Dog Bite Prevention

Last week was National Dog Bite Prevention week.  I missed it. Oops.  But I did read a BabyCenter post about it, which I’m not going to link to because it’s full of misinformation, and frankly, inflammatory.  But it really pissed me off.  So I am going to write an accurate post about dog bite prevention. I am a veterinarian, after all.

According to the CDC, approximately 4.5 million dog bites occur each year.  One in five requires medical attention. (Note, that does not mean a mauling, it includes relatively minor bites requiring some antibiotics with or without stitches, like Ella’s bite.) Most of the bites occur by family pets to people in their own family.  A large percentage of those bites occur to children under the age of nine.

Another important fact to note: All Dogs Will Bite.  Even your cute little fluffy white dog will bite if provoked.  Different dogs have different tolerance levels, but biting is a natural defensive instinct for dogs and they will bite if they feel threatened.

Children are at greater risk for receiving a bite because the way they interact with dogs is often not appropriate or safe.  Even as a veterinarian, my own children do things that could (and have) resulted in a bite. These include taking food away from a dog, petting a dog while its eating, adding food to the bowl while the dog is eating, stepping on the dog or part of the dog, and pulling the dog’s fur or ears or penis (male dogs do not appreciate that).

I firmly believe having pets enriches a child’s life and helps them develop empathy and care giving skills.  So, if you have a dog, there a things you can do to help minimize dog bites.

1. Supervise

The easiest thing to do. If the dog and children are interacting, watch them to make sure everyone’s playing nicely and your dog isn’t getting stressed or nervous by the interaction.  If you think your dog isn’t enjoying the playing, give him a break in another room.

2. Teach Children the Rules

We do not play/touch/or anything with the dog when he’s eating. Meal time is alone time for the dog.

Only gentle touching, no pulling, tugging, etc.

Let sleeping dog’s lie. It’s true. Leave a sleeping dog alone. A dog startled from sleep may instinctively bite (like mine did).

3. Do Not Approach Strange Dogs

Not all dogs like children and it is not okay to run up to a dog and pet them without asking.

4. Always let a dog smell you the first time you meet

It’s non-threatening to the dog.  Then pet on the shoulders/back/under the chin.  Putting your hand over a dog’s head is a threatening move to a dog. Some dogs won’t appreciate that.

5. Keep Your Dog on Leash

For the love of God, people, seriously. When walking it is the law everywhere to have your dog on leash. Your dog is not special. It needs to be on leash. It’s for everyone’s safety, including your dog’s.  If you see a dog off leash you can call animal control and report it. I do sometimes.

A note on dog breeds:

Here’s my bias, in case you were wondering.  I do not believe in breed specific legislation. I believe that “aggressive” breeds are aggressive due to poor training and human involvement rather than an innate tendency to bite/attack people. I believe

I adore Pitt Bulls, which is actually a large group of similar breeds.   Pitts and other breeds have strong prey drives. Doxies (weiner dogs) were also bred for that reason and have strong prey drives, too. That means they will chase/hunt smaller animals.  It may mean they aren’t super safe to have if you have cats, for example.  In larger, prey driven breeds, like Pitt Bulls, that quality along with their fierce loyalty and strong desire to please, can be exploited to make them aggressive towards people. A well raised Pitt is a sweet dog and will defend your family.  A hundred years ago, they were known as the “babysitter” dog and were one of the most common house pets for their loyalty and willingness to protect the children in the family. (Click over to the link to see some adorable turn of the century pictures of kids and pitties).

That said, I don’t like Chows.  However, that is likely because that is the only breed of dog that ever bit me. It was my first week as a kennel attendant in a veterinary hospital and it was an aggressive dog and I was not properly trained to handle it.  So in my attempt to get it out of the run I backed it into a corner and put my hand over it’s head to slip the leash on.  Clearly aggressive behavior to him on my part. He got me in the webbing of my fingers and I got out of the run.  And Chihuahuas are my least favorite breed to work on because far too many of them try to bite while mommy or daddy reinforce the behavior by coddling them.

