Ask The Dog Trainer: What to do if bitten by a dog

Dear Kendall,
I am shaken up. Our neighbor was walking with his dog Oliver, and my 4-year-old niece Alexis was petting him when she suddenly began to cry. I rushed over and when I picked her up I saw that Oliver had nipped her on the arm. I was so panicked I snatched her up and ran for the bathroom where I washed the cuts with soap and water. We live in an area with a great deal of dogs, some of which are not friendly, as this incident so vividly reminded me. What should I do if this happens again? I’m worried!
Dear Betty,
It sounds to me like you acted admirably in a moment of crisis. You secured Alexis’ safety and made sure the punctures were cleaned and cared for. Those were all good steps to take following a bite.
If you or anyone you know does get bitten again, here is some advice on what to do after and what to expect.
Make sure that you get to safety as calmly and as quickly as possible. If the dog is off leash and pursuing you, defend yourself and find higher ground. I’ve scrambled onto hoods of cars, leapt fences and once found myself climbing an old oak tree covered in poison ivy. Ideally you can back up calmly to your car or retreat inside of a gate. If the dog is on leash, move away to a greater distance until the owner has the dog under control.
Once you are safe and the dog is secured, it’s important to do a physical inspection. In the heat of the moment you may not have noticed being bitten. Check your hands, arms, torso and legs for wounds. Check anyone who was with you at the time, including the owner if they are present. Be through. Feel, look and investigate. Although rabies is not common in the United States, secondary infections can arise so note all grazes, scratches and nicks as well as puncture wounds.
If the wounds are to your face, groin or joint spaces, or are deep, then it is advisable to go to the nearest hospital where you can receive medical attention. Upon arrival you will have to fill out a form detailing the address where you got bitten, the owner’s names and a description of the dog. If the owners can provide proof of a rabies vaccination then bring that as well. The authorities will contact the owners and conduct their own investigation, but any and all information you can provide will help your doctor make crucial decisions about your care.
Once you are admitted, a doctor will examine your injuries, irrigate them with saline solution and bandage them loosely. Puncture wounds are usually left to drain and heal on their own without the use of stitches. You may be given pain medication, a list of symptoms to keep an eye out for such as pus, redness and swelling, and sent home to rest.
Unless the dog you were bitten by was a stray or did not have its rabies vaccination, you won’t need to have a series of rabies shots. If your doctor feels these are a necessary precaution to secure your safety, then rest assured that they are no longer as painful as they used to be, and are administered in your bicep instead of your abdomen.
Expect a call the next day from Animal Control to discuss the nature of the injuries. I personally find our local Animal Control to be professional, friendly and respectful, and commend them for their hard work keeping us safe. They will take some notes and contact you if further information is needed.
Alexis is lucky to have such a brave and resourceful aunt. Unfortunately dog bites are common, but I hope this information helps you feel more prepared should another emergency arise.
Kendall and Chandler Brown are owners of Custom K-9 Service Dogs, a dog training business serving Minden/Gardnerville, Carson and Reno. For information go to or email


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