Dog Bite Safety Tips: A Parent Guide

Dog bites are a leading cause of severe injury to children under 12. Here’s an easy safety guide for parents and dog owners aimed at reducing child dog bite injuries.

There are nearly 90 million pet dogs in the United States, averaging 1.5 dogs for every American household.¹

Chances are good that on any given day, your child will encounter a dog at home or in the neighborhood.

Two-thirds of the children treated for dog bites at major trauma centers are under the age of twelve, and more than half of those kids suffered bites to the face, head and neck.²

Facial injuries to a child can cause more than cosmetic damage.

According the American Academy of Head and Neck Surgeons, facial injuries in kids are different than adult injuries. A child’s face still has lots of growing to do, and future growth will affect how well the child heals and recovers.³

Parent education and child safety training can help reduce the number of serious dog bite injuries to kids.

We’ve gathered the latest dog safety recommendations for parents of young children.

Preventing Dog Bites at Home

Kids are more likely to be bitten by a dog they already know, usually at home.

There is no completely “safe” breed of dog for homes with kids.

Parents will always have to be diligent about their child’s safety around family pets. Even that tiny teacup poodle-mix can puncture your toddler’s face.

Infants and toddlers must never be left unsupervised with any dog.

Babies and toddlers are noisy, active, sometimes smelly, and can unintentionally provoke even the calmest dog.

Aggressive dogs, especially a dog who has already bitten or nipped at anyone, should not be in a home with children. Not only does the dog put the child at risk, but the parents could be found criminally negligent if the child is injured.

But some dog breeds are known to be dangerous and may even be banned or restricted in your community.

Be familiar with the dangerous dog laws where you live. Having an “outlaw” dog jeopardizes your kid’s safety, your finances, and may also land you in jail if your dog severely injures anyone.

Dog Safety for Babies and Pre-schoolers

Very young children must rely on adults to protect them from dog bites.

Babies and toddlers are the most vulnerable age group, with the highest rates of death from dog attacks, and severe injuries to the face and head.

The American Academy of Pediatricians recommends:

Never leave a small child and a dog alone together, no matter if it is the family dog, a dog that is known to you, or a dog that you have been assured is well behaved. Any dog can bite.

Parents should be fully informed of potential safety risks before deciding who will watch their youngster.

Ask if there may be dogs at the day-care center, or the home of any babysitter, family or friend who may be supervising your child.

Teach Dog Safety to Older Children

Here’s a list of rules to review with your children to ensure they enjoy a safe and happy relationship with dogs.

How to Behave with Dogs

  • Dogs don’t like hugs and kisses. Hugging the family dog or face-to-face contact are the leading cause of bites to the face.
  • Instead, teach kids to gently pet the dog on the chest or the side of the neck.
  • Always treat your dog with kindness.
  • Never hit, kick, slap or bite a dog, or pull on its ears, tail or paws.
  • Leave the dog alone if it is doing something else.
  • Never bother a dog that has puppies, a dog with toys, or a dog that is eating or sleeping.
  • Stay calm. It will help the dog stay calm too.
  • Speak quietly and move slowly. Shouting and sudden movement can startle a dog.

Recognize Dog Warning Signs

Be aware of dog body language that can happen before it bites:

  • Yawning or licking its lips
  • Growling or showing teeth
  • Holding or wagging its tail up high, with still body
  • Rigid body
  • Showing the whites of its eyes

Safety Tips for Strange Dogs

  • Always leave service dogs alone while they are working.
  • Do not approach a dog that you don’t know without asking the owner first.
  • Never approach a dog that is tied up, behind a fence, or in a car.
  • If you find a lost dog, call the police or animal control.
  • If you want to pet a dog, ask the owner for permission.
  • If the owner says it’s OK, hold out your hand in a fist for the dog to sniff. If he shows interest, you can scratch him under the chin and say hello.
  • Don’t pet the top of a dog’s head.

Protecting Yourself from an Aggressive Dog

  • If you are suddenly in a vulnerable position with an aggressive dog, keep as still as possible.
  • If a loose dog approaches you, stand still like a tree. Keep your hands at your sides and stay quiet and calm. Look down at your feet, not directly at the dog.
  • If you are on the ground, curl up into a ball. Stay quiet and calm. Look down at your knees, not at the dog.

Be A Safety-Minded Dog Owner

All dog owners, with or without children in the home, will benefit from common practices know to improve dog obedience, lessen dog aggression, and reduce the likelihood that your dog will bite or attack.

Consider spaying or neutering your dog

Neutering helps reduce aggression in dogs, especially in males. Un-neutered dogs are more than twice as likely to bite than neutered dogs.

Female dogs that are in heat or nursing their puppies are more dangerous than spayed females, and their behavior can be unpredictable.

Talk to your veterinarian or local humane organization or animal shelter for information on low-cost spay/neuter assistance.

Train and socialize your dog

Ensure that your dog interacts well with people and other dogs. Teach it good manners in the home and in public.

Basic training is as important for the owner as it is for the dog, and socialization is the key to a well-adjusted adult dog.

It’s essential that puppies between eight and 16 weeks old are exposed to a variety of people, places, dogs, and other animals.

As dogs age, continue to expose them to these things to ensure they are well socialized throughout their lives.

Supervise your dog. Dogs that are left on their own may feel uncertain and defensive, or they might become overly confident.

Appropriately contain your dog

Twenty-four percent of fatal dog attacks involve loose dogs that are off their owner’s property.

Dogs that are allowed to roam beyond the yard may see your entire neighborhood as their “territory” and defend it aggressively.

By obeying local leash laws and properly containing your dog within the boundaries of your property, you will not only be respecting the dog laws in your community but will also be keeping your dog safe from cars, other dogs and unforeseen dangers.

Don’t chain your dog

Despite the need to restrain your dog and make sure it knows its boundaries, it’s not a good idea to keep any dog chained up.

Chained dogs are nearly three times more likely to bite, as tethering or chaining dogs increases their stress levels, protectiveness and vulnerability, thereby increasing the potential for aggression.

Fencing is a much better solution.

Additional Dog Safety Resources

American Humane Association: Just for Kids
RSPCA: Dogs and Children
Doggone Safe: Bite Prevention

Charles R. Gueli, Esq. is a personal injury attorney with over 20 years of legal experience. He’s admitted to the NY State Bar, and been named a Super Lawyer for the NY Metro area, an exclusive honor awarded to the top five percent of attorneys. Charles has worked extensively in the areas of auto accidents,... Read More >>