My point being, when reading anything on the internet, make sure you know the bias that exists, there almost always is one. Don’t believe everything you read and read links in articles to make sure they say what they’re supposed to say. Then make up your own mind.


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8 Responses to “Dog Bite Prevention”

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  1. Kristin
    Twitter: kristinglas

    These are excellent guidelines and I was needing a reminder. Our dog is a real grump so we leave him at home or at the in laws. We just can’t trust that a little person won’t sneak up on him.
    Kristin´s last post ..Celebrating 605!

    • Jessica Anne says:

      That is some smart ownership. I love when people understand their dog and have realistic expectations for them. Not all dogs are people lovers. Ours frequently stays at Sean’s work because she’s a handful and maybe too much for the in-laws.

  2. Jen @ Lita's World
    Twitter: litasworld

    GREAT post!!! one that all parents should read. Luckily our little Frenchie is very tolerant of kids because so many children just come on up to him and start prodding and petting him…while their parents watch assuming he’s little so it will be ok (thankfully it is) but I’m amazed how many parents just assume so! Our last little dog, a Boston Terrier, while being a doll was also likely to jump up on kids and do a little lick/nip thing. So, of course, we were always on watch when we were out and about, but still, very often parents would just let their kids come up to him without any concern.
    Jen @ Lita’s World´s last post ..Cinnaholic = JOY

    • Jessica Anne says:

      It’s all about knowing your dog and your kids. Some kids are better than others with dogs and some dogs are better with kids than others. It really is amazing how many people just assume dogs are all friendly, especially little dogs.

  3. Kate says:

    Hello and thanks so much for the imformative article. I know that this is late as the article was written over 8 months ago but I was curious to know what to do in my situation.
    I am a mother of two kids 8 and 5. My husband and I live in live in Los Angeles. We have two dogs. A 2 year old golden retriever that we rescued about a year ago and a 4 year old terrier mix (9 lbs) that we rescued as a puppy. We absaloutly love both dogs but the terrier has always been a problem. I know that it is most likly our doing but she is a pretty mean dog with kids. She has bitten both kids numerous times even drawing blood. the dog snuggled on my sons lap today bit him and drew blood just because he shifted in his seat! The dog sleeps with my daughter and will growl at her for anything. Dispite all of this we don’t want to give her away and would love to fix the problem. When I told the kids that I may send the dog to live with grandma they cried! Any advise is welcome!

    • Jessica Anne says:

      It is definitely not uncommon for dogs, especially small ones, to be wary or aggressive around children. Children move quickly and aren’t as predictable as adults which can be scary or threatening for dogs.

      A couple things I would suggest. First, if you can and you’re in L.A., Karen Sueda is a veterinary behaviorist I highly recommend. She helped with our dog for her aggression towards other dogs and does a fabulous job. She can assess the situation, observe how your dog interacts with your family, and provide exercises/suggestions to help and prescribe medication if that is necessary. Here is a link to where she practices, she does make house calls as well.

      Second, try to get your kids to be part of training process. If your dog is not going to be aggressive, have one of them feed her. Have them give her treats if she sits or does another behavior they ask. She should only get a treat if she does something and make them her only source of treats so they can build a relationship. Of course, you want to be careful to avoid a situation your dog finds scary or threatening. If she’s protective of her food around them, then that isn’t a good idea. When she bites and your children leave her alone or do what she wants, it reinforces the biting behavior. She bites, she gets her way, so she bites more.

      Hope that helps some. I applaud you for trying to find a solution before rehoming her. It’s definitely a tough situation.

  4. Kate says:

    Hello again and thanks so much for the very quick reply! I will get in contact with Karen Sueda ASAP! Great ideas regarding the kids helping with the training. I will have them feed her from now on too. She is fine with them giving her her food but she doesn’t like it if they come too near her after she is fed as I think she fears that they will take her food. ( I’ll make sure that they have her sit before serving her )
    Thanks again,


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