lot easier.
Are Play Bites Considered Aggressive Behavior?
Play bites or mouthing is usual for dogs. That is how they play with their pals. Yet, there are times that dogs would respond out of fear through biting. And that can be considered vicious.
But it’s hard to differentiate a play bite or usual mouthing from an aggressive one because they are almost the same.
What I usually do to identify if a dog is playful is looking at its body and face; these should be relaxed. Although its muzzle is a bit wrinkled, there should be less tension on your dog’s facial muscles. When it starts to mouth your hand, it would be less painful.
However, if a dog is aggressive, the first thing it would do is growl. Its body will become stiff, and when it bites, it will be painful compared to a play bite. And the aggressive bite is usually the cause of dog bite liability.
So, if you observed your dog showing such behavior, especially towards others, you want to do something to stop it. I suggest you talk with someone who specializes in dog behavior.
Here are the people to go to when your dog shows problematic behaviors:
- Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist; or
- Board-Certified Veterinary Behaviorist.
But in some areas, these people are hard to find. Maybe, you can ask dog trainers who are certified professionals. However, please ensure that they have the proper knowledge and have the qualifications to help your dog with its behavior.
Since some trainers don’t need Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT) certification, you want to make sure that the person you are asking has the experience and treated a dog’s aggression.
If you don’t stop your dog from mouthing other people, or worse, stop its aggression, you might end up like the dog owner of the case I will tell you. So, read on.
A Case Of Playbite
In the case of Campo v Holland (32 AD3d 630 [3d Dept 2006]), the dog owners seek for help from a group of people to install their waterline. Unfortunately, one of their crews was bitten on his right forearm by a black Labrador retriever.
What’s worse, the bite made two deep punctures, and the victim stated that it triggered a pre-existing nerve injury, which pushed the plaintiff (the victim) to commence a lawsuit against the homeowners.
As the homeowners’ defense, they claimed that they have never found their dog, Misty, with any vicious propensities for the four years they owned her, and this was the first incident. Even his wife and some other witnesses claim that Misty is a good dog.
And the Supreme Court sees that the defendant (the homeowner) had no prior knowledge or that they could not have known that their dog had vicious propensities. However, the plaintiff contended Misty would jump up on people, chase birds and squirrels, or bark at strangers, attempting to show the court that the Misty did have vicious behavior.
The defendant responded that their dog would jump on visitors only because she is excited and will eventually calm down, which is not considered aggressive behavior. So is the chasing of a squirrel or maybe a cat. It’s natural for dogs to do.
It is worth to note that if the dog’s playfulness caused the injury, the dog owner is not always liable. The plaintiff further recites some evidence that the dog owner asked them if they were afraid of dogs and was told to wait outside to give them time to take Misty and their other dog away from the work area.
With that action, the court interpreted it as a way of courtesy to the workers. And the fact that the dogs were confined away from them was an example of safety precaution, not necessarily that the dog was vicious
It’s not like that the dogs were aggressive, but the owners were considerate enough to ask the crew and make sure that the dogs were away from their sight. After this, the Supreme Court dismissed the complaint on the grounds that normal canine behavior such as chasing small animals, barking, and jumping when excited is not enough to trigger vicious propensities. Therefore, the injured plaintiff was without the ability to recover compensation.
Dog Owners Liability
From what you have read, even though the dog in Campo was did not result in liability for the dog owner, there are other instances where the dog caused the injury of play-bite and a dog owner could still be held accountable. This is when the state has a strict dog bite statute liability.
So, that is a dog owner’s responsibility to keep their dogs from harming others. The question is, are doggie play bites lawsuits waiting to happen?
How to prove the liability of the dog owner
A dog owner will be liable for their dog’s action if the following is proven:
#1. If the victim could prove the dog owner’s negligence
The victim must prove that the injury occurred because the dog owner was negligent. For instance, the owner let the dog run lose the street and chased passerby or violating a local leash law, or maybe leaving their gate wide open.
#2. When a dog-bite law statute is applicable
Most states treat dog-bite cases seriously because of the damage and trouble it causes the victim; it may be financially, emotionally, and physically.
So, if your place happens to impose strict dog bite liability laws, you will be held responsible for the injury whether you know that your dog could hurt someone or because of your carelessness.
