Dear PoPville – Bitten by Aggressive Dog at Shaw Dog Park

“Dear PoPville,

Yesterday evening, my roommate took our dogs to the Shaw Dog Park as she does daily. At one point, a dog was becoming a little too rowdy with her dog so she tried to intervene to remove her dog from the situation. As she was doing so, another dog (a known aggressor in the park – I have previously witnessed this dog try to attack other dogs) ran up trying to get into the mix and ended up biting my roommate on her leg. When this was happening the aggressive dog’s owner was on her cell phone and not paying attention. When approached by my roommate about the bite, she did not want to be held accountable for her dog’s actions stating it was a dog park and things happen.

I think my roommate needs to at the very least address the Shaw Park List Serve regarding the incident. Someone else suggested she file a police report. I’m curious if anyone else has had this happen and what action was taken.”

I’d be curious to know what your roommate would like to do? I also think it depends on the severity of the bite – did it break the skin? I’m not saying nothing should be done – it’s just not clear to me from the info above that a police report should be filed. I wonder – are there plans/procedures for how to deal with consistently aggressive dogs at the dog park? Are the park rules self enforced or is there a procedure to enforce the rules?

The Shaw Dog Park on 11th Street, NW (north of Q). Rule 2 on their Web site states:

“All persons use Shaw Dog Park at their own risk. Neither the District of Columbia, its agencies nor MidCity Association shall be liable for any injury or damage caused in the dog park. Every dog entering the dog park shall be accompanied by a person (“dog handler”) aged sixteen (16) years or older who shall be personally and legally responsible for that dog at all times while using the dog park. No unattended dogs are permitted and no more than three (3) dogs are permitted per dog handler. “

Though, again, it’s not clear to me who enforces these rules – so I would definitely email [email protected] to seek their advice as well.

What do you guys think should be done in this situation?

Ed. Note: This is not the first time there has been controversy at this dog park.

83 Comment

  • Dog bites dog – move on
    Dog bites person – do not move on
    Dog bites person and owner doesn’t care – call police

    • Exactly. If bitten by a dog, regardless of the owner’s attitude, call 911. MPD will respond and do an animal bite report, and will follow up to make sure the dog is tested for rabies, etc. and checked up by a vet. It also gives the city an idea of the real stats regarding dog bites; if you don’t report it, the city doesn’t know it happened.

      • I was at the Upsure dog park in the Spring when a man was bitten by a dog. He called the cops. I stayed another 30 min with my pup and no cops. They don’t really prioritize a dog bite unless it is bad, i.e. I’m assuming an ambulance is called or the dog is a stray.

  • me

    Agree with above poster- but also, shouldn’t the dog’s owner show that the dog is up-to-date on its shots? Pay for whatever sort of medical treatment that the person gets? I mean, if it broke the skin, even if just a little bit, the person really needs to get checked out, even if the dog seems like it’s fine.

  • Dog parks are rarely as good an idea as people seem to think they are.

    • +1 When did having a bunch of familiar dogs running around in a fenced-in area become a good idea? Oh right, when DC politicians realized it was a painless way to make it seem like they were actually doing something.

    • +2. I have a gentle, small friendly dog that my daughter and I tried taking to both the 11th/ Park and Upshur Park Dog Parks – stayed at both about 5 minutes before my dog was intimidated back into our arms by other dogs. To each their own, but the dogs that actually “enjoy” dog parks is a subset of all family dogs.

      • Regarding your 11th street experience, why was your small dog in the large dog area in the first place? You should have been in the small dog area.

        • Why would you assume the dog was in the large dog area?

          • The 11th street dog park, small area never has any dogs in it. Most of the park users bring their small dog to the big dog area. Which I find surprising especially in light of the fact that small dogs can be more easily hurt. So, I’m going on that assumption. But hey Anonymous at 1:19 let me know.

            Are you a regular visitor to the 11th Street Dog Park?

        • Since when does the park at 11th and Park Rd have separate large and small dog areas?

          @Anonymous at 1:19–sorry you had that experience at Upshur, too. We very rarely go to the 11th and Park dog park because no one is ever paying attention to their dogs, but have always found the people and dogs at Upshur to be much friendlier and attentive.

