==> If you didn't follow the prior two weeks' advice you may not want to think about this week's advice either ;-)

Otherwise: What would you do if it happens to you?

How to Save the Relationship When Your Dog Bit You

Most importantly: A dog that bites is not the end of the world!

Why this Periodical is important: When our dog injured us, our future together depends on how we react. Therefore it is wise to at least think through how we would like to react.

  • Two weeks ago we discussed Are German Shepherds dangerous? and ended with advice on: How Can We Prevent that Our GSD Harms Someone for No Good Reason?
  • Last week we had the hit home sequel: What to do if our dog injured someone? - because we didn't or couldn't prevent it
  • Now this week's Periodical is the hattrick: What if it is us who our dog injured?? - The dog owner or a family member!

kicked!This could be that our dog bit us (like the headline suggests), or it could be a non-bite injury.

Injured may not sound as 'attractive' as a headline with the word biting does - which is why the media always report on dog bites - but actually the majority (52%) of dog-inflicted injuries don't involve a dog bite at all!

(It was not reported whether this family member claimed compensation from the homeowner's insurance - and how much he got)

So, did you have a dog in the past that injured you, possibly even bit you? How did you react? At that moment, and long-term?

Or do you know of someone who was bitten by his/her own dog? What did (s)he do then?

Building an idea now how we would ideally react can mean all the difference when we get injured one day

In this Periodical:

  • What Other People Do When their Dog Bites them
  • Why Do Dogs Bite?
  • Why Injury Severity matters
  • Injuries other than Dog Bites
  • Best Way to React When Our Dog Injured Us?
  • Best Way to React When Our Dog Bit Us
  • How to Save the Relationship when Our Dog Bit Us or a Family Member

What Other People Do When their Dog Bites them

Countless times I have heard statements like:

  • "We had to put the dog down, she bit our daughter"
  • or "My dog bit me already once, I am scared he might do it again, I decided to leave him with a shelter"
This is what a Top dog expert says:
Find out more: Click to save vet cost, training cost, and your nerves!

I very much hope that this MYGERMANSHEPHERD PERIODICAL reaches you in time: Before you or a friend or relative makes an unnecessary or wrong decision.

dog downLike putting the dog down, giving the dog to a shelter, locking the dog away or leaving the dog mostly alone, exerting some form of force or intimidation, depriving the dog of food, drink, potty walks or socialization, or other inappropriate behavior.

Because none of that is necessary, let alone helpful, to save the relationship with the dog.

Before you ask: YES, it is possible probable to save the relationship with your dog after (s)he bit you! Ah, what am I saying? It is certain to be able to save the relationship with your dog after (s)he bit you.

Why Do Dogs Bite?

We are going to need this soon, so here's the ultimate insight into why dogs bite (better than what that boy was going to deliver as his homework, I am telling ya ;-) )

bite causes

Why Injury Severity matters

I would argue: We should be grateful if it's just a minor injury, because then it's the ideal warning sign that some behavior change of ourselves was about time. A minor injury offers a great opportunity to develop a new relationship with a dog, a much better bonding.

Note that every dog only bites after several other communications that (s)he feels unrest in the given situation, if not upset about it.

Yes, this includes the Pitbull too.

The problem is that most dog owners (and even many dog trainers) cannot reliably read a dog's communications. Domesticated dogs communicate their feelings in so many more subtle ways than humans, that only if we learned to really observe dogs consciously and diligently, we can read all signs before the bite.

Take for example the extreme case of Marjorie Knoller that I reported on last week - the former lawyer sentenced to 15 years to life in prison for murder after her two Presa Canario dogs mauled her neighbor to death.

prison sentenceI am sure that - had 'Madame Knoller' consciously observed her dogs - she would have noticed long before that incident that her dogs need either urgently a quality dog trainer, or a quality dog owner.

Even with a significant injury (as per definition below), the dog-human relationship is as much healable as the wound itself.

Indeed, as concerns dog bites I would argue that our long-term plans for our dog should depend on the severity of the injury, but our immediate reaction should not.

In the heat of the moment it is best to react in one standardized way only.

