prevent dog bites

How to Prevent Kids from Dog Bites

prevent dog bites

Dog bites child: Dog euthanized. Child moves on.

No dog lover wants to see the above headline, yet a whopping seventy nine percent of fatal dog attacks are on children. According to, over eighty seven percent of dog bite fatalities involving children occurred when the child was left unsupervised with a dog or the child wandered off to the location of the dog.  Even small breeds such as Dachshunds and Pomeranians have attacked children resulting in fatalities. There are ways to prevent kids (and adults) from dog bites.

Dogs bite. Children are victims of dog bites. The dog usually pays the ultimate price with his or her life.

Here’s the Fi-DOSE of reality: Many times, it’s the fault of the child. Yes, read that again: People cause many dogs to bite.

dog bite prevention
Preventing dog bites is a year-round issue.

Here’s why it happens, what you can do to prevent it from happening (whether or not you have kids), and some myths surrounding dog bites. Let’s start with some hard core facts:

Fact: Incidents of dog bite fatalities by ANY breed, any pedigree, are very rare. There are approximately 15 to 20 dog bite fatalities in the United States a year. Considering there are over 70 million dogs calling the United States their home in our families, that’s a small number.

Fact: A child is more likely to die choking on a marble or balloon, and an adult is more likely to die in a bedroom slipper related accident. The likelihood of being killed by a dog are roughly one in 18 million.

Fact: A staggering 4.5 million people are bit by dogs every year in the United States.

Fact: One study shows that boys aged 5 to 9 are bitten five times more by dogs more than any other group or people.

dog bite
Even dogs are victims of bites from other dogs (or people!)

Why Do Dogs Bite?

Understanding why a dog bites, like any behavior by any species: animal or human, understanding why it occurs is pivotal to preventing it in the first place.

Dogs Bite Because:

  • The dog feels threatened, as if the child will take his toy, treat, or food (and/or the child does)
  • The dog is being teased, taunted, tugged at, pinched, kicked, pulled, or otherwise in a way that is inappropriate. For me, I have stopped many children over the course of my lifetime from harming a dog. I will talk to parents and educate them.
  • The dog is protecting his property/territory around strangers: no matter if the stranger is the mailman, a child, a burglar, or anyone unknown to the dog as familiar.
  • The dog is in pain: Adults may know not to touch a dog in pain, but kids may either not understand or not care, to be blunt. According to VPI Pet Insurance, one particular study of dogs who bit a child showed that the dogs had medical conditions such as liver and kidney disease, eye problems, and diseases that affected their bones and skin. This is why it is incredibly important to keep up with regular veterinary visits. Dogs cannot always tell us when they have pain, and they are great at hiding their symptoms. In fact, many dogs with pain have zero symptoms.
  • The dog has teeth issues/gum issues/mouth issues: Consider yourself as a dog for a moment. Your mouth hurts and someone puts a hard bowl of kibble in front of you to eat. You are hungry. You cannot complain. If you don’t eat the food, you won’t get anything else. I’d bite someone, too, if I lived that circumstance over and over. Keep up with regular dental care and see a vet regularly for checkups.
  • Think your dog cannot get accustomed to teeth brushing? Check out these ten tips for dogs who hate their teeth brushed.
  • The dog is stepped on and/or the tail is pulled….or my personal favorite: someone tried to ride the dog. These are all big fat no’s! Accidents happen, so as a parent or guardian, it is the responsibility of the adult to watch the behavior and path of the child.
  • The dog has his face rubbed in urine or feces in the house: Let’s do the same thing to babies and see if it works. Not only is this disgusting and unsanitary, but it teaches the dog nothing except that excreting means his pack does a terrible thing to them. Dogs might start excreting in less apparent places of the home, and housebreaking turns into a nightmare. Positive reinforcement is key. Be patient, be kind, and be consistent but not at the expense of gross and bizarre behavior.
  • He or she is deaf or blind and the dog should not be startled.
  • You hit them. Do not hit or spank a dog.

dog bites

Does a Dog Warn He is About to Bite?

Oh yes, a dog might warn you that a bite is coming. The folks at Doggone Safe report that there are signs in many cases where a warning exists and adults and children fail to heed it. So the dog, in essence, is telling the adult, “look, I have been overly patient with this kid, but the patience is about to run out.”

How do dogs warn us a bite is next and to back off?

