By Suzana Gartner and Daniel Fin

Dogs have always been a source of love and affection for their families. They have been man’s best friend for thousands of years! Dogs can be trained to perform and obey certain commands and they will always love you more than they love themselves. However sometimes, taking care of a dog becomes a huge responsibility and dog ownership can be a source of frustration as the law can require their human guardians to pay large fines in consequence to their actions when their dog has bitten another domestic animal or human.

Dogs come in a range of different shapes and sizes. Usually larger dogs can cause larger bites and result in more profound consequences. Dogs can seriously injure an individual or another domestic animal with just a single chomp! In some extreme cases, dogs have caused permanent physical and emotional injuries and even caused the death of an individual or an animal.

Dogs bite for a variety of reasons and it is up to us to understand why they bite and when they are likely to bite to avoid being on the wrong end of the teeth! There are many reasons why a dog may bite. A bite may be caused by fear or fear aggression. It may be caused by the dog being placed in a stressful situation. A dog may bite to protect his home or human guardian, or because he/she is sick or not feeling well, or simply because someone touched a sensitive part of their body. Further, dogs may bite accidentally during play, or when they get overly excited. There are many circumstances for dog bites to occur and it is in our best interest to understand the warning signs and prevent certain behavior so that a dog bite does not occur at all.

The best way is through bite inhibition training! Dogs can bite! It is a fact of life. Dogs perceive the world primarily through their nose and mouth and, naturally, things like hands or arms can come into contact with your dog’s teeth. Training a dog not to bite is like training a cat not to purr. It is a natural part of their existence. Instead of preventing dogs from biting, it is better to train your dog to manage their jaw strength. This training is called bite inhibition.

Bite inhibition training is a form of conditioning where one trains their puppy to understand the maximum amount of pressure they are allowed to exert on a human or other domestic animal. It begins by encouraging mouthing but discouraging strong and painful nips. As the nipping becomes less strong and less painful, the owner should then discourage the “strongest” of the nips that the puppy is still exerting on them. This process is repeated until the puppy’s nips are gentle. Then it is a matter of reducing mouthing. This process will help avoid serious dog bites in the future when the dog is fully grown (especially if it is a larger breed).

Other ways to prevent your dog from biting is through proper socialization and dog training. The more positive the dog’s experiences are with other people and other animals at a young age, the less likely it is that the dog will bite or attack when he/she becomes an adult. However, sometimes our efforts are simply not enough and a bite can occur due to a random event.

What happens if your dog bites or attacks another person or domestic animal? The law in Ontario surrounding dog bites is outlined in the Dog Owners’ Liability Act (hereinafter the “DOLA”).

The DOLA is the legislation that governs responsible dog ownership and the law of dog bites in Ontario. It specifies that whenever a dog bites or attacks another person or domestic animal, the dog owner is strictly liable. With strict liability offences, it matters not the fault of the individual responsible. It does not matter whether it was an accident or that the owner was not negligent. Further, it does not even matter whether the owner knew their dog had a predisposition to biting. It only matters that the act occurred. It matters that the dog of the owner bit or attacked another person or domestic animal for the owner to be liable for damages resulting from the bite or attack.

What should a dog owner do if their dog has bit or attacked another person or domestic animal? It is advisable to try to settle cases without going to trial and hiring a lawyer who specializes in dog bite cases can improve the chances of settling out of court without moving through litigation. Unfortunately, some dog bite cases end up with the seizure of a beloved dog and ultimately with a destruction order. The lawyers at Gartner & Associates are adamantly opposed to breed specific legislation and destruction orders. Further, the lawyers at Gartner & Associates have successfully defended many dog owners and their dogs against seizure and from destruction orders under the DOLA.

The DOLA is strict when it comes to the ownership of dogs and dog owner’s responsibilities. It specifies that dog owners must take reasonable precautions to prevent dog bites or attacks. These precautions may involve fencing yards, keeping the dog on leash when outside the property and understanding how the dog reacts to certain situations. If it is proven that the dog owner did not exercise reasonable precautions, he/she will likely be liable and pay the opposing side damages.

Contributory negligence also plays a vital role. If a dog has been accused of biting a person or domestic animal, it does not necessarily mean the owner is fully responsible for the damages that result from the injuries. The victim may have very well contributed to their own injuries by acting in an unreasonable manner. The DOLA fully recognizes this as a mitigating factor when assessing damages. It is usually advisable for the dog owner to seek legal advice when they believe the victim was acting unreasonably leading up to the bite or attack. Sometimes it is not possible to prove that a dog bit the victim when there were two or more dogs involved in the situation leading up to the bite. Contact a lawyer who specializes in animal law and dog bites to receive the best protection for yourself and your dog.

To find out more about dog bites and gain knowledge of the law surrounding them, the lawyers at Gartner & Associates can answer your legal questions. They can be reached at (416) 836-9971 or by email at reception@animallawyers.ca. With many years of experience specializing in dog bites, the staff at Gartner & Associates have successfully represented many clients whose dogs have been accused of biting under the DOLA.

Citations
“Why Do Dogs Bite?” AVMA, www.avma.org/public/Pages/Why-do-dogs-bite.aspx.

Dunbar, Ian. “Teaching Bite Inhibition.” Dog Star Daily, 26 Apr. 2012, www.dogstardaily.com/training/teaching-bite-inhibition.

Dog Owners’ Liability Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. D. 16.

Services

Animal Law has many aspects. The links below lead to discussions of common issues and of the expertise Gartner & Associates can offer you if you are facing such issues.

Articles / Blogs

Here’s what we have been thinking about lately.