Long-term plans for our dog should be made when both our dog and we have calmed down (so not before the next day, possibly even much later).

Why should the severity of the injury play a role?? Isn't it enough that my dog had a bad intent and injured me?!

dog downWell, no. Because in most cases the dog actually didn't have a bad intent at all, the dog just instinctively reacted to the stimuli that we provided unconsciously.

For example in this case reported on the left, had the owners of that dog merely read a bit about dogs, or studied our Periodicals here, or - if they aren't into reading (as the background story suggests) - had they at least watched say Doggy Dan's excellent dog training video course which we always recommend for that very reason, then dead-sure their dog would still be alive, and the toddler girl well and happy with the family pet!

Too many dog owners are just ignorant to educating themselves (and their kids) how to treat a dog right (an animal after all!), and how to act in the presence of a dog - particularly when a child is present.

Take away those conflict-creating stimuli, or UNtrain the dog's instinctive reaction - and you have a dog-human relationship like new!

How can this be possible?

It is possible because:

Dogs are forgiving, but not forgetful

When we take away the unconscious bad stimuli in the way we treat a dog (or consciously provide the right stimuli in case we have a traumatized dog), then the canine genetical heritage makes the dog focus only on the NOW.

dog memoryFrom reading their books I know that almost all dog experts conclude from canines' focusing on the present that they cannot much remember the past. This conclusion however seems as short-sighted as the conclusion "My dog has bitten me, there is no future!".

Dogs do remember the past very well, they have an excellent memory (for example you notice that when you work with traumatized rescue dogs). But domesticated dogs are forgiving - very much unlike wild dogs, wolves and ... people.

The reason is that we haven't been breeding ourselves for the last 33,000 years with focus on eliminating the offspring that 'got back at us the next day', and only going forward with the offspring that has shown to be forgiving. Thus among humans, we didn't eliminate resentful feelings and behavior. With domesticated dogs, we did.

You may want to read the last paragraph again, it is a fundamental insight into dog psychology. :idea:

By the way, this is why it is relatively easy to turn around a traumatized dog to become a great dog again - while it is impossible to make a traumatized human being a great person again: Humans have a different memory filter.

Now on to grades of injury severity.

Minor Injury

Teethmarks, no laceration.

Specifically for German Shepherd Dogs, this is the typical injury. You may or may not remember from our Periodical Are German Shepherds Dangerous that herding dogs like the GSD have three different kinds of 'bite'.

guiding-nipThe first one, the guiding nip, isn't really a 'bite' at all, it is gentle and does not break the skin.

If anything, the guiding nip leaves teethmarks on the skin - namely when the victim (we or our child) didn't wear clothes on that part of the body. There will be no laceration (no wound), and thus no chance of infection either.

As far as I know, no other dog breeds than herding dogs practice the guiding nip.

Significant Injury

Small laceration with minor bleeding. Possibly dog bite infection.

The second kind of bite of a German Shepherd Dog is the grab-and-drag, to pull a puppy or lamb (or child!) away from danger (as perceived by the GSD). This typically happens when the puppy, lamb, or person appears rather unable than unwilling to follow the dog's lead - like in an emergency situation.

In such situations where swift and strong action of the dog is required, a laceration can often not be prevented. If there is a wound with minor bleeding, a dog bite infection can easily be contracted - not so with a wound with strong bleeding, since the bleeding then prevents pathogens from entering the wound.

grab-and-dragThe grab-and-drag is not unique to herding dogs. For example, it is the common kind of bite for ferrets, and for retriever dogs (if the hunted prey is too large to be carried in the mouth), and the second-most common bite for canine puppies (after the pinch). In addition, the grab-and-drag is common among almost all dog breeds during playtime.

Finally, the grab-and-drag is fairly common for the Rottweiler and the Pitbull class of dogs (Pit bull terrier, Staffordshire terrier, Staffordshire bull terrier, and Bulldog) outside playtime, although these dog breeds much prefer the bite-and-shake - which is why the injuries of attacks of dogs of the pitbull class are often so devastating.

