Dog Bites & Kid Safety: 9 Tips to Prevent Dog Bites (and Keep Dogs Safe, Too!)

Angry aggressive barking dog in a steel cage

In March 2011, I served as an expert witness in a dog bite case in which a child was mauled, and the child’s grandmother who owned the home where the Pit Bull mix lived was prosecuted as responsible. I learned a lot during this trial, one of the biggest lessons having to do with the many misconceptions regarding dogs, dog language, and dog bites. In fact, I address quite a lot of these issues in the next thriller SHOW AND TELL, that includes Pit Bulls, dog fighting, and misconceptions about dogs.

All dogs bite. In fact, canine jaws easily tear flesh and break bones. Don’t be fooled by size, either. They may be tiny but even Chihuahua-size pooches expertly use their choppers. And when they’re big dogs like this Belgian Malinois below, the damage can be severe.

portrait of a very angry purebred belgian shepherd malinois

All dogs squabble just as all people sometimes get upset and argue, but that doesn’t mean dangerous bites always results. Dogs have exquisite control of their jaws and know exactly how close they can snap without making contact. Pugs don’t miss unless they mean to. Consider air-snaps and bites that DON’T break the skin as calculated warnings. Learning to master the power of their jaws—bite inhibition—allows dogs to make important points and resolve differences without hurting each other, or you.

Children suffer dog bites more often than anyone else. Dog bites injure nearly 5 million people every year. Half of all kids in the United States get bitten by age 12, and five-to-nine-year-old boys are at highest risk. Scary stuff!

Curious chained dog on a pile of wood.

These statistics, though, are somewhat skewed. Every bite is cause for alarm, but did you know that the numbers include ALL dog injuries that break the skin, even “bandaid” situations. That is, if the puppy’s nail scratches the infant, technically it’s reported under bite stats. Bites from working K-9 (police) dogs also are included in the report. Bites to a medical person rendering assistance to an injured, in pain dog also are bundled in these figures.

However, if your child is bitten, he’s 100 percent bitten and it can be a tragedy—one that doesn’t have to happen. Dog bites not only hurt you or your kids, they result in pricy medical bills and insurance rates. Dog bites can lose your dog his home or even his life.

That’s what happened in the dog bite case referenced in the opening. There were no winners–oh, the little girl survived, with scars; her grandmother was acquitted. Buddy, the dog, was killed. You can read details of the case here.

Don't tempt fate! How stooopid is this?

Don’t tempt fate! How stooopid is this?

Most dog bites result from inappropriate interaction with the family pet, with a neighbor’s or a friend’s dog. But you can teach yourself and your kids ways to be safe with these 9 easy tips.

9 Tips To Prevent Dog Bites

  1. Respect Doggy Space. Children should not approach, touch or play with any dog who is sleeping or eating. NEVER approach a tethered or chained dog, which restricts the dog’s movement and elevates his potential for arousal. Mom-dogs caring for puppies are especially protective. Even friendly dogs may react with a bite if they feel their food or toys might be stolen by a playful child.dog tied to a tree
  2. Ask First. Always ask permission of the owner before petting. Not all owners recognize danger signs, though, so when in doubt, decline the petting. Before touching, let the dog sniff a closed hand. Remember that petting the top of the dog’s head can look threatening from a pet perspective, so instead scratch the front of his chest, neck or stroke underneath the dog’s chin.
  3. Supervise. Accidents happen even with friendly dogs. In the court case, above, the dog knew and loved the toddler. Kids, toddlers, adults and dogs make mistakes. An adult should always be present when kids and dogs mix.
  4. Nix the Hugs and Kisses. Kids get bitten on the face most often when they try to hug or kiss the dog. It’s much safer to show your puppy love with a scratch on the chest or side of the neck.
  5. Alert Adults. If a child sees a dog off-leash outside, he should tell an adult immediately. Also alert adults to multiple loose dogs. Groups of dogs egg each other on into a “mob mentality” when individuals in that same group likely would never offer a threat.
  6. Look Away. Eye contact with a dog can be interpreted as a threat or challenge, and set off an otherwise calm dog. Young kids at eye-level with big dogs may pose a challenge without being aware of the danger.
  7. Be A Tree. Teach your child to stand still and quiet around strange dogs—be a tree. Trees are boring, so the dog will go away or at least not be excited. Walking, running, arm-waving and high-pitched loud talking, giggling, and laughing excites the dog even further and invites dogs to play chase-bite games. Even friendly dogs may bite out of enthusiasm, just as well-behaved children might accidentally strike out and hurt a classmate during play. That also works to calm down a puppy that gets too excited during play.
  8. Be A Log. If a puppy knocks the child down, teach her to roll up in a ball and be still—like a log—until the dog goes away. Movement encourages the game of jumping, tugging and wrestling and can escalate the dog’s excitement and tendency to bite.
  9. Train the Puppy. Teach your puppy with love. Dogs bullied or hurt during training can get pushy or aggressive to weaker family members—the kids. Teach kids to enjoy and respect dogs, and socialize puppies to kids so they grow up to enjoy and love each other.

