Everyone loves a cute internet video of an interaction between a child and a pet, but sometimes these interactions can be dangerous for both child and pet. Over 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year in the US. Almost 1 in 5 people bitten by dogs require medical attention, with at least half of those being children. Children are the most common victims of dog bites and are far more likely to be severely injured.
Dog bites can cause liability issues for dog owners and even more issues for the dog involved. Minnesota law states: “If a dog, without provocation, attacks or injures any person who is acting peaceably in any place where the person may lawfully be, the owner of the dog is liable in damages to the person so attacked or injured to the full amount of the injury sustained.” If a dog bites someone and is current on rabies vaccination it may be confined for 10 days in the home for observation or as directed by local authorities. A dog that is not currently vaccinated for rabies may be required by local authorities to be confined for 10 days at a veterinary clinic or other secure location at the owner’s expense. If the animal dies or shows signs suggestive of rabies during the ten days, it must be submitted for rabies testing.
Why do dogs bite?
- Aggression – if a dog gets into an excited state, especially those with high prey drive, their fight or flight response can be more easily, and they may act aggressively
- Defense – dogs may bite to protect their territory (or mother’s may protect young puppies) if they feel someone is intruding
- Resource guarding – dogs may guard toys, food, and other items of high value to them
- Stress/Anxiety – similar to biting out of aggression, dogs who are fearful or anxious may be more prone to biting if they are further startled or feel cornered
- Pain – if your dog is painful or feels sick they may be more prone to snapping or biting to show their discomfort
- During play – sometimes a dog can get overly excited during play, especially with tug or wrestling, and may nip or bite without meaning to cause harm
Unfortunately, all dog breeds and sizes are capable of biting if put in the wrong situation.
Situations and behaviors to be aware of:
- Hugs/kisses: children love to show affection for their pets by giving them hugs and kisses. Unfortunately, dogs do not exhibit affection in the same way we do and putting your face directly in your pet’s face can appear aggressive to them
- Running/chasing: hunting and herding breeds of dog can get excited by children who run and incite the dog to chase them, making them more likely to bite or nip
- Feeding and sleeping times: educate children about leaving dogs alone while they are eating, playing with a favorite toy, or sleeping as dogs may see the child intruding as a threat. Allow dogs to have a safe space away from children.
- Lip licking/ averting gaze: if you notice the dog is licking their lips or averting their gaze away from a child, separate the dog and child as these can be behavioral warning signs of anxiety and nervousness. These dogs need to be given an “out” so they do not feel cornered and bite in defense.
- Unfamiliar dogs: as early as possible children should be taught to be cautious around unfamiliar dogs, as well as proper etiquette for introducing themselves to a new dog
- Supervision: children and dogs should never be left unsupervised together. Dogs should be kenneled or barricaded away from children while they are alone.
- Obedience: when they are old enough, involving children in obedience training can be a great way to encourage trust between pets and children
References & more information about dog behavior:
Creating the Perfect Puppy by Sophia Yin
Decoding Your dog by Debra Horwitz, John Ciribassi, and Steve Dale
AVMA Dog Bite Prevention
CDC Dog Bite Prevention
Minnesota Board of Animal Health Rabies Information
2018 Minnesota Statues Section 347.22