The third kind of bite of a German Shepherd Dog is the reactive bite. The reactive bite results in either a significant injury or in a major injury (see below).

Unless the victim (we or our child) wears thick clothes, a laceration cannot be prevented. If the wound doesn't bleed much, again we are at risk of a dog bite infection.

any secondAll dog breeds are capable of the reactive bite, and in the absence of proper dog training the reactive bite is very common indeed.

The reason can be understood easily: With towering humans all around (and the kind of behavior many humans show towards dogs), a dog cannot be anything but scared.

  • Indeed, almost all reactive dog bites are out of fear! - So make your dog feel safe and comfortable.
  • If not out of fear, the reactive bite is usually in defense of a pup, person, possession (stick, toy, even worn sock!), or territory (individual comfort zone, or Pack's territory) which the dog intends to guard. - So respect your dog's space, crate, resting places, food bowl, etc.
  • The third cause of reactive bites is when a dog is in shock or startled (kids jump out from hiding, dog harshly awoken from deep sleep, stepped on tail, etc). - So be considerate, and tell your kids the same.
  • Most rarely is the reactive bite out of pain. - If this seems frequent, take your dog to the vet. For the occasional pain there exists meanwhile good pain relief specifically for dogs (never give your dog human pain tablets).

The only reason why our domesticated dogs typically don't bite us, is that everyone somewhat 'trains' their dog (whether conscious or unconscious, good or bad training): Through feeding, dog walking, and attention - and, in most cases, affection and dog care too. We show them that we belong to them, and that they belong to us.

That's why dogs don't routinely bite us - and why they do bite strangers instead! ;-)

Note that the reactive bite usually comes only after much growling, barking, or other signals intended to avert a conflict (sole exception: shock bite).

When it does come, it is typically accompanied by a frontal leap for the wrist or face (unless the dog is protection-trained).

Indeed, almost all dogs will first do their utmost (in their view) to avert a conflict, before they bite anyone!

Particularly with a towering human being the opponent (imagine a dog's feeling just once), even a large-sized dog or mid-sized dog like the German Shepherd has very little intent to let things develop into a conflict.

thirsty dogAll the less, if the dog knows from past experience that this towering human decides if the dog gets food and drink or not!

With small dog breeds and particularly toy dog breeds, the reactive bite almost always results in a significant injury (the injury severity regularly surprises those dog owners).

With medium-sized dogs and large-sized dogs, the reactive bite also typically results in a significant injury - except in cases like those below.

Major Injury

One or more large lacerations with major bleeding. Ligament ruptures likely. Crashed bones possible. Often some form of permanent disfigurement of the victim.

There are at least two groups of cases that typically result in a major injury.

1Specific forms of bite - which can be either proactive or reactive:

  • Dogs that have a tendency to bite on movement, because these dogs typically bite multiple times for as long as they see movement.
  • Dogs that bite-and-shake, because these dogs typically tear off chunks of flesh, ligaments, and even bones of the victim.

2All cases of proactive bite:

  • Some dog breeds (primarily of the pitbull class of dogs, as well as Doberman, Rottweiler, and Presa Canario) are known to also bite proactively - meaning without much or any effort to avert a conflict.
  • While after a reactive bite dogs flee ("bite and flight"), dogs that practice a proactive bite stay with the victim to inflict more harm ("make sure it's dead").
  • This is true for all proactive bite causes (Preydrive, Aggression, Attack).

The original GSD does not know any of these kinds of bite. You read that right:

  • No bite on movement (herding dogs want their 'herd' to move, they guide them to get 'back in line')
  • No bite-and-shake (it's against the protective nature of herding dogs)
  • No prey drive (misunderstood by so many: GSDs are not predators, they are a herding breed, they guard!)
  • No aggression (herding breeds are exceptionally tranquil dogs: they are bred to stay calm in the most stressful situations, like guarding 100 sheep!)
  • No attack (herding dogs do not have the genetic predisposition to attack, only to defend, to guard)

I write 'the original GSD' because I cannot possibly vouch for all German Shepherds and all mixes bred by all breeders in the world, and kept by all owners in the world - 99% of whom are not even profiting from our Periodicals here.

