Why Children Get Bitten by Dogs and How to Protect Them

This post first appeared on Care2.com

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention every year more than four million people in the United Sates are bitten by dogs. Most people are bitten by their own dog or one they know and most of these victims are children under the age of 13.

The results of a study of dog bites in children published in the American Journal of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery found that dog bite injuries in the head and neck disproportionately affect children, and have been previously reported to account for 3-4 percent of all pediatric emergency visits, and up to 40 percent of all pediatric traumas. According to the study, these injuries can lead to disfiguring scars and lengthy treatments and the need for facial plastic and reconstructive surgery.

Why are so many children bitten by dogs?

“First of all children are not taught how to approach, handle or behave around dogs,” said Liz Gruen, a certified dog trainer and owner of Dog Training with Liz located in Palm Bay, FL. “And secondly, adults are not educated to the fact that even if they think their dog would never bite anyone, kids need to be supervised at all times when around dogs.” Even the friendliest dogs can be uncomfortable with a child’s quick movements and loud tone of voice, say Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) experts. Children tend to get excited around dogs and can approach them quickly, talk loudly and try to hug the animal. Any one of these actions can easily result in a bite.

Make Training a Family Affair

When Gruen goes to a client’s home she involves the whole family in the training process. She teaches children as young as 3 years how to respect the dog’s space, and every family member learns how to start and stop a game with the dog before it escalates into nipping or biting. In her Kids and Canine Training classes, Gruen talks to her young students about crate training, feeding dogs, walking and cleaning up after them and the importance of socialization. Students learn how to touch a dog’s feet, ears and tail and when it’s time to stop touching them. The classes also cover basic commands like sit, stay and come and how to give hand signals. Young children feel empowered when they learn how to work with their dogs, the trainer said.

childrentrainingdogCollin and Brenna practice basic obedience with family dog Tullie. Dog trainer Liz Gruen said it’s important to involve children in the training process.

Perhaps one of the biggest lessons the youngsters take away from Gruen’s class is to respect their four-legged friends. “Children need to learn that they can’t be picking the dog up, squeezing him or forcing him to play when he is not in the mood,” Gruen said. “Of course ultimately these rules need to be reinforced by the parents. No matter how much time I spend training the kids, it’s the parents who have to follow through and make sure they are respecting the dog.”

Bite Prevention Tips for Parents

  • Never get a dog on impulse. It’s important to do research and choose a breed that’s a good fit for the family. There are many reputable trainers who are willing to do free consultations with families to help them make a good decision when it comes to adding a dog to the household.
  • Stay away from buying a puppy in a pet store because you truly don’t know the background of the dog. Puppies that are too closely bred can have behavioral issues that could lead to bites.
  • Whether you are buying the dog from a reputable breeder or adopting from a shelter, make sure that the dog has been temperament tested around children and other dogs. Adopting a dog that’s living in a foster home with children is a good way to go because you know the dog is used to being around children.
  • It will take a week or two for a dog to adjust to his new home. Whether you bring home a puppy or a full grown dog, children need to be taught to respect the dog and his space.
  • Dogs can experience side effects after vaccinations—soreness at the site of the shots or just a general sense of malaise. It’s important that children leave the dog alone and let him rest on the day he receives his shots.
  • Obedience training is a must for the family dog. It’s a good idea to involve the whole family in the training and everybody should follow the same rules and commands helping to set the dog up for success.
  • Roughhousing around dogs is not a good idea. It’s not uncommon for a dog to nip or bite friends or neighbors who are over for a playdate in an attempt to “defend” his pack member. The solution is to either crate the dog while the children are playing or to confine the playing to an area away from the dog.
  • More bites happen in the summer months. This is likely because children and dogs are frequently together outside and dogs—like people—can become irritable when they are overheated. Children and dogs need to be supervised by adults both inside and outside the house.

Source: Liz Gruen of Dog Training with Liz The American Veterinary Medical Associationoffers more information on dog bite prevention and living with dogs.