two dogs

Most dog bites come from canines you know


June 28, 2016

These lessons can help protect kids from dog bites around your four-legged friends.


So it begins again. Summer is here, school is out and we have already seen a few cases of dog bites coming into Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. As the weather warms and more children play outside, the unfortunate but likely occurrences of dog bites and attacks become far too common.

Would it surprise you to know that most dog bites come from dogs you already know, dogs owned by family or close friends? Did you know that kids who like dogs and live with dogs are the ones most likely to be bitten?

Dog bite facts

  • Each year, more than 4.5 million people in the U.S. are bitten by dogs.
  • Almost 1 in 5 people bitten by dogs require medical attention.
  • Every year, more than 800,000 Americans receive medical attention for dog bites; at least half of them are children.
  • Children are, by far, the most common victims of dog bites and are far more likely to be severely injured.
  • Most dog bites affecting young children occur during everyday activities and while interacting with familiar dogs.
  • Senior citizens are the second most common dog bite victims.

Bites frequently damage the face and lips, making proper repair especially difficult (and expensive), often affecting the individual permanently in visible and invisible ways. Sadly, deaths also can occur.

A common question asked is what breed or breeds of dogs are most “dangerous.” Although this is a common concern, singling out one or two breeds can result in a false sense of security. On average about 16 people in the United States die annually as a result of dog attacks, the CDC notes, which makes it difficult to draw strong statistical conclusions about particular breeds.

Teach children how to prevent dog bites

When you’re teaching children about dog bite prevention and how to be safe around dogs, keep it simple. Here are some easy tips that you can use to help kids understand the importance of respecting dogs and avoiding bites:

  • When the owner is with a dog, always ask the owner for permission to pet the dog.
  • Teach children to confidently, quietly walk away if they’re confronted by an aggressive dog. Instruct them to stand still if a dog goes after them, then take a defensive position. It often helps to tell a child to “be a tree:” stand quietly, with hands low and clasped in front, remain still and keep the head down as if looking at the feet. If the child is knocked down, teach him to cover his head and neck with the arms and curl into a ball.
  • Teach children to avoid escalating the situation by yelling, running, hitting or making sudden movements toward the dog.
  • Teach children not to bother a dog if it goes to bed or to his/her crate. Enforce the idea that the bed or crate is the dog’s space to be left alone.
  • Teach children that the dog has to want to play. When the dog leaves, he leaves — he’ll return for more play if he feels like it.
  • Teach kids never to tease dogs by taking their toys, food or treats, or by pretending to hit or kick.
  • Teach kids to never pull a dog’s ears or tail, climb on or try to ride dogs.
  • Keep dogs out of infants’ and young children’s rooms unless there is direct and constant supervision.
  • Report stray dogs or dogs that frequently get loose in your neighborhood.
  • Tell children to leave a dog alone when it’s asleep or eating.
  • Sometimes, especially with smaller dogs, some children might try to drag dogs around. Don’t let them do this. Also discourage them from trying to dress up the dog — some dogs just don’t like to be dressed up.
  • Don’t give kids too much responsibility for pets too early — they just may not be ready. Always supervise and check on pet-care responsibilities given to children to ensure they are carried out.

Steps to follow if a dog bites your child

  • Request proof of rabies vaccination from the dog’s owner, get the dog owner’s name and contact information, and ask for the name and telephone number of a veterinarian who is familiar with the dog’s vaccination records and history.
  • Immediately wash out the wound with soap and water.
  • Call your pediatrician because the bite could require antibiotics, a tetanus shot, and/or rabies shots. The doctor can also help you report the incident.
  • If your child is bitten severely enough that the skin has been broken, call 9-1-1 or bring your child to an emergency department for treatment.
  • Be prepared to tell the emergency department doctor about your child’s tetanus vaccination status, the dog’s vaccine status (or offer contact information for the dog’s veterinarian), the dog’s owner, and if the dog has bitten before.

Have fun with your four legged friend but know that respecting them and their space goes a long way!


Purnima Unni is the Pediatric Trauma Injury Prevention Program Manager for Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt and is a certified child passenger safety technician.  She is a wife and mother of two girls, ages 17 and 14. She loves to cook, travel and watch murder mysteries. She is fluent in three languages and wishes she had a green thumb.