How to Keep Dogs and Children Bite-Free

Dog Behavior & Training > Training Your Dog >

There are currently some 4.7 million dog bites per year in the United States, most sustained by children. The majority of problems occur when dogs are not properly controlled when they are off-leash and unsupervised. Under these circumstances, aggressive events are more likely to occur, though whether they actually do, or not, depends on the temperament of the dog and, of course, the behavior of the child. Not all dogs will bite children even under the most trying of circumstances. Some are gentle – but not all.


Dominance-related problems can occur when the youngster reaches about one-and-a-half years of age and is finally toddling around confidently. This is the time when the child is likely to begin inadvertently challenging the dog by interfering with him while he is eating, patting him on the head, or disturbing him while he is resting. Some children may even try pulling the dog's tail or try to ride him like a horse. Avoiding injury to children through inappropriate behaviors such as these depends, to a large extent, on protecting the dog from the unwelcome onslaughts of children. (I.e. childproofing the dog).

For example, it makes sense to feed the dog in an area where the child will not disturb him. Avoid feeding him items like real bones or rawhide chews when the child is around, and don't give toddlers food like hotdogs or chips when they are "on the run." Small children are close to the dog's level. If they run around brandishing delicious food in front of a dominant dog, the situation is an accident waiting to happen.

Young children should be taught to pet dogs appropriately but only under close supervision. The dog should not be allowed on high places, like beds or furniture. Being up high increases the dog's confidence and the likelihood of aggression toward the child if the dog is disturbed. Dog toys should be put away and presented only during safe times when the child is not around to steal them. Children's toys should be labeled with a dab of clean-smelling antiseptic that will serve to deter the dog's interest in them. The dog's bed or crate should be in a quiet area that is remote from the toddler's warpath.

Until children are 6 years old they don't follow directions well and have to be protected against their own actions. A willful, dominant dog thus becomes another in a series of potential household disasters for the unwary parent. While electric outlets have to be fitted with protective plastic caps and stairwells and doorways have to be gated, you need to provide a safe place for your dog when you are too busy to properly supervise the child-dog interaction. A crate or X-pen may be the solution to keep childrens' wandering hands out of trouble. The added insurance provided by muzzles may also be helpful in some instances. But don't forget that, in the interests of safety, it is also possible to sequester children to limit their mobility. The use of play pens and kiddy reigns are two methods by which this can be achieved. A few simple rules help all of this fall into place:

  • Never leave dogs and young children unsupervised together. Work on the basis that anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Don't get distracted by the phone or visitors at the door without first taking steps to prevent accidents.
  • Supervision means the dog is on a lead and the child is under a grownup's watchful eye. Dog usually do not suddenly attack a child for no reason. There is nearly always a trigger and it usually comes from the child's direction.
  • If there are children in the house there should not be testicles on the dog. Be smart; neuter all males that are not intended to be used for breeding.


    Fearfulness is different from dominance, though dominance and fear are not mutually exclusive. If your dog is fearful of strangers, or acts skittishly around children, take steps to prevent him from such exposure, except as part of a retraining program. The children of the house are usually relatively safe from attacks by fear-aggressive dogs because they are familiar thus non-threatening.

    It is your children's friends, when visiting, who are the most likely targets for this type of aggression. A meek and fearful dog will simply avoid the unwelcome visitors if he can – and you should make sure this is possible. However, if pursued into inescapable corners of the home by invasive children, even a meek dog may retaliate by means of aggression designed to drive the "bogeyman" away. This is clearly a fault of failure to protect the dog from the child, rather than the other way round. The trick is to know your dog and cater to his worst fears by protecting him from them.

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