Dog Bite | Animal Behavior Expert Witness For Attorneys

Richard H. Polsky, Ph.D. CDBC
Los Angeles, California

“Bringing the science of animal behavior to attorneys”

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Dog bite or scratch? – Expert opinion

Occasionally there may be uncertainty about whether the injury inflicted on a person was caused by a dog bite or scratch.  This issue occasionally arises in dog bite litigation.  Below, I will provide inquiries from two visitors to this website seeking an expert opinion on this question.

Example 1 –  Golden retriever

“We’re just trying to figure out what happened to our daughter so we can show that it didn’t happen while in our care. Frankly, I don’t even know if it’ll help at this point. I would appreciate any insight you could give me.  Superficially I’d like to know if you think it looks like dog nail marks. I understand you can’t say for sure, but I need to know if you think it is consistent with how they would look in that situation. The medical trauma and abuse expert says that if the circumstance could support it, and a golden retriever stepped on her head, it could have caused the fracture, hematoma, red mark on the forehead and red nail marks. I’ve been over every other possibility with the trauma expert that we could think of and nothing else reasonably accounts for all the details.
For me, its the only explanation that fits, its one of the first things that we were asked when she was seen in the ER, and they simply look like a perfect fit for a dog’s paw. I feel like its common sense, but there’s just no definitive evidence.”

Reply by Dr. Polsky:

I agree with you in the fact that the straight horizontal lines are definitely more consistent with an injury inflicted by the dog’s paws rather than its teeth.   And a golden retriever given its size was certainly capable inflicting injuries consistent with what appears in the photograph,  assuming it was a scratch by the dog’s nails.    Before any conclusive opinions can be drawn as to whether the injury was a result of a dog bite or scratch, it would be helpful, but not absolutely necessary, to know the context in which the injury was inflicted and information about the temperament of the golden retriever.

Example #2 –   12 lb. mixed terrier / dachshund

“I live in an apartment complex and was walking the dog when she came around the corner. He barked at her and she jumped at him and then she said he Dog bite or scratchbit her. According to her, it was one bite. He is a 12 lb terrier/wiener dog mix and the lady was in her upper 40s maybe 50s. It wasn’t bleeding at first but she messed with it for a few minutes and it started to.”

Reply by Dr. Polsky

It is not clear whether the scarring is a result of a scratch or  dog bite, but more likely than not, is more consistent with a dog bite because of the curve to the injury and on each end of the scarring it appears that there are two punctures inflicted by a  dog consistent with the size of your dog.  Look closely you will see a single laceration, albeit faint, which has the physical properties of a bite from a small dog.  And this single laceration has a semicircular wound pattern.  Scratch marks are linear in appearance and not circular, as in the example noted above.

More about dog bite vs. scratch

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