Dogs Biting Children

Christine Hibbard, CTC, CPDT-KADogs attacking children

This is Dog Bite Prevention week so I thought this would be a good time to discuss the latest research and resources for understanding why dogs bite and preventing dog bites. If we can prevent dog bites to children, we ought to be able to prevent dog bites to adults, or we can hope.

According to the CDC, children are the most at risk for a dog bite and the most likely to require medical attention for the bite. That’s a way of saying that when children get bitten by a dog there is often serious damage, sometimes permanent damage. One might think that most children are bitten by strange dogs but the statistics tell a different story. Children are most likely to be bitten by the family dog. What’s going on here?

A study was published that looked at this very problem. Here’s a quote from the abstract:

“In 2008, a pilot study trying to find the potential causes of conflicts in the children x dog relationship was realized. This pilot study was triggered by the increasing amount of cases of dog attacks in society, especially dog attacks on the youngest generation (children). The collection of data which monitored awareness about a responsible approach and safe contact with dogs among primary school children (aged 8 – 12) was conducted from November 2007 to March 2008. The main aim of the research was to map children’s knowledge of dog’s communication signals, the perception of a child’s own authority in the relationship with a dog and the frequency of individual risk activities in their mutual contact. The research study has recealed alarming deficiencies, especially in the knowledge of communication signals and canine body languate. The awareness of signs of the two most hazardous communication signals (threat and attack) was very poor.” 1

According to this study, a child’s risk of being bitten by a dog seem to rest on three things:

  1. A child’s knowledge of dog body language (a communication breakdown)
  2. How a child perceived their authority over the family dog (another communication breakdown)
  3. How often a child was allowed to engage in risky behavior (ALWAYS manage interactions between dogs and children)

This is important information for all of us to understand. The first risk factor pointed out in this study of a child being bitten by a dog was a child’s inability to understand how a dog communicates. Let’s face it, no matter how closely we monitor kids and dogs, management will fail at some point so it’s important for children (and adults) to understand how dogs communicate.

Dr. Sophia Yin just published her efforts to help prevent dog bites including this animation which I think is brilliant:

Seriously, this should be required viewing for everyone, not just everyone with children. Dr. Yin is also making a poster available that I recommend everyone download and share. The people at Dog Gone Safe also have information (video and curriculum) for reading dog body language and preventing bites: Learn to Speak Dog and Teach Your Kids.

The second issue pointed out by this study is about a child’s perceived authority over the family dog. I found this part of the study especially fascinating. I thought the way the researchers studied this aspect of human perception of dog behavior and how it relates to human behavior towards dogs to be particularly clever. The bottom line though is that inappropriately communicating with the dog (ie; trying to dominate or be alpha over the dog) resulted in children being bitten: “Every relationship, even that between a child and dog, should be based on mutual respect and understanding that allows not only trouble-free interaction, but also creates a good basis for a positive approach and relationship of both partners.” 1 Dr. Jim Ha has talked about Confrontational Training Techniques and how dangerous these techniques can be for owners and this study tells us even more so for children.

Dog bite prevention weekManaging children and dogs is critical to keeping both children and dogs safe. NEVER leave a child under the age of 9 or 10 years old (your child’s mileage may vary) unattended.

Now what about children and adults meeting strange dogs? I published an article about Protecting Your Dog on Walks because the owners of fearful dogs already know that people are clueless about how dogs communicate. I also published an article on Why Dogs Bite and notice the first reason I talk about is fear. I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to talk about this video for awhile. This trainer uses how dogs communicate as a foundation for teaching children how to 1) ask permission to meet a dog and most importantly, 2) teaches the children how to behave towards the dog no matter the owner’s answer. Now, if I could make people view one video about how they should go about introducing themselves to a dog they don’t know, this would be it (brilliant!). It’s titled Dogs Like Kids They Feel Safe With by Madeline Gabriel.

What resources do you use to educate children about dogs? Did you learn anything new by viewing the resources I provided here?

1 Risk factors in the mutual relationship between children and dogs, Marie Chlopciklova, Adela Mojzisova, University of South Bohemia, College of Health and Social Studies, Ceske Budejovice, Czech Republic


  1. says

    I totally agree – kids should be taught how to recognize dog facial signals. It’s easy for them to see a dog baring their teeth as smiling and try to touch it and possibly get bitten.

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