As you will hopefully remember from the Periodical Are Germans Shepherds DangerousAnimal People reported that:

  • Over the 30-year period analysed for the entire North-American continent, none of the victims of GSD attacks had any serious bite injury! Repeat: none in 30 years - which is remarkable really.
  • "Hurting someone is almost never the dog’s intent … None of the German Shepherd attacks have involved predatory behavior".
  • All GSD victims were due to either of these two reasons:
    • Children misread the dog's instinctive intention - guiding nip or grab-and-drag - and pulled away in panic, or
    • In case of mauling, maiming or death, the reactive bite was almost always clearly subject to a form of duress/abuse (plus remember, in all these cases other dogs were involved too).

So, I dare say that the chance for us - who have GSDs - that we may one day suffer a major bite injury from our own dog ... is nil. Next to impossible.

bite injuryThis doesn't mean that we can't suffer a major bite injury from another person's dog, or a significant injury from our own dog - which is why a future MYGERMANSHEPHERD PERIODICAL will feature bite inhibition, and another Periodical will feature dog bite treatment.


The only situation where I would agree that a dog should be put down is when the dog mauled or maimed a human being without provocation (like say, without an attack on us or on the dog itself). Surely, these words can mean different things to different people, and it's not necessary to define them here.

Conversely, if a dog merely responded with a single reactive bite (for the first time or already several times), then no problem, this situation can be handled safely for the future.

The key points to understand are:

  • All cases of mauling, maiming, or death (by any dog breed) were caused by the proactive bite - the dog stayed with the victim and caused further harm until it was pulled away (or until the victim did no longer move).
  • Although some individual cases may have started out with a single reactive bite of the dog, a single reactive bite-and-flight of a dog has never resulted in a mauled, maimed, or killed victim (whether child or adult).
  • The GSD does not bite proactively.

When you come to the end of this Periodical, make sure you educate your friends and relatives too

Injuries other than Dog Bites

Leash Pulling Injuries

Ben AffleckDuring leash walk, our dog can easily pull so much that even Hollywood heroes cannot restrain the dog! Thus we may fall and injure ourselves. Or strain a muscle, the neck or shoulders. Like Ben Affleck! :-(

In the back of my mind though I remember there once was something really good about Leash Training... Oh yes, wasn't there a MYGERMANSHEPHERD PERIODICAL on that topic as well? Indeed, Adult Dog Leash Training and Puppy Leash Training. :-D

Please tell Ben about it when you see him next.

Greeting Injuries

dog-kissDuring greeting, our dog can easily push so hard that we may fall over and injure ourselves!

Or we get our dog's paw in our eye when (s)he jumps up at us. Or (s)he breaks us a rib. Or whatever!

Play Injuries

During playtime, we may get injured as well! Say when we play with our dog with the new Chuckit Kick Fetch Ball and we kick it so hard that David Beckham would be as envious as he is vain.

Or during tug-and-war, our GSD pulls so hard that we lose balance and land head-on, face-down on the ground, breaking our nose!

I'm only wondering who won this time...? ;-)

Household Injuries

We all know that most accidents happen in the household!

Say, we may be standing on a ladder trying to pop paint on the ceiling, and ... guess what happens next? - Wait, I am just copying this from the last national insurance report... - "Dog throws owner from ladder and gets $8,000 reward" (no, not the dog, the owner, for the injuries!)

You get the message: There are hundreds of reasons and ways we could get injured when we have a dog! - Though admittedly, also when we don't have a dog. ;-)

So, what's the...

Best Way to React When Our Dog Injured Us?

This is what a Top dog expert says:
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==> Next edition: Surprise! (after the break that I mentioned) <==

Miguel at 28w Can you give back a bit today?



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  18 Site Comments, ZERO SPAM Add one


    A great article. My GSD Ava managed to crack one of my ribs when she wrapped the lead around my legs and I fell. Not her fault but painful, nevertheless. I still love her.


