Dog bite expert & animal behavior specialist

Richard H. Polsky, PhD, CDBC
Los Angeles, California

“Bringing the science of animal behavior to attorneys”

Dr. Richard Polsky - The Dog Expert

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Expert opinion on a dog bite to the face by a German Shepherd in a Texas Petco store

Inquiry to Dr. Polsky

“My wife sustained a dog bite to the face this week by a german shepherd while we were shopping at a Petco in Fort Worth, Texas.  She asked the owner if his dog was friendly.  He was on a leash.  The owner responded yes that his dog was friendly Dog bite to the faceand she could pet him.  My wife leaned down to pet him and the dog lunged and bit my wife in the face.

She sustained two lacerations under her eye (one was deep), 2 chipped front teeth and bottom lip cuts and bruising. Luckily, we were able to get into a plastic surgeon’s office in 1 hour and had the area quickly cleaned and surgically repaired.  Appointment has been made for a dentist visit to evaluate the teeth for repair.

I am curious about your expert opinion and how it compares to ones you have served as an expert witness.  The attack was captured on video.  The dog did not have tags, but was on a leash.  When I asked the store manager about their policy at Petco, he stated that as long as the dog is on a leash, it is the responsibility of the owner to control the dog.”

A.G. Fort Worth Texas

Dr. Polsky’s reply

A dog bite to the face of a person occasionally happens.  And in large chain stores like Petco, which has a policy of allowing dogs into their stores, the probability of this happening is exacerbated.  While this policy serves as a good public relations strategy it nevertheless puts patrons at risk given the aggressive tendencies of some dogs.

Some large-size dogs from aggressively-prone breeds like German shepherds, may not feel comfortable in the  typical environment of a Petco store.  In a setting like this a dog is likely to encounter other strange people at close proximity (i.e. cash register) and a variety of unfamiliar smells from other visiting dogs, cats, fish, rodents, etc.   Moreover, as with your wife and particularly children, some may be inclined to initiate social interaction with the assumption that a dog is well-tempered.

Petco and Petsmart have policies in place for the management of unfamiliar dogs after they enter their stores with their owners (e.g dogs must be on a leash and under control).  Nonetheless, despite the management practices of Petco, risk for a dog bite to a person remains high. And, as a dog bite expert, I believe Petco downplays this risk for the benefit of bringing shoppers into their stores.  No dog is screened for temperament prior to entry into the store and this is probably a mistake.  Allowing dogs into Petco stories makes good business sense for this company but invariably this policy places their patrons at risk for being attacked and bitten in the face given the circumstances present and the aggressive tendencies of some dogs.