Preventing Dog Bites in Children

This is National Dog Bite Prevention Week in the US, so I thought I’d look at two recent studies that investigate dog bite prevention in children. Both studies are based on interviews with parents and children, after the children had been admitted to a hospital emergency department.

A study by Ilana Reisner et al asked children who had been bitten by dogs about the circumstances of the bite. They wanted to know things like whether it happened inside or outside, and what the dog and child were doing immediately prior to the bite. Most indoor dog bites happened in the dog’s home (whether or not it was also the child’s home), and most outdoor dog bites happened near to the dog’s home.

They identified two main circumstances for dog bites; younger children tended to be bitten inside the home, often by a dog that they lived with, whereas older children tended to be bitten outside, by dogs they did not know. For the younger children, there was often some interaction between the child and the dog prior to the bite, which was usually initiated by the child.

They suggest that children should not approach a dog that is lying down or stationary, and that adults need to pay close attention to interactions between young children and dogs in the home. Preventing the outside dog bites is more difficult, since the dogs were not under control or supervision at the time. They wonder if a proactive approach of people reporting dogs that regularly escape their yards or lunge aggressively from behind fences would help with this. Obviously, ensuring that dogs actually stay in their yards would play a major part in preventing this kind of bite.

And this year, a study by Cinnamon Dixon and colleagues, looked at knowledge about preventing dog bites, and whether more education would be beneficial. Participants included children presenting with dog bites as well as those presenting with other conditions. Children and their parents were given questionnaires about education about dog bites, demographics (for the parents), and a knowledge test about how to interact with dogs. For example, a photo of a dog eating from its food bowl was accompanied by the question “Should you pet this dog?” (the correct answer is no).

Almost three quarters of the parents currently owned a dog, and a prior dog bite was reported in almost a quarter of the children. Although almost all of the parents passed the knowledge test, only 57% of the children did, suggesting that more education for children would be useful.

No link was found between a previous dog bite and children’s scores on the knowledge test, which could mean that families are not learning from a dog bite situation.  The questionnaire showed that parents would welcome some kind of formal education for their children on preventing dog bites.

Both of these studies focus on the child, but there are implications for dog owners. Make sure you carefully supervise all interactions between young children and your dog, and teach the child about how they should behave around dogs. If you leave your dog in the yard, make sure it can’t escape, and train it not to snap or lunge at passers-by. Don’t keep it permanently chained, as that can lead to aggression. And of course, there is no substitute for a well-socialized and well-trained dog.

The American Veterinary Medical Association has lots of useful information about preventing dog bites, including statistics, advice, and a podcast with Victoria Stillwell, 

What are your tips for preventing dog bites? Who do you think should teach children about dogs?

Dixon, C.A., Mahabee-Gittens, E.M., Hart, K.W. and Lindsell, C.J. (2012) Dog bite prevention: An assessment of child knowledge. The Journal of Pediatrics, 160, 337-341.
Reisner, I.R., Nance, M.L., Zeller, J.S., Houseknecht, E.M., Kassam-Adams, N. and Wiebe, D.J. (2011) Behavioural characteristics associated with dog bites to children presenting to an urban trauma centre. Injury Prevention, 17, 348-353.
Photo: Parinya Feungchan (

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