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.