A few weeks ago my daughter, A, was bitten on the face by my brother’s dog, Sampson. What should have been a great family visit, dinner at a great restaurant and night of laughter, was actually a bloody trip to the emergency room, surgery to correct a tiny tear in her tear duct and a total of four stitches. It could have been MUCH worse than it was, though. It was definitely a warning bite, but a warning bite from a dog that weighs a good 75 pounds is pretty significant. I wasn’t in the room when the bite occurred so I can’t tell you what happened for sure, but she was in a room with 3 adults and they all say it happened quickly and seemingly out of nowhere. Nothing happens out of nowhere, so I’m guessing my daughter was a little too curious about his paws or, most likely, his male anatomy. She’s lucky. The worst part of this for her, I think, was that her pirate patch had to be removed. She thought she made an excellent pirate.
I don’t blame Sammy at all. He’d just been in the car for an approximately 7 hour ride from Pennsylvania. He was in a house he’d never been in, and around people he doesn’t see often. He’s good with kids, but he’s not around them 24/7 and certainly not an active 3-year old who, until the dog passed away this past summer, had a dog that she could do anything to without even a growl. Most importantly, Sampson’s an animal, and all animals are unpredictable.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates in the past year, half of all children 12 and under will have been bitten by a dog to some degree – and the vast majority by dogs the children were very familiar with and occurring in their own homes. In fact, dog bites are the second most frequent cause (next to sports-related injuries) of visits to emergency rooms for all children in that age group . Why? Because this is the age group most likely to provoke an animal out of curiosity in a known comfort zone, including approaching a dog while it’s eating or sleeping.
What can you do to help to prevent a dog bite? Here are a few tips:
- Don’t ever leave a small child unattended with a dog – no matter what the disposition or breed of the dog. Even Chihuahuas have had reported fatalities with very small children.
- Teach your child to never get in the face of a dog, especially one they have never met. Dogs can see this as a threat, not an opportunity for a cute smooch.
- Train your children to never approach a dog when it is sleeping, eating, chewing on a toy or caring for puppies. These are all areas in which dogs are typically very territorial.
- If a dog (known or unknown) is off-leash and comes near a child, he/she should NOT run. The dog is likely to chase. If the child does get knocked down, teach him/her to curl up in a ball, knees tucked in, with their arms around their neck and ears to protect the face and neck.
- Make sure your child knows to ask permission from a dog’s owner before petting it. Ask if the dog is friendly or not. If the answer is yes, make sure the child knows to offer the back of their hand first for the dog to sniff. Coming at the dog’s face with open hands can send the message that it needs to defend itself from an attack.
- Understand the basics of dog body language and teach them to your child. Aggressive dogs tend to try to make themselves seem larger – ears up, standing wide stance and mouth open often with visible teeth. Scared dogs may try to seem smaller – ears back, crouched on the floor, tail between the legs. Other dogs may show a combination of aggression and scared behaviors.
- Make sure your child knows the difference between playing and teasing, as well as playing and chasing.
For more information on dog bite statistics, bite prevention, and other safety information, please go to these sites:
You can also call your local humane society or animal shelter and ask if anyone there would be willing to help you. They are often the ones who see a dog after a dog bite and can guide you in the right direction.
Have you ever been bitten by a dog? Was it provoked or not?