  • The dog gets up and moves away from the child.
  • The dog turns his head away from the child.
  • The dog looks at you with a pleading expression.
  • You can see the “whites” of the dogs eyes, in a half moon shape.
  • The dog yawns while the child approaches or is interacting with him.
  • The dog licks his chops while the child approaches or is interacting with him.
  • The dog suddenly starts scratching, biting or licking himself.
  • The dog does a big “wet dog shake” after the child stops touching him.
trained police dog
Some dogs are trained to bite, such as a police dog.

Some Dog Biting Myths

Myth: Petting a Dog Because He’s Cute

Fact: Well, not always. I recall a dog trainer friend asking me one time if I liked strangers to hug me without warning. Apparently dogs don’t like it very much either. I’ve gone so far as to ask someone if I can pet their dog or if he or she is friendly. Though dogs can behave differently if startled or provoked, one should never pet a dog without asking his owner first and only if the dog is exhibiting proper body language that being petted is acceptable. A dog whose ears are back or whose tail is tucked between his legs is clearly telling you to back off. If a dog feels threatened, he might bite. Come to think of it, I might, too, if you extend an uninvited hug.

Bottom line: Dogs do not just “bite out of the blue.” This is not true, plain and simple. At every moment of every day, your dog is giving you a status update of himself. The training in most cases is lacking in the pet owner and not the dog.

For the Love of a Dog Cover

I am presently reading a book, From For the Love of a Dog, by Patricia McConnell, PhD. In it, she writes,

I don’t know how many times broken-hearted clients have told me that Barney had been doing so well; he’d handled the noise and chaos of the family picnic all day long, but just when everyone was about to leave, he fell apart and snapped, or nipped, or bit…If people could just see the signs of exhaustion or worry on their dogs’ faces, there’d be a lot fewer bites in the world, a lot fewer tears, and a lot more dogs living to old age.

dog bite prevention
This might look cute, but should be discouraged.

Tips to prevent dog bites:

  • Know the basics of a dog’s body language. A wagging tail does not always mean a dog is friendly. Depending on the carriage of the tail, it could mean the dog is nervous, stressed, and uneasy.
  • Teach children to never approach a stray dog under any circumstances. And if they are approached by a stray, they should “be a tree,” and not move until the dog moves away.
  • Never taunt a dog. If you dare a dog to bite you, he just might give you exactly what you’re asking for.
  • Don’t put your face in a dog’s face you don’t know. Children should be taught to never get up in a dog’s face, even the family pet. Many dogs read that as a challenge and react out of impulse to protect themselves.
  • Respect the growl. A growl is a warning from a dog that he may bite, and you should always believe him!
  • Never sneak up on a sleeping dog. Never approach a dog who is eating. Never back a dog into a corner where he feels he can’t escape.
  • Supervise all interactions between young children (under 10) and dogs at all times. Children forget to tie their shoes and make their beds, so naturally they could forget the correct way to play with and handle the family dog. An adult should always be present to make sure the rules are followed.

medicine versus mom

In an effort to provide even more information, Fidose of Reality has teamed with former veterinary technician and dog blogger, My Kid Has Paws, for a twice monthly series called “Medicine Vs. Mom.” Click here to read her take on teaching kids how not to get bit by a dog.

Finally, it is important to note that twice in my life I have been the victim of a bite: Both times it was at the mouth of a child who inflicted the pain.

What do you do to prevent a dog from biting? Has dog biting ever happened in your life?

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  1. Fantastic post, Carol! I think we’ve all seen those horrifying youtube videos where parents let kids do terrible things to dogs. I know I’m always cringing and worrying! It makes me crazy that parents don’t teach their kids to be respectful of dogs. We’ve had so many issues with little kids. These days, I don’t let any kids touch my dogs. It’s sad.

    1. Those videos make me cringe, and I know exactly some of them, Lauren. The whole little kid thing instigating a dog bite is scary.

  2. Our dog has bitten a few times. We really aren’t sure exactly what sets him off, either. I guess it’s the chance you take when you adopt a shelter dog.

    1. Yes and no, Robin. I would see a positive reinforcement behaviorist with your dog. He or she can really help identify triggers and how to properly prevent issues.

  3. These are great tips! My little guy gets really excited about dogs and we’re working on teaching him not to approach them quickly! We’ll add some of your tips to our lesson as well.

