Robert Mazow and Kevin McCullough of the law firm Mazow-McCullough, a personal injury law firm with extensive experience as dog bite attorneys, discuss dog behaviors to watch out for.
John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher. I’m here today with Robert Mazow and Kevin McCullough of the law firm of Mazow-McCullough, personal injury law firm, with offices in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Robert and Kevin have a great deal of experience as dog bite attorneys. Today we’re talking about dog behaviors to watch out for. Robert and Kevin, welcome.
Robert Mazow: Thanks, John.
Kevin McCullough: Thank you, John.
Dog Behaviors to Watch For to Prevent Dog Bites
John: So Rob, the best case for a dog bite victim is obviously for that dog bite to just have never happened in the first place. But what are some dog behaviors that people can watch out for in order to prevent dog bites from happening?
Robert: Well, what I used to tell my children when they were younger is that if the dog is not your dog, you don’t know what behaviors might be signs of aggression in that particular dog. So unless you know what this dog is all about and what makes this dog tick and whether it’s your dog or somebody else’s dog, you really need to be very, very cautious, because you just don’t know. I mean the typical signs you might see for aggression in dogs might be the baring of the teeth or just snarling or growling or protecting their food. You might see the tail really tightly low between the legs. These are the kinds of things that the dogs are naturally built for protection. Those are the kinds of things that you see that you’re going to want to stay away.
Obviously, barking and growling are the typical things you want to see. If a dog is on the end of a leash and he’s trying what best to get away from the leash, you’re not going to want to approach that dog. There are telltale signs that you just want to give the dog a wide berth before you go up to it. If you are with a child, you’re going to want to make sure that you’re holding that child close to you as you’re passing a dog that’s showing these kinds of behaviors. Because you just don’t know when a dog is going to just behave irrationally or behave like a dog and go after something that’s startling them or causing the dog concern.
John: One of the unusual behaviors that I read about actually looking into this was if the dog is yawning or looking away from you as you approach it, that that could actually be a sign that it might be… I don’t know whether it’s not as like that the dog is trying to make you think that it’s not going to bite you, and then at the last second it turns toward and bites, or what the deal is. But like you said, I guess it’s, if you don’t know that particular dog and what its reactions are going to be, you just need to be really cautious.
Robert: Right. And when you don’t know, you don’t know, as they say. And your theory, which I’d never heard before of not looking, I’ve heard theories of dogs don’t like to be looked at directly in their eyes. So, this was the point. You just don’t know a particular breed, you don’t know particular personalities. A dog could be showing one second docile behavior and the next second something spooks the dog and the dog reacts. So, the best case is to be very cautious. Be very careful around dogs, particularly the ones you don’t know.
John: A final one that I read was obviously if a dog is feeling trapped and it can’t get away, that can be a very dangerous situation. So if a dog looks like it’s trying to run away from you, is trying to get away but can’t for some reason, because maybe there’s a fence there or a door or a corner or something like that, that can be just a very dangerous situation to watch out for.
Robert: Yeah. And at the end of the day, dogs are animals and animals can behave irrationally, and you just need to be aware of that, not to trap them or scare them and to just until you know that, you stay clear.
Tips for Avoiding Aggressive Dogs
John: Right. Kevin, if I do encounter an aggressive dog or I want to avoid aggressive dogs in some way, what are some of the things that people can do to avoid a dog that looks like it’s getting aggressive?
Kevin: Yeah, John. It’s such a difficult thing to assess because dogs are obviously animals, but they also have a history or a past, just like everyone else does, including dog owners. So, some dogs have been abused in the past. Some dogs may have an aggressive history, and if it’s a dog that you’re familiar with, you can take certain steps and measures to try to ensure that you don’t become a victim of a dog bite or a dog attack. But if it’s a dog that you’re just not familiar with, you need to keep in mind all of the different possibilities of what could be going on, or what has gone on in the past for this particular dog. And you want to be careful when you’re taking a walk on a rail trail, or if you’re taking a walk around the block, to avoid dogs that you’re just not familiar with.
You may be a dog lover, you may see a cute dog that you may want to pet, but be mindful of that particular dog, and have a conversation with the dog owner as you approach. Approach slowly. But if you can, talk to the dog owner as far as, “Is it okay for me to pet the dog? Is it okay for me to bend down when I’m approaching the dog?” But if you see any particular signs of aggression, even if the dog owner is telling you that the dog is a friendly dog or a safe dog, obviously protect yourself, cross the street, take a different route, take a different path, do everything that you can to avoid that unknown dog or that aggressive dog.