You can learn more about puppy socialization and teaching dogs bite inhibition in my book COMPLETE PUPPY CARE.

Have you ever been bitten by a dog? What were the circumstances? I have…when I was a vet tech. Tell me yours and I’ll tell you mine! What did you learn?

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Comments

Dog Bites & Kid Safety: 9 Tips to Prevent Dog Bites (and Keep Dogs Safe, Too!) — 29 Comments

  1. Pit bulls have always been notorious for NOT giving warning. Do NOT let your children (or loved adults or loved pets) around pit bulls. I’m sorry for the little girl but am glad it wasn’t an innocent outsider killed by this pit bull. (Some of the pro pit bull crowd are well meaning people who love all animals but many are using pit bulls as guns — uncontrolled guns that make their own decisions often based on past mistreatment.)

    • Sorry that you’ve had bad experiences with Pitties. There are rare cases, usually where the dog’s normal signalment that’s been abnormally repressed by harsh training, in which knee-jerk no warning attacks happen but that is not breed specific. Most dogs, including Pit Bulls, give warnings but sadly not all people understand. *sigh*

  2. “I address quite a lot of these issues in the next thriller SHOW AND TELL, that includes Pit Bulls, dog fighting, and misconceptions about dogs.”

    Oh geez tell me the hawg dogs aren’t gonna have more bad stuff happen to them? I smell possible theft in the air. D: You are already doing this to me and the book isn’t even out yet. 😛

    As for “all dogs bite” – more people need to remember that. I wish more apartments would just require temperament testing or something instead of making blanket breed restrictions. My folks were once told “oh, beagles don’t bite” and had to tell the person that no, this one WILL. She bit the electric guy once, he thankfully didn’t press charges as he recognized where he made the mistake and made her think he was a threat, and said she was just protecting her home and he couldn’t fault her for it. He made big hand gestures, with the hand he had a large tool in, while talking to my mom, so naturally the dog thought he was attacking and jumped to mom’s defense.

    One thing I always liked about the humane society where I used to volunteer was that they didn’t condemn the dogs easily. Somebody called in to drop off… I forget what kind of dog, but it was one of the herding breeds. Said the dog bit. First question that got asked was “okay, was it a BITE or was it a nip?” since herding breeds are well-known nippers and it’s very different from being aggressive.

    But all the warning signals are good to know, too, in addition to making sure kids don’t go near strange dogs (and don’t run from them – they are faster than you). Granted, knowing the warning signs is usually more for adults, but so many people do not know them, it’s really amazing to me, since having lived around animals I learned most of them just from watching.

    • You’ll have to read the book…I’m not telling! But you know dogs are always the heroes,

      Yes, beagles bite! And I’m hearing from many of my bet behavior colleagues that they’re sadly seeing lots of problem German Shepherds…makes me weep for all the victims, bother human and furry.

      • Thankfully our girl wasn’t a “problem child” when it came to biting. She was just very smart and did not take well to anyone trying to hurt our family. This was the same one that knew my mom was afraid of snakes, so would kill any snakes she found in the yard – but only if mom was outside. Same dog who also saved a turtle from the lawn mower, faked an injury to get a car ride, and barked at every vehicle pulling into the driveway except one that mom or dad was driving – somehow she knew even if it was an unfamiliar vehicle.

        I suspect with sheps it’s a combination problem, since they’re originally a herding breed, but then people get them because they think of them as guard dogs, without understanding that even a police dog that’s trained to bite on command will have to learn bite inhibition because knowing when not to bite is as important as knowing when to bite. And they’re such SMART dogs, you have to be sure your’e not teaching them the wrong thing.

        Actually, it’s a similar problem with pit bulls from what some pit owners have told me. I’m told in their case, it’s that they are SO VERY EAGER TO PLEASE that if they are taught that attacking things is good, they will naturally try to keep doing it because that’s what they were taught to define as “good dog”. It’s also important to remember that some dogs are better than others at understanding the differences between situations (like “get that squirrel” does not mean it is okay to “get the cat” or “get that kid” – you’ve got to be very careful about those sorts of things). So of course if an eager-to-please dog learns that going after stuff yields praise, without having been explicitly taught that there are also things you should NOT go after, they might try running down other things expecting that reward.

        Smart critters and eager-to-please critters are GREAT but they are also easier to accidentally teach bad habits, I think. And then, of course, once a dog manages to get a reputation for being “scary”, you’ve got the occasional yahoo who gets that kind of dog and trains it to be that way on purpose. *shakes head*

  3. amazing article! I had a a dog I struggled to control on this subject and it was very hard for a long time. his name was charlie and he was always trying to bite people. This in and of itself was hard to handle but I knew I was going to have to get rid of him when he tried to bite my 6 year old son for the first time. I always tried to keep them separated but my son was too young to understand when a dog growls it is a warning. I ran into the room with my son crying. Charlie didn’t actually bite him but it scared him pretty bad. I was already making plans to take him to the local shelter and was talking about it with my sister.