    • +1 the mistake most owners make is they assume dog parks replace regular, structured exercise like walks. Having a hyper dog in a dog park = disaster. Well exercised = calm dogs & decent socializing at a dog park. We don’t take ours to dog parks because other people’s ideas of acceptable dog behavior is usually WAY off.

      • Are you one of those people that gets angry when a dog runs into them at a dog park? Or kicks up dirt on them? Or, god forbid, is so excited that he jumps up with his front paws? You’re at a dog park. Wear your yard clothes.

        I’ve never witnessed bad behavior by dogs, except for aggressiveness/anger.

        Hyperness? really? You must have never had a puppy. I could take mine on a 3 hr walk and she’d still be a ball of energy at the dog park.

        • My friend was at a park with her dog a few years ago when another dog, off leash, charged toward her and collided with her knee. The dog hit her at exactly the right angle, and with enough force, to tear her ACL. She’s had to have several surgeries to repair her ACL, and lives with pain every day. The owner grabbed her dog and drove away, never to be seen again. So maybe we should think first before we assume that people complaining about dog behavior are over-reacting. What happened to my friend isn’t the norm, but we shouldn’t be complacent about animal behavioral issues.

          • Wait, what? Was this at a dog park? If you’re at a dog park, dont lock your knees. If you’re not at a dog park, if someone’s off leash dog runs into you and causes an ACL tear, sue them.

    • This is true. In one episode, the doctor on NPR’s Animal House show Dr. Weitzman (sp?) explained that many/most dogs don’t like dog parks. (He put it as: “Its like if people were at a party where everyone is a stranger, some are aggressive, and you can’t get out.”) So yeah, they are getting some exercise, but in some cases they are nervous/ freaked out.

  • Sue that b%^& for every penny she’s worth? And or furtively post a photo of the offending dog (and owner) prominently at the entrance so that every one who goes in knows to stay away, yells at the owner, and hopefully she’ll be shamed into going away and getting the dog some training.
    I know a dogwalker who got her thumb bitten off while trying to separate her charge from another aggressive dog. That’s dedication.

    • Unfortunately, if the owner is the person I think it is, a lawsuit isn’t likely to generate much mulah.

      In all seriousness, email the listserve, attach photos if you have any, and call the police to report the bite. The owner should be forced to prove current shots, and the only way to get that will be with officials involved.

  • The owner’s deflection if responsibility is ridiculous. Just because a person enters a dog park does not mean that person forfeits their rights under the law. If the bite is serious enough that medical attention will be necessary, the victim might want to consider a lawsuit if the owner of the aggressive dog doesn’t cover the victim’s medical expenses.

  • I don’t understand why people need to actually question whether or not to involve the police. If a person or in this case a person’s dog, violates you or your property, the police should be involved, without a shadow of a doubt. If this has happened to you, maybe it has happened before, and by filing a police report, maybe it will never happen again.

  • WTF is wrong with some dog owners. I have a dog and I can’t imagine
    1) Going to the dog park if my dog was aggressive
    2) Ignoring someone if my dog bit someone
    (And off topic)
    3) Not picking up after my dog

    Having said that, I think PoPville needs more info before advice can be given.
    – How bad was the bite? Did it break skin? Stiches required?
    – What do you expect out of reporting (of any kind). Do you want the dog put down? Do you want medical expenses? Do just want people to know the dog is aggressive and not a bitch and the owner is not a dog and a bitch?

    If this was a minor incident (no real damage from bite, no medical expenses, etc.) then I would suggest at least posting to the list serve and describing the dog and the bitch. People can then shame her from coming to the dog park.

  • What should have been done is suspending the aggressive dog and it’s lousy excuse for an owner until (if ever) the dog received appropriate training and evaluation and demonstrated improvement in its behavior.

    Of course, in an ideal world, the owner would be responsible, understand her dog’s aggressive tendancies, and not put the dog in situations where it could harm another person or animal. Sadly, I see way too many dog owners in this city who have no clue about how to handle dogs, or are just too lazy to care.

