Most kids don't think a cuddly dog would ever hurt them, but the fact is about 4.7 million dog bites occur every year in the United States — and more than half of kids bitten are under age 14. Dog bites can be much more than an innocent little nip, and some require hospitalization or even surgery.
Teaching kids a few basic dog manners, though, will let them — and dogs — enjoy safer encounters.
Other People's Pooches
Any breed of dog might bite. And just because a dog is small or seems friendly doesn't mean it can't do some damage. Even the nicest, most well-trained family dog may snap if it's startled, scared, threatened, agitated, angry, or hungry.
No matter how well you think you know the dog, always supervise your kids around someone else's pet. To reduce the risk of bites, teach kids these safety guidelines:
- Always ask the owner if it's OK to pet the dog.
- Let the dog see and sniff you before petting it.
- Do not run toward or away from a dog.
- If an unfamiliar dog approaches you, stay calm, don't look it directly in the eye, and stand still or back up slowly.
- If a dog tries to bite you, put anything you can between you and the dog. If knocked over by a dog, roll into a ball, cover your face, and lie still.
A lot of the responsibility for preventing dog bites falls on the owner's shoulders. Before getting a dog, talk to a professional (such as a veterinarian or reputable breeder or pet shelter) to discuss what type of dog or breed is best for your household. Ask questions about the dog's temperament and health. A dog with a history of aggression is not suitable for a household with kids.
If your family has a dog, make sure it gets all required immunizations and regular vet checkups. Also, have it spayed or neutered. Consider taking your dog to obedience school to make it more social and obedient, and thus less likely to bite someone.
When you take your dog out in public, always keep it on a leash so you can be in control if its behavior gets out of hand. If you have kids, closely supervise them when they're around the dog and never leave an infant or toddler alone with your pet.
Even if you don't own a dog, make sure that your kids understand some "nevers" about being around dogs:
- Never squeeze dogs too tight, drop them, fall on them, or jump on them.
- Never tease dogs or pull their tails or ears.
- Never bother dogs while they're eating, sleeping, or taking care of their puppies.
- Never take a toy or bone away from a dog or play tug of war with a dog.
- Never feed a dog a treat with your fingers. Put the treat in your palm with your fingers and thumb held close together.
- Never crowd a dog or back it into a corner.
If a Dog Bites Your Child
If your child is bitten by a dog, contact your doctor, particularly if the dog is not yours. Some dog bites need to be treated in an emergency department. The force of a dog's bite can actually result in a fracture (broken bone). Some dog bites can seem minor on the surface but can cause deeper injuries to muscle, bone, nerves and tendons.
While rare, rabies and other kinds of infections from dogs like bacterial infections can occur and should be treated as quickly as possible. Be sure to ask your doctor if your child needs antibiotics to prevent a dog bite from becoming infected. Not all cuts (lacerations) due to dog bites are stitched because this type of repair can increase the risk of infection. Your doctor will decide which lacerations should be stitched.
Try to have the following information available to help the doctor determine the risk of infection and what kind of treatment, if any, your child needs:
- the name and location of the dog's owners
- if the dog is up to date on its vaccinations
- whether the attack was provoked or unprovoked (an example of a provoked attack would include approaching a dog while it's eating or while it's taking care of its puppies). Knowing the attack was unprovoked has nothing to do with assigning blame, but it lets the doctor know that the dog could be sick, which might affect treatment decisions.
- your child's immunization status and any chronic medical history
Reviewed by: Yamini Durani, MD
Date reviewed: January 2012
Originally reviewed by: Nicole Green, MD