    I once watched a GSD "herd" a small puppy away from a dangerous road on her own. First realize GSD's are strong dogs! My GSD was running & playing in the yard, she misjudged her distance from me & the house when i was picking up some paper in the yard; she hit me in the head w/her tooth. I was shocked, upset, angry,& scared as blood was running down my face. I took a moment to regroup & clean my wound & realized "how strong" these dogs are & that it was not on purpose she did this, it was an accident. I still have the dog & she is one of the best behaved & smartest dogs i have ever owned. Enough said. Hope this helps


    P.S. She looked at my bending down as a "play bow"--I don't do that anymore, so i learned from it thank god for small miracles !!


    g'day mate, again another great read, my boofheaded crocodile cracked a couple of my ribs a few months back. he was racing around the yard flat out with his legs tucked up under him ,you know the flat out play run. well he ran straight at me .instead of standing still I zigged instead of zagged and he took my legs from under me. I hit the ground hard and he bounced onto me thinking I was playing. as soon as I gave a yelp and said mate you've hurt me he sat next to me and started to nudge me with his nose .it was a full 5 mins till I got to my feet and he was distressed that he had up ended me and hurt me .he is a fair bit bigger now and I think he has became more aware of his size and strength. my boy Zigg now is 23 months old and weighs in at 46 .5 kilo .( a bit over 100 pounds ).tim how do I fill out his details you asked of me last time I wrote to you, goodonya mate ,keep up the good work, ya mate from aus, burt.


      Burt, and everyone: Simply click at the end of any email the link "Update subscription preferences". There you can enter the dog details, that's all we need (disregard the other fields, they are there at the wish of some members)


    I’ve been bitten a couple of times in rough play (no broken skin) And it didn’t take me long to figure out when to calm things down. It was in how to calm things down! Now that I know how to calm things down we still play rough because we both learned how to work together.

    Hanz has learned what too rough is for me and I’ve found when and how to calm him down before things get out of hand! This allows us to continue to play rough every now and then, which we both love to do.


      June could you post a video of your rough play for everyone to enjoy/have a laugh? ;-)


    I have to sympathize with the reader whose been injured by rough housing with his GSD, both of my babies are 110 lbs plus and love to wrestle with me. Needless to say this has resulted in broken glass in my wife's curio cabinets (I have bought 6 pieces of glass so far) and countless wounds on my arms, legs and hands. We all get wound up and accidents happen, luckily my wife is understanding and doesn't get mad as long as I repair the damage. Most of the breakage happens from aggressive tail wagging (my 18 month old male's tail is classified as a deadly weapon) and my wounds heal, so I figure as long as my babies aren't getting hurt it should be alright. My wife worries a bit about how rough the dogs play with each other, but to me they look like large puppies playing and don't break the skin with each other or yelp in pain. I should point out that the dogs act completely different around my 9 month old niece, she pulls on their ears and tails while petting them and all they do is licking her face, they are very protective of her; they bring her toys when she cries, hers and theirs.


      Ken, if I may suggest sth? I would not practice rough play with the dogs, it is very much counterproductive to establishing ourselves as accepted Pack leader. Rough play does not represent more fun or more love, but more confusion to the dog. Confusion, to a dog, means stress. Stress leads to aggression. Most dog aggression builds up slowly (thankfully!), meaning we don't notice it straight away. When we finally notice it, it takes MUCH more effort to remove it. Hence again, I would strongly suggest not to play rough with a dog (any dog).

      And if you disagree? Then I would at the very least make very sure that I practice controlled play-fighting sessions only, ie that I have total control over the dog. Meaning, I can - at any moment! - instantly take the dog's high energy level (during that rough play!) down to zero!

      Can you?
      If you can't, maybe it's a good time to start practicing that instead?


    I can assure you that I can and have taken the intensity level down with a single stop command. I am acutely aware of the importance of a pack leader, and I know that if my dogs are not always under control how dangerous it could be for the dogs and my wife. Even though they get excited and carried away sometimes, I am always in control of the situation, my babies are very important to myself and my wife and I want nothing but the best for them. I am so thankful for your suggestions and have learned so much about GSD since I joined this website.


