How to Prevent Your Dog From Biting Kids

When do dogs bite kids? What situations are most dangerous? Learn the triggers and techniques to avoid biting.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
5-minute read
Episode #114

In spite of claims that there’s a “dog bite epidemic,” only a small proportion of bites need more than a thorough cleaning and a Band-Aid. But that’s not much comfort if it’s your child having plastic surgery, or your dog being euthanized. This week, I’ll talk about the circumstances under which most dog bites happen, and how parents and dog guardians can help prevent them.

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Most Bites Are by Familiar Dogs

Many people worry about kids being bitten by unfamiliar dogs and stray dogs. “Stranger danger,” right? Actually, when kids are bitten, it’s most often by a familiar dog. This comes as no surprise to any dog behavior specialist who’s broken out in a cold sweat watching YouTube videos of supposedly cute interactions between dogs and tiny children. Parents chortle while their children climb and jump on dogs, pull toys out of dogs’ mouths, roll over the dog’s feet, and on and on. Well, the kids don’t know any better, but their parents should. Here are a few precautions that adults should take to make sure children are never on the receiving end of a bite:

#1 -- Be Aware of Dogs’ Legitimate Needs

Very tiny children, of course, don’t understand that animals get tired and feel pain. Slightly older children understand that animals have feelings but can’t always control their own impulses and regulate their behavior. Obviously you should make sure ear pulling and tail-lengthening exercises are off the kids’ agenda, but be mindful, too, of behavior that can annoy and irritate even if it doesn’t hurt. I remember one client whose 10-week-old toy breed puppy had begun growling at the small children in the house. It hadn’t occurred to their parents that a baby of any species needs plenty of rest, so  they allowed the kids to handle the puppy constantly. The children just wanted to carry that cute little furry item and give him hugs, but the puppy was out of his mind with exhaustion. No one was looking out for his needs, so this perfectly nice puppy had started to defend himself with growls.


About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).