Dog Attack: What to Do If I Was Threatened by an Unleashed Dog

Categories: Dog Bite

An unleashed dog.

Whether you’re out for a neighborhood walk or spending the day somewhere public, encountering an unleashed dog can be scary. You don’t know if the dog is potentially dangerous and will bite you. Understandably, one question we get periodically is, What do I do if I was threatened by an unleashed dog? It’s important to try to remain calm. Unfortunately, some encounters will turn into an attack, leaving you with injuries. If you or someone you love sustained a dog bite from an unleashed dog, contact the skilled Washington dog attack lawyers at Brett McCandlis Brown & Conner PLLC.

Reacting to an Unleashed Dog

Dogs are territorial, which means if you enter somewhere they feel to be their territory, they may act aggressively. If you come across a dog that raises its fur, growls, barks, or bares its teeth, it’s essential to know how to react. Here are several tips to better prepare yourself should you encounter an unleashed dog.

First and most important, you should continue to remain calm. That will help you think about your next moves and hopefully minimize the risk of being attacked. Your first instinct may be to run, but that’s a terrible idea. Avoid making eye contact with an aggressive dog. It would be best if you started to slowly back away but never turn your back toward the dog.

As you back away, try to see if there’s an obstacle that you can put between you and the dog. Avoid yelling or making any sudden loud noises. Try to speak in a soothing voice. If you are yelling or using angry-sounding words, it can make the dog more aggressive. Do not attempt to approach or be aggressive yourself, as it may further provoke the dog.

In the event, the dog does try to attack you, try to shield yourself if possible. For example, use a purse or umbrella if available. Focus on protecting your head and face as best you can. If you are on the ground when a dog tries to attack you, curl into a fetal position. Try to cover your head with your arms and keep your fingers curled in a fist.

Do not pull away or try to hit the dog if it bites you, as that can also make the situation worse.

What to Do If You’re Injured

If the unleashed dog attacks you, seeking immediate medical attention is important. If the bite is severe enough, you should dial 911 right away. An unleashed dog that doesn’t have a nearby owner could put you at risk for rabies. You want to get the wounds cleaned and treated right away.

Be sure to contact law enforcement and animal control if you didn’t call 911. The proper authorities must try to identify and contain the dog so no one else is injured. You want to find the dog’s owner, so you can present a personal injury claim for your injuries and other damages.

Washington Leash Laws

There is no statewide leash law or licensing requirement in Washington. Municipalities and cities institute and enforce these issues. Do not assume that laws are the same in every city either. In Seattle, all animals (except for cats and pigeons) must be on a leash in the city. They cannot run loose unless they are in a designated off-leash area. In Tacoma, dogs must be on a leash that is no longer than eight feet at all times; otherwise, they must be confined to their owner’s property.

Washington State Dog Bite Laws

Washington follows the rule of strict liability for dog bites. That means the dog owner could be held liable when the dog bites someone for the first time, regardless of whether the owner is negligent or not. Under Washington’s dog bite laws, it doesn’t matter whether the dog bit someone before, was previously aggressive, or the owner knew about the potentially aggressive nature of their dog.

Prior to 2020, Washington had breed-specific laws that allowed various cities to ban possession of certain breeds of dogs. House Bill 1026 was introduced in 2019 and came into effect in 2020. Now, towns and municipalities can only enforce breed-specific laws under certain circumstances.

The state laws on dog breeds don’t apply to insurance companies, though. Many insurance companies have a list of uninsurable dog breeds. If the dog that bit you was one of these breeds, the dog owner’s insurance company may deny your personal injury claim.

How to Handle an Unleashed Dog After an Attack

If you are confronted by an unleashed dog, especially one that you know to be dangerous, do not try to reason with either the dog or the unreasonable human who let their dog out unleashed and seemingly unsupervised. By allowing their dog to roam free, that owner has shown a lack of concern for the safety of not only their neighbors and you but also their dog.