  • I was actually coming into the park when this happened. I don’t want to start a huge comment war here but would like to say that when you enter a dog park, you assume certain risks. It would be awesome if dog parks were always 100% safe but sometimes dogs react in unpredictable ways.

    I know the dog in question, and I wouldn’t characterize her as a “known aggressor”. She’s hyper and just trying to play, but she’s a bigger dog and some of the other dogs (including mine) find her intimidating. That can lead to dogs reacting like dogs, and I think your roommate’s leg may have just got in the way of an inadvertant dog snap. By all acounts of the other witnesses I spoke to, the dog didn’t intend to bite her and frankly, from what I saw there was no real injury.

    That being said, if it were up to me the dog you mentioned wouldn’t return, but that’s just me being selfish because she intimidates my dog. But please don’t write about dogs being “known aggressors” and dog bites (that aren’t severe or intended) when you weren’t there to see it happen. That’s how we end up with no dog park and that would suck.

    And FWIW, I talked to the owner after this all happened and I don’t agree with your characterization of her not being accountable either. I think she was just taken aback and didn’t respond well to your roommate yelling at her (and she did yell, we all heard it).

    • me

      Please see my post below with a statute- I meant to put it here but I messed up. I don’t know of the person/dog in question, but when you’re talking about unintended dog bites leading to you not having a dog park, that’s just silly.

      And FWIW, I’d probably yell if I got bitten, too. Adrenaline pumping, probably hurting wherever I got bitten… I don’t think many people WOULDN’T yell.

    • It’s always good to get another side of the story.

    • She had just been bitten by a large dog; I think it’s understandable if the woman was yelling. The owner should have bucked up and been an adult, and accepted that she needed to work hard to mend some fences, since her dog had just bitten another person.

      If it were my dog, I’d be falling over myself to apologize. There’s no excuse for a dog owner who doesn’t take responsibility for her pet.

    • WOW! Megan – the Dog Whisperer “…the dog didn’t intend to bite her, come one now.”

      This seems pretty clear cut to me. If there was no injury a good talking to might have helped – but it is tough lesson learned. If there was “any” injury, the police should have been involved.

      …by a person (“dog handler”) aged sixteen (16) years or older who shall be personally and legally responsible for that dog at all times while using the dog park.

      It’s not like there are Dog Park Police clearing the animals for entry.

      I do not take my dog to any of the parks because of the risk, period. Too many lazy selfish people out there talking on the phone and not watching their dogs.

    • So if the owner of the biting dog is acting acountable, what is she doing now to resolve the issue? Has she proactively reached out to the person who was bitten? I too would yell if I got bitten. It’s an extremely normal reaction in that situation. For the biting dog’s owner to base her response to this situation because she got yelled at is immature, irresponsible, and not what I consider being accountable.

    • “and I think your roommate’s leg may have just got in the way of an inadvertant dog snap”

      In the real, non-dog-park-apologist world, that’s known as a bite.

    • I’ve been around a lot of dogs and I’m pretty certain that if a dog is snapping with enough force to constitute a “dog bite” that the dog was WAY beyond the threshold of “just playing rough”.

      First of all, snapping is not normal playing behaivor. Second of all, a dog that is not being a total ass will not “accidentally” bite a person, they have remarkable control.

  • If you can’t trust the people in the dog park you shouldn’t trust the dogs. Take your dog for a run/walk with a couple of other dog people you know and avoid the park before you pet gets sick (communal water bowls) or bitten. They won’t miss being forced to play in a cage with mean strangers.

  • I have taken my dog to the shaw dog park off and on. I have had a couple of uncomfortable run ins. People take dogs that are either poorly socialized, aggressive, or old and surly.

    A few owners (yeah, I’m talking about the guy with a golden retreiver who sits as far away from his dog as possible) seem to be completely detached and uncaring of what their dog does.

    One time, some guy who thought he was cesar milan was yelling at his dog constantly, when it was time to go, he was trying to do some sort of training, my dog kept distracting his dog, but before I could get there, he tossed my dog a few feet away. Now, I know dogs are resilient and its not a kid or anything, but I wouldnt be ok with a stranger tossing my baseball if I hadnt given them permission.