      That's great Ken, really a relief for me, because I am always worried.


    My friend brought her 14 month old German Shepherd pup to play with my 15 month old. They were playing in the yard and running at full speed all over the place. I had my back to them and was talking to my friend when she yelled "look out!", but it was too late. Each dog took out one of my legs and I flew up in the air and landed on my back! Luckily I did not get hurt. It happened so fast, I didnt even feel the fall. But I did feel the hit=it was like a freight train! My own dog came running right back and started licking my face. I was laughing so hard, I couldn't get up.She just laid down on top of me and licked my face till I finallay managed to get up. I was lucky. Those two pups are as hard as brick walls!!! They didn't feel a thing! So yes, you certainly can get hurt unintentionally!
    Once again Tim, you gave us a good lesson! Thanks,


    Very interesting. I am still afraid Vincent will bite out of fear since he wasn't properly socialized. I have a few members of my family who know how to approach him because of this and he did great. He barked a bit at first but then he was fine. But I do have a few that have been bitten before and are terrified of him so they won't calm down in his presence. A few weeks ago a friend met him for the first time and wasn't listening to my instructions on not acknowledging him etc and I almost lost control of him. I ended up having to muzzle him so she would calm down (it was either that or lock him up) once he got her scent he was fine. I left him muzzled for a few minutes and gave her his laser pointer to play with and he fell in love with her lol I took off the muzzle and he was great. I wasn't sure if the muzzle was the way to go but it was the only way I could think of to safely introduce them in that situation. Does anyone have any thoughts on this?


      I like muzzle too, keeps people calm. However, socializing him now would be my priority.


    That makes me feel better. He has had some socialization but there are people like my friend who have been holding me back. I've considered training classes purely for the socialization. He knows his commands but we could definitely use the practice with distractions. Thanks Tim!


      Kandice, you are Adult Dog site member, right? So you are getting my Dog Expert REVIEWS too. If you look/listen to the second Review (point 9 there), you have a detailed description what I myself would offer if I were to offer paid dog training (I don't), for unbeatable lessons in dog socialization! You may use that as a complete business concept for yourself: Whether or not you'd charge the participants, you would give Vincent TOP socialization experiences, for free!

      It can't get any better than what I described there. Take a look.
      (perfect would be if you could leave your feedback under each product? ;-) )


    Penny (20m.o.) has 3 kinds on 'bites' - the accidental nip when grooming me (in response to a backscratch), and she's more careful after I remind her "Fragile human flesh!"; the wear-and-tear when playing - she goes to grab a toy and gets the hand instead sort of thing; and as part of a stress/panic response, particularly when I'm leaving the house which she regards as a life-threatening activity and will occasionally stand at the front door moving her head in such a way that I can neither grab her to move her, or get past her. We're working on this, and she's improving, and I often just give her my hand straight away before she gets too upset or seriously bitey, then use the other hand to grab her collar. The verbal reaction she gets is what I'd give any teen chucking a tantrum - "Seriously??" "You've gotta be kidding!" "Get over yourself, ya silly bitch!" Most of the time now she's learn to focus the energy from the stress of me leaving into excitement for a kong stuffed with goodies ;-)


    Once again an interesting and most helpful advice. Setting out the facts in a simple and easy to follow way. We had a situation at home were my four adult children 3 of which are male had a very agressive verbal argument. We were not home, the dog cried at first then barked at them but they were so involved with this argument they ignored the dog. Then one of the boys made a sudden move towards his brother and that's when the dog nipped all of them. I came home to find a totally stressed out dog, with four shocked kids who had bruising on arms and bottoms. A lesson learned by the kids they feel ashamed of causing this situation and now are calm around the dog after all he did try and warn them. I must say we never blamed the dog and it never crossed our minds to have him put down, in fact if they can't control their tempers I would rather they moved out! The dog is now back to his calm self and we feel so sorry to have put him through this I was worried he may not get over this but after reading that German Shepherd are forgiving it has put my mind at rest. We do love Sammy so much and try harder every day to make his life a happy one. Thankyou for all your good advice

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