What Do You Do When Your Dog Bites Someone?

My rescue dog showed no signs of aggression in three months; I wonder what set him off.

Heather Marcoux  |  Oct 1st 2014


I picked up the phone and my husband said, “GhostBuster bit someone.”

I thought I was going to barf. I couldn’t believe the beautiful, gentle dog we adopted three months ago had actually used his teeth on a man’s hand. I hung up the phone feeling like I had failed my wonderful dog in the worst way possible by not predicting or preventing this act of fear aggression.

Did GhostBuster’s strange fear of white pickup trucks play a role? Or were his anti-scratch booties taped on too tight, making him feel vulnerable? Maybe he was in more pain than we realized because of his itchy allergy hot spots. Whatever it was, it was my fault.

I didn’t see it happen, but I know that we can’t minimize this. It was a bite. And now our lives, and GhostBuster’s, have changed. This dog who has enjoyed backyard barbecues and doggie playdates since his adoption three months ago now cannot be trusted in social situations — and it’s sad for all of us.

I need to back this story up a little bit, because I think it really starts about two weeks before the bite, when GhostBuster exhibited some seriously weird behavior at the dog park.

We’d been going to this park since we got him and he never showed any signs of aggression at all. After a couple months of practicing recall in the park’s small, fenced-in training area, GhostBuster even enjoyed a few weeks of off-leash play in the big park, until one rainy evening he lost his privileges in a flash.

Under the drizzling sky the dog park was almost empty. The Parks and Rec crew was there, driving around in white pickup trucks and emptying the garbage cans. GhostBuster was pleasantly trotting along beside my husband and I when one of the trucks rolled up to a nearby garbage can and parked. As the Parks employee exited the vehicle, GhostBuster took off, barking loudly at the man. We called our dog back and he came eventually, but not before frightening the poor Parks guy.

I think I was in denial as we left the park that rainy night. I told myself that it was just a small setback and that we would overcome it with training. Sadly, the setback was repeated just a couple days later.

I had (foolishly) returned to the park, but this time I did not let GhostBuster off-leash until we were alone in the fenced training area. We practiced sit-stays and recall, but GhostBuster was distracted because he was itchy — the allergies we’ve been dealing with since the day we adopted him were flaring up again. Suddenly, another distraction appeared on the other side of the fence when a Parks and Rec guy was driving up to the training area in a white pickup truck.

Again, GhostBuster started barking intensely and ran over to the gate of the training area. I chased after him and leashed him up so that the Parks guy could come in and empty the garbage cans. That was the last time I took GhostBuster to the dog park — and it might be the last time I ever do.

In the four days between GhostBuster’s last dog park visit and the bite, my poor dog had been getting increasingly itchy. His bloody hot spots were nasty, and although my husband doubted the vet’s advice would be any different than last time, we made an appointment. In the meantime we bought a soft e-collar, some aloe and anti-scratch dog booties in the hopes that we could soothe GhostBuster’s angry skin.

The bite happened 24 hours before we were scheduled to see the vet, while my husband was trying to distract GhostBuster from his itchiness. With the anti-scratch booties secured, my guys set out on a nice long walk. Along the way they stopped to say hi to a friend of my husband’s who was building a garage. GhostBuster knows this friend well and was apparently happy to see him.

From what I understand, the trouble began when a third guy entered the conversation — coming out from behind a white pickup truck. This friend of my husband’s friend approached GhostBuster, offering the back of his hand for smelling. My dog waited until the stranger’s hand was close to his muzzle before he suddenly started barking, catching the man’s hand in his teeth.

The man pulled back, revealing what my husband called “a bloody scratch” on the back of his hand. A few minutes later this man asked my husband if he could try to approach GhostBuster again. This time, when the man offered his hand GhostBuster accepted it and allowed the guy to pet him.

The next day we took GhostBuster to his appointment at the vet clinic. A vet we hadn’t seen before agreed with what others had told us — that GhostBuster is allergic to something. For the vet’s safety we told him about the bite right away, and he suggested we monitor GhostBuster’s behavior for one month and tightly control any social situations. We came home with a bigger cone, some Vanectyl pills and some special soap.

GhostBuster’s painful hotspots are healing well, but I wonder if we will ever be able to trust him again. While he has shown no sign of fear aggression since the incident, I still can’t write it off as a one-time deal.

Has your dog ever bitten someone? What did you do? Tell us in the comments!

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About the author: Heather Marcoux is a freelance writer in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but Specter the kitten and GhostBuster the dog make her fur family complete. Heather is also a wife, a bad cook and a former TV journalist. Some of her friends have hidden her feed because of an excess of cat pictures. If you don’t mind cat pictures, you can follow her on Twitter; she also posts pet GIFs on Google +.