    So anyway, by and large, the dogs seem ok. Its just the idiotic owners who come there and are either completely detached or totally clueless about how to conduct themselves or control their dog.

    I actually brought up the issue of the aggressive dog to one of the folks who helps run the dog park (and presumably is an authority figure and has the authority to take some sort of action) didnt seem interested and preferred, instead, to avoid any sort of confrontation.

    So, these parks are great resources, but owners have to be super vigilant and not only watch your dog, but watch other peoples’ dogs and try to stay as close to your dog as possible to step in if needed.

    You cant count on other owners to have common sense or any interest in helping/being responsible.

    • Also, owners having long, drawn out phone calls and not paying an ounce of attention to their dogs is an epidemic, especially at Shaw. I recommend Kingman if you can get there. It is less crowded and the patrons (and dogs) are more friendly.

      • Here, here. Add to the list the ones that are so engrossed in their books that they don’t even notice their dogs taking a dump or that they are engaging in aggressive behaviors.

    • Oh boy, those people who got the park started walk around it like they own it, and some of them have horribly behaved dogs! Of course they wouldn’t want to have to do anything about it, the dog park is their socialization hour (for them), they let their own dogs run wild.

      I occasionally go to the dog park but always watch my dogs and reprimand them when the get too crazy. I also have no problem reprimanding other dogs when they get too crazy with my dogs. Dog park time is play time for my pups, and work time for me (i.e. monitoring time).

      By the way, the best way to split up a dog fight without getting bit is to grab the back legs of the aggressor (or more aggressive dog) and pull back. It will stop the fight almost immediately by making that dog lose its balance. A little trick I leared when I worked at a dog daycare, where is plit up multiple dog fights and never got bit.

      • No joke! What is their deal? Every single one that I’ve spoken to thinks the dog park is their kingdom. Its weird, even some of them are nice, but they make sure they point out how they helped start it, know everything about it, and why spending 80,000 on some giant tree boxes was the best idea since the Internet.

  • how serendipitous! today is world rabies day!!!

  • If there’s any medical treatment required, the bite victim needs to get the owner of the aggressive dog to pay. Given her nonchalant attitude about her dog biting someone, it seems like you may need to sue.

    Regardless of how serious the bite was, the dog needs to be reported to whatever authority/regulatory body is responsible for check for rabies and other diseases. Its really unlikely the dog is infected, but if it’s biting people, somebody needs to make sure it’s not also spreading disease.

  • Dog bites should always be reported to the police.

    This establishes a record for the dog.

    Who knows, a little kid walking in his neighborhood could be next.

    • Sorry, but that is not always true. There are many different kinds of bites. If a dog purposefully and aggressively bites someone, then yes, it can/should be reported. There are many other types of bites which is the type this one may have been (as a poster above alluded to) . Namely, the dog was playing (maybe somewhat aggressively) with another dog and the person’s leg just got in the way.

  • I was mauled by dogs when I was a child and hospitalized for weeks – it took 250 stitches and 50 staples to put my scalp back together. Whenever a dog bites a person it has crossed the line from aggression to obvious safety threat for the whole community. The next time could be far worse. Please, please tell the community to watch out for the dog, and try to find out who the owner is, then report the incident to the authorities (police/animal control).

  • I have cats. At the cat park, all the cats hide under benches and in dark corners. Never an issue.

  • me

    § 8-1812. Civil liability.

    If a dog injures a person while at large, lack of knowledge of the dog’s vicious propensity standing alone shall not absolve the owner from a finding of negligence.

    (Sept. 16, 1980, D.C. Law 3-97, § 2(f), 27 DCR 3523.)

    • me

      Meant that in a reply to Megan.

    • A dog in a fenced dog park (such as Shaw) would not be considered “at large” and a bite in such a dog park would therefore fall outside of that particular statute.

