Dog Bites at Animal Care Facilities - Expert Article

Dog bites occasionally occur at kennels, shelters, veterinary clinics, and other venues that host canines outside of the home. Whether the bite is directed towards a human or towards another dog, there are standards and best practices which, if properly executed, provide a safe environment for the humans and animals that use the space.

In this article, Jessica P. Herman, DVM will discuss the standard of care for preventing dog bite incidents, including the training of personnel, proper enclosures and restraints, and the policies and procedures that are reasonable and prudent to be in place to provide a safe environment.

Dog Bites at Animal Care Facilities - Expert Article

When working with animals in a kennel, shelter, or veterinary hospital, the goal is to provide proper, ethical, and appropriate care while protecting the people and animals involved. It is imperative when working in these settings to create an environment conducive to caring for animals, while minimizing the potential for harm either to the animal or the human caregivers. This process begins as soon as the animal enters the facility. Animals should be leashed or in a carrier for better animal control. Animals then should be placed in an area such as an exam room, kennel, or treatment area for evaluation and care. If the proper safety steps are not implemented or ignored, unsafe working conditions are created for personnel and the animal.

Staff and Volunteer Training

The staff and volunteers of animal care facilities must be trained in animal handling to provide proper care. If a person involved in the care of the animal does not know how to handle the animal, the likelihood for harm increases. It is of utmost importance that when dogs or cats enter a clinic, kennel, or shelter, they are handled with caution and managed by staff members who have training in animal behavior. Animals that are normally obedient and have calm dispositions can behave differently in an unfamiliar environment.

With dogs, animal handlers need to know:

  • How to identify signs of aggression
  • How to properly restrain an animal
  • When and how to use muzzles, leashes, harnesses, etc.
  • How to safely maneuver dogs inside the facility and outside

Animal Behavior Evaluation and Training

Behavior problems, including aggression, are the most common reason for dogs to be relinquished to shelters. It is vital that shelter workers are able to identify at-risk dogs to keep employees and volunteers safe, make educated adoption recommendations, and set up behavior modification programs for the animals.

It is the standard of care that animal shelters adequately train the staff and volunteers to provide proper animal care and ensure staff safety. Staff training involves allocating time and resources to complete the training and demonstrating proficiency prior to performing the task, as well as documenting all training sessions. Continuing education should be provided as well, to help shelter staff improve and reinforce skills. Training should also include proper animal handling techniques and use of restraints.

Each entity must also have aggressive animal protocols. For instance, a veterinary clinic may enforce the use of a muzzle if dealing with an aggressive patient. Oral or injectable sedation may be warranted as well to minimize stress on the patient and to protect the employees of the hospital. Since shelters and kennels oftentimes house pets for long periods of time, proper procedures in animal care and animal handling is vital. Animal personalities, behavioral habits, and routines must be observed and documented daily. Signage, collars, medical records, and shelter logs must be utilized to notify all staff and volunteers of each animal’s needs and ease of handling.


In situations where an aggressive animal is returned to an animal facility due to aggressive behavior or other reasons, procedures need to be in place to determine the fate of this animal. Is the animal suffering from a medical issue? Is it possible to send the dog to a rehabilitation facility for training? Is there a behavioral modification regimen and trainer that the animal can work with? Can this animal be safely worked with or re-homed? Does euthanasia need to be considered?

If the animal facility fails to provide the proper environment for the animal and personnel, does not properly train employees and volunteers, or fails to correctly evaluate and treat an animal, the risk of harm increases. Animals may fight among themselves, dogs may bite staff and volunteers, and dogs may injure their handler or owner.


Robson Forensic can provide veterinary investigations, reports, and testimony on cases where an individual has been bitten while at an animal care facility. Our experts in veterinary medicine and animal science can review and navigate documents related to the situation, such as veterinary medical records, animal control records, staff employment histories, staff training documentation, physician medical records, and employee handbooks, among others.

To connect with an expert about your case, submit an inquiry or call 800.813.6736.

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