A recent survey indicated that 54.4% of US households own a dog and that there are a total of 77.8 million dogs owned in the USA (Industry Trends, 2016). A 2014 survey of Canadians revealed that 34% of Canadian households contain at least one dog, resulting in an estimated population of 6.4 million dogs in Canada (Canadian Animal Health Institute, n.d.).
While dogs are generally cooperative and social animals who live and work in harmony with people, sometimes dogs bite. Statistics indicate 4.5 million dog bites occur in the USA each year and that, among children, the rate of dog bites is highest for children between the ages of 5 and 9 years old (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2015).
Luckily studies indicate that there is a lot people can do to avoid the risk of a dog bite to a child or an adult.
A study published in 2015 analyzed the behavior of the human immediately preceding a dog bite to the face. The researchers found that the top three behaviors preceding a bite to the face were the human bending over a dog, the human putting their face close to the dog’s face, and gazing between victim and dog. More than two thirds of the victims were children, none of the victims was an adult dog owner and it was only adult dogs that bit the face. More than half of the bites were directed towards the nose and lip areas of the victim’s face. (Rezac, Rezac, & Slama, 2015)
A 2011 study showed that seemingly benign interactions between a child and the family dog most often lead to bites. These interactions were often initiated by the child and included brushing, cuddling, kissing and petting the dog. (Reisner, et al., 2011)
Psychologists discovered that children understand the risks of approaching an “angry” dog but that they are unaware that they should show the same caution around frightened dogs.
Two groups of children aged 4-5 and 6-7 years were studied and results showed that while the children were less likely to approach an angry dog there was no difference in their inclination to approach a happy or frightened dog. (Staffordshire University, 2016)
Another study published in 2015 investigated whether preschool children can be taught how to interpret dogs’ behaviours, with the purpose of helping avoid dog bites.
Three to five-year-old children were divided into two groups. One group received training on dog behavior while the other group acted as the control group and did an activity related to wild animals. The group who received training in dog behavior were reported to be significantly better at judging a dog’s emotional state and were able to refer to relevant behaviors to support their judgement after the training. The results of this study are promising as they indicate that preschool children can be taught how to correctly interpret dogs’ behaviours. (Lakestani & Donaldson, 2015)
Another study showed that parents were present in 84% of cases when a child under 7 years of age was bitten. The conclusion was that close supervision is necessary to help children avoid behaviors that may lead to being bitten by a dog. (Reisner, et al., 2011)
A 2003 study on dog bites to children showed that education could be the preventive measure in reducing the frequency of dog bites to children. The study concluded that, out of 100 accidents, 67 children might not have been bitten had they and their parents been adequately educated on safe conduct towards dogs. (Kahn, Bauche, & Lamoureux, 2003)
Parents and other adults can help children avoid the risk of a dog bite by closely supervising children when the children are around dogs (including familiar dogs), by learning what constitutes hazardous human behavior around dogs, by learning about and educating children on the signs of a fearful or stressed dog, by managing children around dogs by using baby gates when an adult cannot closely supervise the interactions, and by providing dogs with a childfree space of their own.
Jane Bowers, B.A., CABC, CPDT-KA
Jane Bowers has been training dogs for over two decades. She teaches people to train their dogs in group and private training courses and has a keen interest in assisting dogs with behavioral issues. Her company is Dogs of Distinction Canine Training Inc.Jane has a monthly newspaper column on dog related topics and is a former host of a live call in TV show on animals. She is a strong advocate for force free and humane training methods for all animals.
Jane has a degree in psychology and is certified as a dog trainer through the Certification Council of Professional Pet Dog Trainers and as a behaviour consultant through the International Association of Behavior Consultants and through the Association of Animal Behavior Professionals. These organizations require a minimum number of continuing education units be obtained to retain certification. She is also a professional member of The Pet Professional Guild, an organization committed to force free training of animals and the Association of Professional Dog Trainers. a professional organization of individual trainers who are committed to being better trainers through education.
Jane is the content creator of the online course Assessing and Interpreting Dog Behaviour, which is a course for law enforcement personnel who meet unfamiliar dogs in the course of their duties. She is the author of Perfect Puppy Parenting, a guide to raising a happy, confident, well-behaved dog.
Jane spent 17 years working for Customs Border Services and in joint teams with US Homeland Security and the RCMP. She spent a further 8 years working as an Animal Control Officer and Bylaw Enforcement Officer.
Jane lives on a small farm with dogs, sheep, donkeys, and chickens. The dogs each came from situations that prevented them from living in their original homes. The dogs range in size and age and with the dog training and behavioral work, whether it’s participating in the development of an online training course, working with a client’s dog or tracking a lost pet or animal.