Stay Calm and Understand the Dog’s Body Language

Even dogs who have previously attacked other dogs or bitten people might not be inherently vicious. You may not know why a previous attack occurred. The attack may have been in self-defense, or the bite may have been in response to some kind of abuse. If a dog who has previously attacked others is known to animal control and has not been confiscated or euthanized, be aware that you may not know the dog’s whole story. Use caution, but if they are off-leash and approaching you, it may not be with the intent to attack. Stay calm and try to read their body language.

A happy, friendly dog will have a loose and bouncy body, relaxed ears and face, an open mouth, and a wagging tail. However, remember that even if a dog seems friendly, you should still be cautious because friendly dogs can quickly become unfriendly. While you should still avoid contact and engagement with a seemingly happy dog, a posture like this may indicate that the dog does not have immediate negative intentions while trying to approach you.

A dog that stares at your dog with a closed mouth, forward ears, a tight tail wag, and stiff, stalking movements is more concerning. In these instances, you may need to abruptly avoid engagement and prepare yourself to prevent a dogfight.

Ready Yourself to Prevent a Dog Fight

When an off-leash dog approaches your pup, it is much more likely that the dog is interested in your dog and not you. If you can keep your dog calm, the unleashed dog may behave calmly, even if it has previously perpetrated an attack. However, if your dog is barking or acting anxious, it is more likely that this behavior will increase the unleashed dog’s arousal, which increases the likelihood of a fight or attack.

If you see an off-leash dog approaching in a determined manner, stay calm and attempt to move your dog away, using treats or whatever means you can to keep your dog’s attention on you. Reward your dog every couple of steps if possible. Move away quickly but do not run. Use any method available to create distance between you and the unleashed dog.

When to Call Animal Control

After an altercation or confrontation with an off-leash dog, immediately report the incident to the authorities. If leash laws are in place, then it is extremely important to inform law enforcement about loose, potentially dangerous dogs. Even if there is no leash law in your area, animal control may be responsible for keeping a dangerous dog contained, especially if the dog has attacked someone before. Contact an experienced dog bite lawyer to discuss how to proceed if you think animal control in your area may have been negligent with regard to a dangerous dog.

Who Is Responsible for Harm Caused by an Unleashed Dog?

Washington follows the rule of strict liability for dog bites. This means a dog owner could be held liable if their dog bites someone once, regardless of whether the owner is negligent or not. According to Washington law, it does not matter whether the dog bit someone before, was previously aggressive, or the owner knew about the potentially aggressive nature of their dog. The unleashed dog’s owner can still be held liable for your damages in any of those situations.

Why You Need an Experienced Washington Dog Attack Lawyer

If an unleashed dog attacked you, you have rights. However, pursuing an injury claim for a dog bite can be complicated. It’s best if you retain a skilled Washington dog attack lawyer to help you. You need a legal advocate who can protect your rights and is familiar with the laws in Washington.

When you retain an attorney at Brett McCandlis Brown & Conner PLLC, we will work tirelessly to help you fight for the compensation you deserve. While the dog bite laws in Washington favor the victim, we know the challenges you will face during the claims process. We will work with the defendant’s insurance company and handle all communications, so you don’t have to. If the insurance company confirms coverage, it doesn’t mean they will offer you what your case is worth.

If an insurance company offers you any compensation, do not agree to accept it and sign a release without speaking with an attorney first. We can negotiate on your behalf and help you maximize your potential settlement.

If the adjuster denies liability, you may need to file a lawsuit. In some instances, you may need to take your case to trial. You need a skilled litigator representing you from the start. Our Washington dog attack attorneys have over four decades of combined litigation experience and know-how to prepare and try a case in court.

Contact our office today to schedule an initial meeting. We offer free consultations, so you have nothing to lose by meeting with us. You deserve to be compensated for your injuries and any future treatment you might need. Let us put our expertise to work for you and help you fight for the compensation you are owed after an unleashed dog bit you.

Author Photo

Matt Conner

Matt Conner has a proven track record of success. Following his graduation from Willamette University with a double major in mathematics and economics, Matt worked as an economist for the Office of Economic Analysis for the State of Oregon before moving onto working in mortgage banking and real estate.