About 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year. More than 60 percent of dog bite victims are children, many attacked in their own homes by beloved pets.
Dog bites are extremely common, and most cases are preventable. That’s why the American Veterinary Medication Association made the second week of April National Dog Bite Prevention Week®.
Growing up with a dog is a wonderful experience, but harmony between kids and dogs doesn’t come naturally. Every member of the family needs to be educated about dog behavior and bite prevention to nurture a safe and happy household.
Dog Bites Destroy Families
It’s never okay to allow a dog to bite a teasing child to “teach them a lesson.”
Even small dogs can cause serious damage in a matter of moments. Minor bite wounds can become infected. Moderate to severe wounds require stitches, sometimes even reconstructive surgery, and may leave permanent scars.
Depending on the severity of the bite, the dog may have to be euthanized following an attack. Even if the dog is not euthanized, it may need to be re-homed, but few homes are willing to adopt a dog that has attacked a child.
Worst of all, a child attacked by their family dog will lose their best friend. They may be anxious around animals for the rest of their life.
Why Dogs Bite Children
Children, especially those 5-9 years old who make up 37% of young dog bite victims, enjoy kissing and hugging everyone they love. They don’t realize that dogs don’t express love the way humans do.
To a dog, a clumsy hug from a toddler can feel like a chokehold. Hugs can make a dog feel like it cannot escape. When a child brings their face close to a dog’s for a kiss, the dog might feel as though they’re being threatened. Bite injuries to the head and neck are common for this reason.
It’s important for adults to teach children not to hug and kiss dogs. Even a family dog that seems to tolerate affection can become sick, tired or simply lose their patience one day.
Adults should watch dogs for signs of stress: lip licking, yawning, avoidance of eye contact, turning their head away, and showing the whites of their eyes. If the dog seems uncomfortable with the interaction, the child should be removed immediately.
How Kids Can Safely Interact with Dogs
Kids and dogs should always be supervised. Only children over 10 years old can begin to care for a dog without an adult’s help, and only if they’re responsible and educated on bite safety.
- Allow children to ride on a dog’s back like a horse. Even giant breeds can suffer permanent spine damage from bearing the weight of a child.
- Allow children to play near the dog’s food and water bowls, especially while the dog eats.
- Allow children to play in the dog’s bed or crate, or approach the dog while they are sleeping.
- Allow small children to play tug, wrestle, or chase/be chased by the dog.
- Allow children to gently pet the dog’s chest, back and shoulders while supervised.
- Allow children to give treats with a flat, open palm, while supervised.
- Give the dog a safe, quiet place to escape when they feel overwhelmed. A crate covered with a blanket is a great choice.
- Encourage low-contact activities like teaching the dog tricks and fetch.
To learn more about Dog Bite Prevention, search the hashtag #PreventDogBites and check out the dog bite prevention resources on AVMA.org.