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
Dog with girl

Some other factors to consider: Is your dog old and achy? Does your small dog need a refuge, safe from tumbling children? Has there been a fight at the dog park, or a lot of noise from nearby construction? Watch for stressors piling up—even a normally even-tempered dog can get irritable by the end of a long, hard day. Little Hannah trips and falls, landing right on the hip that’s sore from getting vaccinated, and snap.

#2 -- Watch Your Dog’s Body Language

A happy, relaxed dog moves softly and loosely. The muscles of her face will be soft; she may squint and her ears may be back slightly. Her mouth will probably be open, and the corners of her lips will be pulled back. Suppose your dog is resting but makes a smiley face and thumps her tail on the ground when your child approaches: good sign! If she gets up and moves away, though, she’s signaling a wish to be left alone just then. And if she moves away whenever your child comes near, get help. Watch excited play closely, and give everybody a breather if either the dog or the kids seem to be spiraling up, up, up.

Browsing Amazon turns up any number of books with cover pictures of kids hugging dogs. Some of these are even books purporting to educate children on how to interact with dogs! Too bad most dogs dislike being hugged. You can see it in their faces: they look away from the person hugging them, and their mouths are shut tight.  Now, I don’t know anybody, myself included, who doesn’t sometimes just have to hug her dog. And there are those few dogs who actually like hugs. In general, though, it’s best to limit hugs and to pair them with something your dog really does enjoy. A brief, gentle hug from a well-loved 5-year-old could be followed by a chest scratch, for example, or a biscuit offered in the flat of the hand.

For realistic and informed resources on managing dog-kid relations, check out the website Doggone Safe and Colleen Pelar’s book Living with Kids and Dogs … Without Losing Your Mind

#3 -- Watch Out for Common Touchy Situations

Reliable data are hard to come by, but probably the single most common dog-bites-kid trigger is food guarding. The dog’s eating; he stiffens up as the toddler approaches; the toddler, being a toddler, doesn’t recognize the warning. Small children’s faces are near many dogs’ mouth height, and even an inhibited bite can badly damage delicate skin.


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).

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