PTSD: When your dog bites someone you know

Isis bit someone once. She broke the outer layer of skin and left a nasty bruise and an ache that I’m told lasted months.

Fortunately, her victim didn’t require stitches, or even seek medical attention. Or report her. On the one hand, we were lucky that he was someone I knew. He told me, “No one could be more understanding than me. No one.” Then he referred me to a trainer who introduced me to the wonderful world of positive reinforcement and made a huge difference in Isis’s behavior.

But since he was someone I knew, I had to see him again. Not often, but enough to haunt me. Every time I saw him, I thought, “That’s the guy Isis bit.” Clearly the memory haunted him too, because he never failed to ask, “How’s your pup?” He meant well. I think he was trying to let me know that he didn’t blame me or hate Isis for what happened, but I didn’t need to be reminded of that awful day.

Once, he and I were in the same room with another person who was there the day Isis bit him. Years after it happened. He felt the need to say, “This is the woman whose dog bit me, remember?”

Yes. I’m pretty sure he suffers from post-traumatic stress too.

The first time I saw him after Isis died, he noticed a photo of her and said teasingly, “There’s the villain.” I took a small amount of sick satisfaction in saying, “She died,” thinking maybe now he’ll stop bringing her up every time I see him. Like it’s the only thing that connects us. Although to be fair, it is the strongest thing that connects us.

I saw him yesterday. In the same place where the bite happened. I had Mia with me. His first words to me, before he knew Mia was there, were, “I got a new dog, an Australian shepherd. You got another dog didn’t you?” Actually, he’d met Mia before, but seemed to have forgotten, so I introduced her again. In the very place Isis, a dog of similar size and appearance, viciously attacked him for no good reason.

I could have gotten out of the situation without his even seeing Mia, and I wish I had, even though he was perfectly lovely. Mia was perfectly lovely. I have no way to know for sure if he flashed back on the moment Isis seemed to come out of nowhere, backing him into a corner and biting his legs. I didn’t exactly flash back on it myself, but afterward, I felt a jittery sense of foreboding, because Isis’s behavior from four years ago still haunts me.

Is it possible that seeing Mia could have been in any way therapeutic? Seeing a very mellow, non-reactive dog who didn’t bite him? Because I hate the idea that he walked away thinking, “Every time I go to that place, some terrifying German shepherd comes after me.”

Isis devours her toys, Christmas 2008

3 thoughts on “PTSD: When your dog bites someone you know

  1. oly has never bitten a human, thankfully, but i am careful with her whenever new people approach. lots of people have stereotypes about cockers being snappy. but i can say, seven years after she lost her eye in a vicious attack by an aussie shepherd, i’m still very leery and basically take a wide circle around any shepherd. pitbulls, too, b/c she was bitten by a young pitbull the year after the eye attack. definitely more a reflection on my trauma and fears than hers, and maybe not fair to the dogs, but there it is. every time someone asks how she lost her eye, i still have a physical reaction from the memory! funny how that works.

    • Oh, that’s awful! I wondered how Oly lost her eye. I didn’t know if it happened before you got her or not. How traumatic for you both. With Isis’s victim, I completely recognize that if I’m this traumatized, it must be worse for him, even if he tries not to show it. I don’t blame anyone for taking wide circles around me and my shepherds. I wish more people would!

      • I think Oly looks and acts too much like a little sheep or goat! She’s often a little wooly, and she bounds around and frolicks. 😉

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