      See Nelson v. United States, 838 F.2d 1280, 1284 (D.C. Cir. 1988) (Under District of Columbia law, a dog owner’s lack of knowledge of his dog’s vicious propensity will not absolve the owner from negligence if the dog injures a person while at large. . . . In this case, Rocky was not at large; he was kept on Sergeant Casey’s premises, behind a fence. Thus, the District of Columbia’s leash control statute is not directly applicable.”)

  • It’s not just the Shaw park that has these issues — it’s all dog parks. The Walter Pierce dog park has owners who blatantly ignore their aggressive dogs. I’ve personally seen dogs end up with puncture wounds from dog bites that the owner of the aggressor ignores or tries to downplay. Unfortunately, it’s normally the people with the aggressive dogs that end up staying, and the ones with the non-aggressive dogs who leave to avoid more conflict.

  • Sorry Megan, but someone’s “leg getting into the way of an inadvertent dog snap” is an issue. Also, mentioning that a dog “inadvertently” bit someone makes little sense. Ascribing human decision-making capability to a dog is a bad idea. None of us knows whether the dog was trying to bite the OP’s friend or not. The real issue here is the carelessness and poor reaction of the offending dog’s owner. Maybe someone should tie her up outside Safeway and go shopping.

  • For those who have asked, the dog broke her skin and it really has not stopped bleeding. She doesn’t want anything from the dog owner other than for her to not bring her dog to the dog park again.
    As for her yelling, she was very scared/startled…normally she’s incredibly soft spoken.
    Having a dog myself who was at the park at the time with her, I am just as concerned about this dog coming back to the park.

    • She has no need to justify her yelling. It’s perfectly understandable. I hope she’s had the good sense to visit a doctor if it hasn’t stopped bleeding.

    • Uh, I’m not a doctor but if a wound is still bleeding a day later, I think your friend needs to go to the doctor.

    • If you’re not exaggerating and it hasn’t stopped bleeding, she should probably go see a doctor. Now.

  • All dogs using a District dog park are required to have both an Animal License from DCDOH AND a Dog Park License from DC Parks & Rec. The latter is free. This insures that all dogs are properly vaccinated, etc. In addition to calling MPD, Animal Control should be consulted if a particular dog and/or owner creates a problem.

  • I wonder what the dog owner would have said if you got on your knees and bit her leg, then casually got up as if nothing happened and walked away?

    Small city dog parks are recipe for disaster. I just don’t trust people and a lot of the users treat it as a lazy way to exercize their stressed and hyper dogs.

  • Would be helpful to hear from your roommate. If it was a nip then forget about it… if it was a DOG BITE that was intentional, then escalate.

    Sorry but this post just sounds like another “Dear POP, my friend was (insert injury here) at ___ and now I want to be an activist about it”..

  • bfinpetworth

    After a lot of years of trying various dog parks in various cities and suburban areas, I’ve come to a clear conclusion that they are just trouble waiting to happen. And that problem is magnified by the entitled, irresponsible behavior of some of the people that frequent DC dog parks. I’ve never seen anything like it – its as if they are afraid to look “not cool” by reacting to a situation with the appropriate sense of urgency. I had my older dog in the unofficial park at the school in Petworth last year (since closed down, thank goodness) and a dog got aggressive with her, snapping at her neck and face as my dog tried to walk away (seriously, she was an old and wise dog by then). I yelled for the owner to get the dog and noone “owned up” to owning the dog. Finally, as I was leaving the park I said to a few people “I still don’t know whose dog this is.” And one woman sipping on her coffee said calmly “He’s my dog.” I said “Well you need to learn to respond better when someone asks you to get your dog off their dog” and she replied in this sickeningly demure voice “I did get my dog.” Still pisses me off. Haven’t been in a dog park since.

    • +1

      I tend to avoid them all now, too, after similar experiences.

      • Same here. This is mostly due to irresponsible owners who either:

        1) Don’t pay attention to what their dog is doing
        2) Don’t recognize signs of aggression in their dog
        3) Don’t recognize signs of fear in their dog

        Any of these things can lead to serious problems – If your dog is either aggressive or scared, he can easily snap into fight mode at the drop of a hat. This is usually directed towards another dog, but potentially an intervening owner caught in the crossfire.

