According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are an estimated 68 million dogs kept as pets in the United States. There are more than 1 million dog bites reported each year. And there are estimates that an equal number of dog bites (1 million) go unreported every year. Of the one million or so dog bites reported each year, about 60% involve an injury to a child. Approximately 70% of dog bite wounds are inflicted on the child’s face. Children ages 5 to 9 have the highest dog bite-related injuries.
More than 60% of dog bites occur in the home of the dog owner. Approximately 77% of dog bite victims are members or close friends of the dog owner’s family and are therefore familiar with the dog.
How Children Interact with Dogs Affects Risk of Injury
Contrary to popular myth, there is no such thing as a child-friendly dog breed. Although some breeds may be more suitable for children, a dog’s propensity to bite is dependent on many factors, including without limitation, the dog’s inherited traits, environment, training, and socialization.
Studies have shown that the most positive influence on a dog’s comfort around children is the opportunity to positively interact with the child when the dog is a young puppy.
There are some guidelines that, if followed, can reduce the chance that a dog will bite a young child. The critical age for socializing a dog is between the ages of three and fourteen weeks. A dog in this age range who is introduced to young children has a much lower incidence rate of biting kids.
How Parents can Help Reduce Risk of Injury
Neutering male dogs decreases the chance of aggressive behavior. If you plan to have young children and a dog, it is best to bring in the dog while it is young and introduce it to the children during the toddler age.
Dogs also need to be introduced to children of all ages. Young toddlers will act differently around the dog than a 10-year-old child will. Children should also be involved with the training sessions of the dog. This allows the dog to experience the child as an authoritative figure and thereby decrease the chances of a bite. Children should also be involved in other caretaking activities, like feeding, grooming and bathing the dog.
Parents should also never leave young children alone with a dog, particularly if the dog has limited experience with that child. You can also teach children to recognize fearful or aggressive behavior in dogs so the child can take steps to avoid or minimize the risk of a bite.
And finally, parents should be good examples of how to treat the dog. Children often emulate their parents’ behavior and this also applies to the parents’ interaction with the dog.