To reduce the number of injuries from dog bites, adults and children should be educated about bite prevention, and dog owners should practice responsible dog ownership.
Recommendations for Parents
Be aware of the fact that any dog can bite. From the smallest to the largest, even the most friendly, cute and easygoing dogs might bite if provoked. The vast majority of dog bites are from a dog known to the child—his or her own pet, a neighbor's or a friend's. You can help protect your child from dog bites by discussing with her the appropriate way to behave around dogs. To help parents educate their children about basic safety around dogs, we offer the following tips:
Children should not approach, touch or play with any dog who’s sleeping, eating, chewing on a toy or bone, or caring for puppies. Animals are more likely to bite if they’re startled, frightened or caring for young.
Children should never approach a barking, growling or scared dog.
Children should not pet unfamiliar dogs without asking permission from the dog’s guardian first. If the guardian says it’s okay, the child should first let the dog sniff his closed hand. Then taking care to avoid petting the dog on the top of the head, he can pet the dog’s shoulders or chest.
Children should not try to pet dogs who are behind a fence or in a car. Dogs often protect their home or space.
If a child sees a dog off-leash outside, she should not approach the dog and should tell an adult immediately.
If a loose dog comes near a child, he should not run or scream. Instead, he should avoid eye contact with the dog and stand very still, like a tree, until the animal moves away. Once the dog loses interest, the child can slowly back away until he’s out of sight.
If a child falls down or is knocked to the ground by a dog, she should curl up in a ball with her knees tucked into her stomach and her fingers interlocked behind her neck to protect her neck and ears. If a child stays still and quiet like this, the dog will most likely just sniff her and then go away.
Children should never try to outrun a dog. If a dog does attack a child, the child should “feed” the dog his jacket, bag, bicycle—or anything that he has for the dog to grab onto or anything he can put between himself and the dog
Understanding dog body language is another key way to help you and your children avoid being bitten. Teach your children that they can read dogs’ body language to better understand what dogs are feeling and avoid those whose body language indicates that they’re feeling anxious, afraid, threatened or aggressive.
An aggressive dog may try to make herself look bigger. Her ears may be up and forward, the fur on her back and tail may stand on end or puff out, and her tail may be straight up—it may even wag. She may have a stiff, straight-legged stance and be moving toward or staring directly at what she thinks is an approaching threat. She may also bare her teeth, growl, lunge and bark. Continued approach toward a dog showing this body language could result in a bite!
An anxious or scared dog may try to make herself look smaller. She may shrink to the ground in a crouch, lower her head, repeatedly lick her lips, put her tail between her legs, flatten her ears back and yawn. She may look away to avoid direct eye contact. She may stay very still or roll on her back and expose her stomach. Alternatively, she may try to turn away or slowly move away from what she thinks is an approaching threat. If she can’t retreat, she may feel she has no other alternative but to defensively growl, snarl or even bite.
Many dogs can show a mixture of these body postures, indicating that they feel conflicted. The main idea for children to remember is to avoid any dog showing any of signs of fear, aggression or anxiety—no matter what else the dog is doing. It’s important for children to realize that a wagging tail or a crouching body doesn’t always mean friendliness.
Consider hiring a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT) or Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB or ACAAB) to assist you in selecting a well-socialized dog of stable temperament that best fits your family’s lifestyle.
Adopt from a well-managed animal shelter whose staff and volunteers can fill you in on the dog’s background, her personality and her behavior in the shelter.
If you prefer to purchase a dog from a breeder, find a small-scale, reputable breeder who sells only one breed, breeds only once a year or less, and allows you to visit his or her home and kennel. The breeder should show you the mother and relatives of the puppy and provide a clean, loving home environment for them, including lots of handling, play and interaction with different people of all ages.
After You Get a Dog
Spay or neuter your dog as soon as possible. Healthy puppies can be spayed or neutered as early as eight weeks of age. Spayed or neutered dogs may be less likely to bite.
Socialize your dog! An ounce of prevention (puppy socialization) is worth a pound of cure (trying to fix behavior problems in adulthood). Well-socialized dogs make enjoyable, trustworthy companions. Undersocialized dogs are a risk to their owners and to others because they’re frightened by everyday things. Fearful dogs are more likely to aggress or bite. They tend to fight with other dogs. They don’t adapt to new situations, and routine outings (like to the vet’s office) become difficult for them and everyone involved. Socializing is the opposite of isolating. It means to let puppies meet, greet and enjoy a variety of people, animals, places and things. Done properly, socializing helps puppies feel comfortable and friendly—rather than uncomfortable and potentially aggressive—in many situations and around all kinds of people and animals. The main rule for effective socializing is to let your dog progress at her own pace and never force her to be around someone or something when she’s clearly fearful or uncomfortable.
Take your dog to humane, reward-based training classes—the earlier the better. We recommend starting your puppy in puppy kindergarten classes as early as eight weeks, right after her first set of vaccinations. Early training opens a window of communication between you and your dog that will help you consistently and effectively teach her what you expect of her.
Make your dog a part of the family. Don’t chain or tie her outside, and don’t leave her unsupervised for long periods of time—even in a fenced yard. Because tied-out dogs become frustrated and can feel relatively defenseless, they’re nearly three times more likely to bite. Well-socialized and supervised dogs are much less likely to bite.
Don’t wait for a serious accident to happen. The first time your dog shows aggressive behavior toward anybody, even if no injury occurs, seek professional help from a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB), a veterinary behaviorist (Dip ACVB), or a qualified Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT). If you elect to hire a CPDT because you can’t find a behaviorist in your area, be sure to determine whether she or he has professional training and extensive experience in successfully working with aggression, as this training and experience are beyond what CPDT certification requires.
Err on the safe side. Be aware of common triggers of aggression, including pain, injury or sickness, the approach of strangers or strange dogs, the approach of people in uniforms, costumes or unusual attire (especially hats), unexpected touching, unfamiliar places, crowds, and loud noises like thunder, wind, construction, fireworks and appliances. If possible, avoid exposing your dog to these triggers. If she seems stressed or panicked in crowds, leave her at home. If she overreacts to visitors or delivery personnel, keep her in another room when they come to your house. Work with a qualified behavior and training professional to help your dog become more comfortable with these and other situations.
Always supervise children and dogs. Never leave a baby or child younger than 10 years old alone with a dog. Teach your children to treat your dog gently and with respect, giving the dog her own space and opportunities to rest. Some good books and videos that we recommend on children and dogs are Living with Kids & Dogs…Without Losing Your Mind by Colleen Pelar, Raising Puppies and Kids Together—A Guide for Parents by Pia Silvani and Lynn Eckhardt, Child-Proofing Your Dog by Brian Kilcommons, and Dogs, Cats & Kids, a video by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).
Fulfill basic animal-care responsibilities. License your dog as required by law and provide regular veterinary care, including rabies vaccinations. Don’t allow your dog to roam off-leash or alone.