#3. If the owner is proven to know about the dog’s vicious tendency
The one who sued the dog owner should convince the court that the owners are aware of their dog’s aggressive behavior, which caused the damage or injury.
This one is often applicable to states which follow the “one-bite rule” that makes dog owners liable if they knew that their pet could cause such injury or damage. Yet, dog owners have the chance to defend themselves and avoid liability.
If the person being sued can prove that the victim committed a crime such as trespassing or provoking the dog, which caused them to get bitten, the dog owner might get away with possible compensation.
Even though the state has strict dog-liability laws, if the victim was considered partly at fault, then the owner’s responsibility could lessen.
Can a dog owner be liable for criminal liability?
A dog owner can be liable for criminal liability. Are you familiar with the law related to dangerous dogs in your city? Well, you might want to know about it.
The law is typically applied when a dog has bitten or threatened a person; this situation will make the dog owners responsible as they are required to observe certain precautions to keep their pet from hurting other people.
It will depend on how bad the damage or injury your dog caused as well as what you have done to avoid it. In some cases, the court would place an order that a dog should be euthanized if it showed significant risk that might cause danger to more people.
And if the owner won’t follow this, the court could press charges. That’s why as dog owners, you should be careful because you might face serious consequences.
For instance, Florida allows criminal charges to be issued to a dog owner whose pet has severely injured, or worse, killed someone; in which case it should be proven that owner knew about their dog’s vicious tendencies yet didn’t do anything.
The court could press charges to the dog owner with manslaughter. That’s how serious a dog attack could get. See?
When A Dog Has Hurt You
If you are the victim, you can’t just go to the police and pinpoint some people that it’s their fault without any evidence. Sure, you got injured, but the court would need something other than that to support your claim.
So, follow these tips after the dog attack occurs:
Tip #1. Get treated
Of course, when you are bleeding on the ground and can’t move an inch, you want to get medical attention first. You want to take note of the doctor’s office or your hospital visits and make sure to keep a copy of the bill with you.
Tip #2. Know the names of the dog owners and get their contact information
Whether you want to ask for compensation or not, you can probably change your mind once you see your hospital bill despite if it’s a swollen ankle after a dog knocked you down. The dog owner could have liability insurance to cover that.
Tip #3. Get a hold of a witness
Having a witness will give you the advantage when you’re defending your side to the court. It would help if someone could backup your claim and testify about what happened during the dog attack or how the dog injured you, even if it’s a play bite.
Moreover, a witness could help you find out who the dog’s owner is by giving your state’s dog control authorities a description.
Tip #4. Documentation
Make use of your gadget and take a picture of your wounds, the dog, the house, or the hole where the dog ran out.
It could support your version of the incident.
Once you show the court the pictures or videos you have taken, you might get the upper hand, and the dog owner couldn’t disagree since you have strong evidence with you.
This one is important since these people could help you with your situation.
For example, if the dog that injured you wears a leash with no identification tag or maybe you saw it for the first time not knowing who owns it, the animal control authorities might help you find the dog’s owner.
After all, the authorities would require the dog owners to quarantine the dog to see if something would happen.
Also, check the dog’s previous records if it has a history of biting or hurting someone. You can use it against the owner to win the case or negotiate with them for compensation, which would be better.
Talk With A Lawyer
A lawyer is an excellent help for a victim or the one being sued. It’s our right to defend ourselves, and a good lawyer will help you understand your situation and do things you need to do.
Since every state has a different approach to dog attacks, a personal injury attorney could help you know how you could win and get compensation by allowing you to understand your case and how you can get the upper hand.
As for dog owners, if your dog is considered by the court dangerous, it would be best to ask help from a criminal defense lawyer to ease the outcome.
Dog Owners Responsibilities
Dogs use their mouths a lot, so don’t worry if your pet chews on your fingers. It just wants to play!
Especially with puppies, they love to chew on things; it may be on chairs, tables, your clothes, or fingers. So you want to keep your precious pair of sneakers if you don’t want to say goodbye.
They love to use their nose and mouth to learn about their environment. It’s interesting and cute to look at, but then that would be a problem if it’s a year-old dog.