You may come across a situation where dogs may be fighting and you may want to act or intervene. If you don’t know those dogs, or if you’re not familiar with those dogs, you’re better off getting help or notifying someone. Don’t try to intervene or break up that dog fight on your own. Again, especially if it’s not your dog or a dog that you’re responsible for, you don’t want to put yourself in a dangerous position in an effort to break up a dog fight and then ultimately become a victim and have both dogs attacking you. There are so many different things that if you take the time, and if you think about it, without just rushing up to a dog or a pet or an animal. Be safe. Keep your distance. And if you are inclined to approach an animal, make sure you get permission from the dog owner first.
John: Right. There are two things that I’ve encountered personally. One was a dog that otherwise was just the absolute nicest, most friendly dog ever. And that dog, when you went anywhere near it while it was eating, would just immediately get all tense and start to growl at you. And that was certainly a warning sign. Do you see that a lot, that a dog’s protecting their food and growling when they’re eating?
Kevin: As an adult, we obviously know certain things, and don’t interrupt an animal while it’s eating. But unfortunately, children don’t know that. So we do see those situations, John, where a child may have good intentions to pet a dog or to give a dog a hug. And approaching an area where the dog is eating is a very dangerous situation, and it’s up to the adult or the parent to make sure that they let the children know to not bother the dog while they’re eating or not approach the dog. But unfortunately, those are situations that we see routinely, just because a child doesn’t know. They may approach a situation that an adult would otherwise know to stay away from.
Robert: Let me just add onto that. And while you do see it more often with children, we have cases where adults who obviously have experience with dogs might just be sitting next to a sleeping dog and think that the sleeping dog is a docile dog. But we’ve seen the dog react badly and living up to that let sleeping dogs lie statement. Especially older dogs, you startle them when they’re sleeping, you’re going to get a reaction from that. While we do see a lot of bites in children, we also see adults just not appreciating sometimes that a sleeping dog or an eating dog is one that you want to stay away from.
John: Right. The second incident that I was involved in, again speaks to just not knowing a particular dog, where I was approaching a dog. And in this case, the dog owner did the right thing and let me know before I approached that, “Don’t put your hand in front of his face.” Because this was a rescue dog and the theory was that whoever the dog’s previous owner was must have put their hand in front of the dog’s face and then hit the dog, and put the hand in front of the face and then hit the dog. And it developed this reaction if you put your hand in front of the dog’s face, it would just growl, and potentially could bite you in the hand.
John: Where when I was a kid, we were always taught to do that, is if you’re approaching a dog you don’t know, put your hand out and let them sniff your hand and then they’ll get to know you and they’ll feel more comfortable with you. If you did that with this dog, you were much more likely to get bitten. So again, that speaks to that issue of just not knowing any particular dog.
Robert: Right. We’ve had stories where, like a rescue dog who has been in an unfortunate abusive situation, can’t be near men with hats because their abuser might have been somebody who wore a hat all the time. So walking into somebody’s home, you wouldn’t know that, as the dog owner has a responsibility to let people know, take your hat off in that particular situation. But again, walking down the street, you’re just not going to know these things.
Kevin: Every dog has a history, and that’s why it’s so important. And we meet with clients, John, sometimes where people will say, “I had a particular breed of dog all my life growing up and every dog that I had of that breed was so great. That’s why when I saw a dog of the same breed last week on my street, I approached it to try to pet it.” But it isn’t as simple as some breeds of dogs are very aggressive or some breeds are non aggressive and they never bite. It’s every dog has its own history and that, as we’ve discussed here, whether or not it’s a rescue dog or it’s a dog that has been abused, the history and the upbringing and taking care of a particular dog tells a tale. And that dog is going to react that way forever for the rest of its life.
So people need to be mindful of that, that it’s not just as simple as, this is a German Shepherd or a lab or any other various types of dog. It’s to get to know the dog, get to know the dog’s past and its history, and certainly speak to the dog owner and get permission before ever approaching a dog.
John: All right, that’s great advice. Rob and Kevin, thanks again for speaking with me today.
Kevin: Thanks, John.
Robert: Thank you, John.
John: And for more information on dog bite cases or other personal injury cases, visit the firm’s website @helpinginjured.com, or call (855) 693-9084.