  4. I have taught dog bite prevention lessons in hundreds of classrooms in our area over the past 15 years. The number one guideline we impart to the children is to ALWAYS ask before they touch or pet any dog and if the dog is not with someone they do not approach or pet the dog. All the information about body language is good but honestly I think many adults have trouble reading the body language. Children of all ages however can learn to always ask before approaching or petting a dog. That message is being heard. It is rare when we are out in public that children – and their parents – do not ask.

    1. That is fantastic, Kathie. Thanks for doing that and I can only imagine how many dog bites you are preventing.

  5. Great post Carol! While I would not consider my dogs to be ‘biters’ I am still extra careful when they are around children.

    I was at a party once (long before I was a blogger and knew very much about dogs) and the kids were in the house with the dog while the adults were outside with the beer. I was the sober one who drove the mother and her child to the emergency room after the child had a serious dog bite to the face. (I think he took like 40 or 80 stitches, I really can’t remember.) Thankfully we were close to the hospital but it was a miserable night. Of course, the people put their dog down right away, and even though I wasn’t educated about dogs as I am now, I knew it wasn’t the dog’s fault, but sadly he paid the ultimate price.

    If I ever think it’s safe to leave a child with a dog unattended by an adult, I hope I think back to that horrible ride and the poor dog who paid the ultimate price because his owners didn’t do their job.

  6. It’s so important to teach kids early on about how to approach a strange dog. Even if a dog is wagging its tale you must be cautious.

  7. great tips! I always tell my kids to ask first – them if allowed, they may pet a dog. My little one was bitten by a dog at horse riding lessons once. I was not happy, but I didn’t turn the dog in – it was just a freak accident, totally not my daughter’s fault, she was just standing there waiting for her horse. But I made sure the dog was locked up from then on.

  8. Great great post ! I’ve been taught as a child to ALWAYS ask the dog’s owner if I could pet the dog or not, and to come with an open hand and not from above to let the dog smell me first. If you ask first, I noticed that dog owners loves to share their knowledge about petting their dog (or not, and why). Claire

  9. Interesting post… We have taught all of our children to ask before they pet and to never approach a dog if it’s alone. There are a lot of irresponsible dog owners in our neighborhood so we have had to be extra careful. {our house backs onto a green belt and a lot of dog owners let their dog off the leash and allow them to run even though there is signage stating the area is not an off leash area and that they need to be on a leash }

    1. That is so sad that there are people who could care less about their dogs being off leash. I am glad that you taught your children to ask – kudos!

  10. It’s good to train both adults and children on this subject. Unfortunately, sometimes dogs do bite for seemingly no reason. My brother in law just got bit pretty badly by his friend’s German shepherd a few days ago while his back was turned.

  11. This is a subject dear to my heart because my daughter was bit by a dog when she was only one. She had to get a LOT of stitches. She has no memory of it and we do have a dog but I’m always aware.

  12. Great tips. We’ve been very lucky and not having to deal with this but it can be a huge issue. When I was 10 I was petting a dog that lived down the street and it attacked me, bit my stomach. It wasn’t the first time it had happened it had bit other children.

  13. These stats are quite interesting … I believe Dogs bite when they feel threatened. Kids should definitely not be left unsupervised with Dogs

  14. Dogs can get a bad rap about biting. It can often be taunted, teased by younger children. I try to stay really aware of my pets around children, especially those that are new or unfamiliar!

  15. What a really informative post! I think that so many people just don’t understand that dogs do have emotions and that they feel pain just like we do. Dogs don’t bite out of the blue. They have a reason.

  16. I have a child who always wants to pet any dog she sees. I tell her all of the time it could end badly (with a bite ) because you never know how the dog will react, if he’s been trained, etc. She’s 16 now, so it’s harder to get her to listen. 😉 I love her soft heart and hope she never does learn the hard way.

  17. Great tips. I had no idea that many people are bit by dogs each year. These are great tips that I will share with my boys.

    Sometimes you think that common sense would take over and people wouldn’t do some of these things that could prevent this. It is sad that dogs suffer the ultimate consequence for something that probably could have been prevented.

  18. Learning to read a dog teaches kids so much about people. If you can communicate with something of another species, you can communicate with any person! I have always been perceptive towards animals and I think that’s why I have never been bitten. I love dogs.

  19. My sister was bitten by a German Shepard when we were kids. I have always been weary of dogs. THis is a great resource to learn more about how to read a dog’s body language.

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