If your dog is still biting or nipping on your hands, feet, and especially on other people, you have to do something about it. A bigger dog has stronger teeth, so if it would chew your fingers, it could scar or injure your skin, even if it’s a playful act.
This kind of attitude is hard to get rid of, especially for older dogs since they are puppies. Mouthing is part of their routine.Moreover, adult dogs are hard to control because of their size and are not as attentive as puppies.
Think about them as teaching a teenager what to do. I bet you will have a hard time. Regardless, here are the things you want to do to help your dog control their mouthing towards people:
Teach your dog their nipping should be gentle
Training a dog, especially when it’s older, can be a bit challenging. But it’s not too late. You can’t get rid of nipping since it’s part of a dog’s behavior. What we can do is to lessen the pain of your dog’s mouthing through bite inhibition.
Dogs learn this one with other puppies. It refers to a canine’s ability to lessen the force of its bite or mouthing during its play. They learn how to control their nipping towards other dogs by interacting with them often and how other pups react with their bite.
It might not be painful to them, but for people, it could cause injury if you don’t train your pet how to play with the human skin. So, you should train your dog on how to be gentle towards human skin.
Here are the methods you should follow:
Let your pet mouth your hands when it wants to play. Leave it there until it starts to hurt, and that’s when you can apply this method.
Once you start to feel that your dog’s nipping is getting painful, immediately let out a high-pitched yelp as if you are hurt and pretend that your hand is injured. This action will cause your dog to stop and understand that you are hurting, which puppies do when playing together.
If your dog responds positively, give it a treat or praise its action and continue playing and when their mouthing hurts again, yelp and continue this for at least 15 minutes.
Yelping doesn’t work all the time, especially if your dog is a bit stubborn or just playful. But the time-out method could help you out. Since adult dogs are not as attentive as puppies, time-outs could make them realize that you don’t like the behavior they are showing, which could lessen your pet’s mouthy behavior.
Now, when your dog bites hard, you should yelp loudly to startle it. Then once it avoids eye contact and looks around, take out your hand. Ignore your pet for 10 to 20 seconds, but if your dog starts to mouth you again, ignore for another 10 to 20 seconds. However, if your dog continues to be stubborn, leave the room or walk away.
Once your pet behaves, praise it and play with your dog again. And if it bites you hard, do the same thing again. If the dog bites you even harder, you might need to lengthen the time-out period for 30 seconds or maybe a minute.
It would help if you taught bite inhibition to puppies, or else they could bring their mouthy behavior until they grow up, which results in injuries. Moreover, teach your adult dog to be gentle to human skin. Better give it chew toys to divert their interest from your hands.
Nevertheless, I hope you teach your dog well. Never hurt your dog, or else it would cause it to develop aggressive behavior. There is no such thing as bad dogs, only bad owners.
Socialize your pet
Socialization is an important skill not only for people but also for our pets.
When we mingle with other people, our interpersonal skills development, and our personality, we learn what we should and shouldn’t avoid getting hurt by us.
Now apply this context to dogs.
Since dogs don’t talk, they would usually communicate with sound, their body, and mouth.
If you see puppies biting each other, don’t worry because they are only playing but once one of them yelps, that’s the time you want to separate the two or let the other dog realize that it hurt its playmate.
That is how dogs learn how to be gentle when mouthing other dogs. So, you want your pet to play with other dogs too.
Adding to this, if a dog is unsocialized, it would usually fight with other dogs and sometimes humans.
You can see such behavior from stray dogs, especially when they see people. They feel threatened, which contributes to their vicious tendencies. Make your dog get used to other people, not only you and your dog, to develop a friendly trait.
Nevertheless, observe safety precautions, especially when there are kids or visitors around your dog. Sure, it is only playing, but once a play bite turns to injury, a play bite lawsuit is waiting to happen.
I hope you keep in mind the things mentioned in this article, there might be a lot, but as a dog owner, it is your responsibility to train your dog and help it grow up, avoiding any trouble.
Once again, mouthing is natural to dogs, but when your pet gets used to using your hand as a chew toy, you want to do something about it.
Try the yelping and time-out method to curb your pet’s mouthing, and always allow your pal to socialize with other dogs and people to develop good behavior.
Nevertheless, that is all. Thank you for reading this article, “Are doggie play bites lawsuits waiting to happen?” I hope you learn a lot!