I've always had a mix of emotions about dogs. I like them...it's just that I trust certain breeds more than others. For example, chihuahuas are cute and small enough to fit in your bag but, they're notoriously aggressive—small dog syndrome.

Not every dog that you meet will be a terror, like the rabid St. Bernard in Stephen King's, Cujo. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it's estimated that 4.7 billion people are attacked and bitten by dogs every year. Children between the ages of 5-9 are the most common victims of dog bites. What should you do when a canine companion bites you or a loved one?

What to do when a dog bites?

When a dog first bites, its front teeth compresses muscles, while the smaller teeth tear into tissues. It's important to treat the wound immediately in order to prevent infection. However, be sure to get the dog owner's contact information and take pictures of the injury. The type of breed can affect the severity of the injury. For example, the Kangal has the strongest bite at 743 PSI, followed by the Doberman Pinscher at 600 PSI. This magnitude of force can cause severe and permanent damage to muscles, tendons, and nerves.

A study conducted by a Charleston personal injury attorney found that in 2018, there were a total of 35 reported fatal dog attacks. Pitbulls and Rottweilers were responsible for a significant portion of these injuries. However, the bearded collie is recognized by the American Temperament Test Society as the most "aggressive" dog breed. With that said, never judge a breed based on stereotypes. All dogs have their tendencies and as much as we love them, even the most docile can be just as aggressive as the next. It's important to seek immediate medical treatment for any minor or major dog bite.

How to treat a dog bite

Initial first aid can be performed at home but, it's imperative to see a doctor or visit the emergency room as soon as possible. It's estimated that 50% of dog bites introduce bacteria into the victim's wound including Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), Streptococcus (strep throat), Pasteurella and Capnocytophaga, amongst others.

When first treating the wound perform the following steps:

  1. Put a clean towel over the open area to stop the bleeding.
  2. Clean the wound with warm soap and water.
  3. Apply an antibiotic ointment to the wound and wrap it with a clean bandage.
  4. Keep the injured area elevated, until you're able to visit a doctor's office or hospital.

The doctor will examine the wound for muscle and nerve damage, re-clean and wrap it. They will also ask a series of questions, in order to better understand the attack and if additional precautions need to be taken. Individuals with diabetes and immune system disorders are at greater risk than the average person.

If you are familiar with the dog, the doctor will want to know the last time that vaccine shots were given. This will determine if tetanus or a rabies shot will need to be administered. They will also ask if the dog was provoked prior to the attack.

Generally, wounds are left open when bandaged, unless they're deep or in an "at risk" area such as the face. Sutures can be used to prevent scarring but, severe injuries may require plastic surgery.

Who is liable for dog bites?

Once treated for the dog bite, it's important to document your injuries and get a personal injury attorney. Each state has a statute of limitations or time frame in which the victim can file a lawsuit. In addition, every state has its own set of rules for dog bites. Some such as Maryland have a "one bite" rule. The owner is held liable for injuries caused by the dog only if they knew, or should have known about that dog's temperament and tendencies.

On the other hand, states like South Carolina have strict liability laws (section 47-3-110) in which the owner, or person that was responsible for maintaining control is held liable for the attack—if the dog was not provoked. Even if the dog hadn't shown previous aggressive tendencies, liability still falls on the owner. These questions will come into play later, on when animal control and personal injury attorney are contacted.

Will the owner's Insurance cover the dog bite?

If the owner has liability insurance, their insurance company will more than likely be covering your medical bills, losses and the settlement. Many insurance companies have breed restrictions for dogs that are categorized as "aggressive" breeds. In some cases, the owner is required to sign a liability waiver to prevent high premium losses. The Insurance Information Institute states that homeowner policies cover legal expenses for dog bites, typically from $100,000 to 300,000. If the claim exceeds these limits, then the homeowner is responsible for the damages that exceed the amount.

How to prevent dog bites

There are incidences when we cannot prevent an aggressive dog from biting. However, here are a few tips to keep mind:

  1. Stay away from dogs that you are not familiar with.
  2. Never leave young children alone with a dog, especially if it's not the family pet.
  3. Whenever you approach a dog, do so slowly. Allow the dog to smell your scent and become familiar with you.
  4. If a dog becomes aggressive, don't stare it in the eyes, run away, or make quick actions. Stay calm and move away.