Study: How Parents May Be Increasing the Risk of Their Child Being Bitten by the Family Dog

When it comes to interactions between children and dogs, experts and parents or other caregivers don’t see eye to eye.

In a study published in the July-August 2016 issue of the Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, researchers examined the reasons children are frequently bitten by the family dog. Among their findings:

  • More than half the parents in the study sometimes leave their child unsupervised with the dog
  • Children and parents are not good at reading canine stress signals, allowing behaviors such as hugging to go on beyond the dog’s comfort zone, with signs the dog was unhappy being missed or ignored
  • Child-free resting and feeding places for the dog are not usually provided
  • Parents are trusting of their own dog while suspicious of unfamiliar dogs
  • Half of dogs who bite have medical issues, while 77 percent show signs of anxiety
  • In some circumstances, children are actually encouraged to exhibit risky behaviors

The study authors concluded:

The main finding of this study is the discrepancy between expert recommendations and the survey answers, especially in respect of the family dog. Often too much trust is placed in the dog not to react aggressively. Therefore, it is vital to educate caregivers about potentially unsafe behaviors, the dogs’ needs, and safety measures that are important even with the family dog. Dog bite prevention programs should cover parent supervision behaviors and dog behavior and they should be tailored to the child’s age. Measures that are easy to implement in everyday life, for example, environmental measures for very young children, should be promoted.

Christine Arhant, Ricarda Landenberger, Andrea Beetz, Josef Troxler, Attitudes of caregivers to supervision of child–family dog interactions in children up to 6 years—An exploratory study, In Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, Volume 14, 2016, Pages 10-16, ISSN 1558-7878,