    • i don’t take my dog to dog parks either for similar reasons.
      my dog had the corner of his ear bitten by a golden when they were playing fetch and my dog had the ball. the owner of the golden only paid for half of my dog’s vet bill.

  • This is why i avoid the Shaw dog park. Owners who do not care to pay attention to their surroundings and what their dog is doing.

  • I swear everyone thinks their dog is innocent and not the aggressor. I used to go to this dog park, until I realized that everyone thinks they are Ceasar Milan and it couldn’t be THEIR dog. If you have a problem with other people’s dogs harassing your dog. Most likely IT’S YOU!!!

    Why was the other dog getting rough with your dog? How were you trying to break it up?!?!

    There are a lot of variables and NO ONE THAT GOES TO THIS DOG PARK IS A DOG BEHAVIOR EXPERT. Dogs play rough, and some owners just can’t handle a little snarling and growling.

    My advice get a fish.

    • I just want to add….I rescued my dog from Wagtime an open, no kennel establishment. Where all the dogs slept and played together.

      My dog didn’t start acting aggressive towards other dogs until I took him to the Shaw dog park.

  • I worked at an animal control municipal many, many moons ago, and I can tell you first hand that any animal that bites a human (mistake, playful, aggresive or otherwise) usually doesn’t end well for the animal. The owner of any aggresive animal should take heed. One bite by even the most docile animal can be reported to animal control (via police if you wish), and 99% of the time will result in the owner losing that animal forever.

    A bite by your dog in a public place is not something you should brush off as “nah, he’s just playing around. He didn’t mean to bite you.” In the eyes of the law, animals do not have concious thought and therefore any aggresive act is grounds for termination.

  • DogLaw – Is there some language in the case you’re citing that would make a dog park similar to one’s property? After all, in that case the dog was on someone’s private property. A dog park is not privately owned, so I’m not sure that a dog in a dog park wouldn’t be “at large” for purposes of the statute.

  • Who would try to break up a dog fight & not expect to be bitten? Dogs will be dogs so if dog & owner have confrontations at dog park, don’t go!

  • Dog parks are not meant to replace walks. Dog owners are supposed to walk a dog for at least 35 minutes prior to entering a dog park. Also, toys should never be allowed in a dog park (especially tennis balls, which take the enamel off of your dog’s teeth) because 9 times out of 10 that’s what causes fights.

    That being said, I don’t take my dog to any of the dog parks because most people don’t walk their dogs and end up taking dogs with too much pent up energy/aggression to the park. That, combined with the fact that the dog owners are also quite often on their phones and oblivious to what’s going on around them.

    As a side note, I’ve seen dog walkers in the Shaw dog park trying to start dog fights for their own entertainment. Ever wonder what your dog walker does with your dog during the day?

  • Until the people directly involved in the incident report on what happened, this is all gossip.

    The injured party should speak for herself. I suspect if this were a significant injury (as opposed to a bruise or abrasion) she would have seen a doctor. No I didn’t see the incident either, and I haven’t been to the park in question in ages. Neither did / have most of the people commenting here.

    But thousands of dogs and humans have visited this park and the other dog parks since they opened without any kind of negative incident. Get some perspective, people.

    If she’s not making a big deal out of it, I don’t see why anyone else should – other than having their own little axes to grind.

  • As someone who has worked training dogs, I’d say what some others here have said. Dog parks in general are a bad idea. Too many people use them as a substitute for properly exercising their dogs, and/or bring poorly socialized dogs to the park.

    Also, due to a lack of understanding of canine behavior and communication, it’s often the innocent dog that gets branded the aggressor in dog park incidents.

    For example, a dog who growls or snaps at another dog is often merely conveying a wish to be left alone and not have it’s personal space invaded, and it’s the poor socialization of the offending dog, not heeding other warnings before the snap, that is the root of the problem.

    Since you can’t control who else will be in the dog park, and whether or not their dogs will be properly socialized and polite, it’s best to find some other people in the park you enjoy and whose dogs get along with yours, and take group walks with them. An added bonus is that you are getting some exercise as well this way.

  • Imbecile Dogs! Our superiority proven again!

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