    She told me she didn’t think it was fair and actually explained some of the stuff to me in this article about dogs biting. I ended up changing my mind and decided to educate myself on dogs instead of just assuming my dog was bad and would always be bad. articles like this really help people understand dogs and I can’t even begin to express to people like you how much this helps people. I ended up keeping charlie and used some courses to help train him to be a better dog. Some paid and some free but in the end I can actually take him to parks and on walks and he no longer tries to bite people. in fact he is the exact opposite now. he LOVES people.

    Some people can get overwhelmed with this information and its hard for them to fathom their dogs changing or trying to understand why their dogs bite. I recommend to everyone, read articles like this and gather as much information as you can on the subjects of your pets before you hand them off to some shelter like I was about too. Don’t overwhelm yourself and start small and start with one thing at a time. It was just biting I was able to fix with charlie but several other things.

    I kinda went on a rant lol but this is a subject that strikes very close to my heart and I just wanted to share my experience.

  4. My first bite was when I was five. I was being watched by a neighbor down the street. The neighbor had a Boston Terrier and he was a friendly dog except when it came to people walking away from him while in his territory. If you turned your back on him he would chase and bite. I knew this but forgot and he nailed me on the back of the kneecap.

    Our dog nipped and bit me on several occasions but this was while playing. The next severe bite I received was while I was working at a dog grooming salon. I knew the poodle would bite because the groomer had to muzzle him to shave him. But for some moronic reason they took the muzzle off when he came to me. He bit the back of my hand and three fingers. And when I insisted that I go home the owner got mad at me! Should have sued him. Lol. I am lucky it wasn’t worse tho.

    Guess that explains why I don’t like Boston Terriers. Poodles and Cocker Spaniels. Lol

  5. What a tragic story, it’s such a shame that the Grandmother was negligent and the poor dog lost his life. These tips are great and so important, I think they should be part of every child’s education in the classroom as well as in the home. Strange children often come bounding over to my dogs when we’re out and approach the dogs without asking. Even my calm dogs can get startled. I’ve been bitten twice by a dog; once as a child when I yanked repeatedly on the collar of my friend’s Dachshund to get him back in the house when he ran out. I didn’t know that growling was a clear warning sign of a bite to come. It was a pretty bad bite. No adults were around at the time. The second time was by a frightened Chihuahua at the shelter I volunteer at. I was trying to get him out of the kennel to meet potential adopters. He was in the back corner and when I approached to get him out he bolted out of the kennel. I tried to grab him outside the kennel to stop him and he bit me. My own fault. That terrified dog was subsequently placed with a rescue.

  6. Parents should never let their children approach a strange dog unsupervised. There is a young boy that runs towards us when we are walking the boys. It is very unsettling to Bentley and he will react with barking. The dad was even in the front yard the other day! Respect for dogs and other living creatures begins at home.

  7. Such great tips! It is a horrible thing when someone gets injured from a dog bite. It’s even worse when it’s a child that may have to live with injuries the rest of their life. It is sad that the dog often has to be put down too.

  8. These are some great tips. As a pet sitter, I’m always very cautious, and aware of the signs, but, still, I’ve been bitten a couple of times over the course of my career. I’d never heard the “be a log” tip…makes great sense, and I will be teaching that to my children. Thank you!

  9. I so disagree with Brenda’s comment. You know we’re cat people but we’ve never met a pit bull who was scary. Great post, BTW. As a child Pop was often snapped at by dogs even when he axed permission and petted the dog gently. He always seemed to touch a “hot spot” on the dog. MOL! He remained terrified of dogs until he met Sophie, a pittie 4 doors down from us. He loved her and she looked forward to his pettings.

  10. I cannot begin to tell you how many kids coming running up to my dog without supervision. On another note, I even have adults doing similar behaviors. I am glad you wrote on this topic. Now to teach and educate, and I try all the time.

  11. Bite prevention is so important! Even though we had a very gentle dog, she was never unsupervised with small kids. It is so much better to be safe than sorry!

  12. Great post! #5 must be a revelation to many — the mob concept applied to a groups of off leash dogs is so appropriate. There was a 3 year old girl killed by a poodle, a small dog, and a Rottweiler — the parents left her in the yard alone with the dogs for a few minutes. People can be clueless about this kind of thing. Such a tragedy. Always appreciate the be a long be a tree concept — so easy for children to understand =)

  13. I think I was bitten once by my collie when I was a child. I was trying to force him to learn a trick and he reacted. It must not have been serious because I don’t remember having to have medical treatment. I took blame for it and learned a valuable lesson.

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