Child and Dog Safety
Dog bites are a public health issue and we want to help you and your children stay safe with dogs. Data reported from Centers for Disease Control (CDC) state there are 4.7 million dog bites annually. Most of them involve young children.
Noted veterinarian and animal behavior scientist, Dr. Ian Dunbar, Ph.D., DVM, states that 99% of bites occur at the two lowest levels of severity on a scale he developed. They are described as lunging and snapping with no contact, or contact with a person resulting in no damage. Such dogs are exercising bite inhibition.
Even minor bites, however, can traumatize the victim and lead to loss of home or loss of life for the pet dog. To prevent dog bites, we must understand why they happen and whom they happen to. This is based on incomplete data as not all dog or cat bites are reported.
Dr. Katherine Albro Houpt, VMD, Ph.D., DACVP, states that 50% of children are bitten, based on CDC data. Of those, most are boys 10 years and younger. Children tend to be bitten in the face, while adults tend to be bitten in extremities.
Most bites are from dogs known to the victim, followed in frequency by bites from one’s own dog. Bites from strange dogs rank last.
Young male dogs account for 70-87% of bites, and 60% were unneutered. Tethering is a high risk factor, as is grabbing a dog’s collar. Other factors include inadequate puppy socialization, lack of training, and poor (dog) health.
There is widespread agreement among animal behaviorists that fear is the primary motivation for dog bites in most cases. Fear is a consequence of inadequate socialization, and intended or unintended provocation by people.
Young children tend to be loud, impulsive, quick, and uncoordinated. They often pursue dogs that are frightened and attempt to flee, pull on ears, kick and taunt dogs, or may attempt to ride them like a horse.
A frightened dog’s first inclination is to get away; when that is not possible, it goes through a continuum of behavioral warning displays. The final behavior is a bite, of varying severity. Any dog can bite, if sufficiently provoked.
Young children are not responsible and must be supervised in the presence of dogs of any age. A dog cannot be presumed to be “responsible” for the child’s behavior either, as their intelligence is roughly on a par with that of a pre-language human toddler.
Keys to Bite Prevention
Dog owners need to be responsible stewards, thoroughly socialize puppies, train their dogs, do not tie them out, and proactively supervise them when children are around. In Wisconsin a dog owner is civilly liable for any harm their dog does.
Parents need to be responsible for the behavior of their children and teach them appropriate ways to interact with dogs, just as they teach children how to be safe with a kitchen stove and sharp utensils, the living room fireplace, and how to safely cross the street.
If a child is too young to respond to instruction, physical management is necessary to keep children and dogs apart unless an adult is watchful and close enough to intervene.
Children need to be educated in age-appropriate manners. This includes good parental modeling, interrupting unsafe behavior and encouraging safe behavior. Children who learn empathy do not torment dogs, or other children. Never approach a tethered dog, or a fearful one. Do not disturb a sleeping dog, or a sick/injured dog. When a dog is eating or enjoying a favorite treat, leave it alone. Dogs are not meant to be ridden.
We want you to be safe with dogs and now you have good information to use.
 “The Dominance Myth: Fearfulness, Reactivity & Aggression in Dogs” seminar. Madison (WI) 2013.
 “Canine Aggression” lecture, 10th Annual Applied Animal Behavior Conference. Madison (WI) 2015.
 Attorney Kenneth M. Phillips, www.dogbitelaw.org.
 18. Stanley Coren. (2009). “Dogs’ Intelligence On Par With Two-year-old Human, Canine Researcher Says.” American Psychological Association. Article in Science Daily, August 10, 2009.
 WI Stat 1274.02(1) “Owner’s liability for damage caused by a dog.”