Wanna find out why dogs bite children? The good news is that dog bites are preventable. READ ON!
Last Updated 3/23/23
GRRR, dog bites are real concerns for people who are raising both dogs and children (although only a small percentage requires medical attention). Young children are the most at risk of getting bitten, and the reason is simple – children unknowingly or knowingly do obnoxious things that dogs hate. First things first, dogs don’t just bite for no reason. Fear, stress, danger, or threat can trigger a dog to bite, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the dog is a “bad dog” or an “aggressive dog” who must be put down. The truth is no dog is born aggressive or vicious towards humans; negative experiences condition dogs to react or behave a certain way. Dog bites usually happen because dogs are somehow provoked or threatened, whether humans (regardless of their age) realize it or not. Why should dogs put up with children’s unruly behavior? Because they’re “just” dogs? Must they accept whatever distasteful act of humans because they have no voice?
Parents, defending their “innocent” children, are eager to say that their children did absolutely nothing to provoke the dog and that the dog bite came “out of nowhere.” Sure, it’s easier to point the finger at the dog (who, again, doesn’t have a voice) than to take accountability for suboptimal parenting or lack of supervision. Ultimately, it’s up to the parents to TEACH their kids how to respectfully interact with dogs and RECOGNIZE dog behavioral signs.
Of course, we’ve heard plenty of one-sided stories of “vicious” dogs biting children, BUT many more cases of animal abuse involving children are unreported or even unrecognized. Any type of negative reinforcement and punishment, including physical abuse, is indisputably ineffective in correcting undesirable behavior in dogs. For instance, when you reprimand or hit dogs for growling or nipping at your child, you’re just scaring them and repressing their real emotions, which paves way for a much greater reaction in the future, e.g. a real, injuring bite when the dog has finally had ENOUGH.
Animal abuse is not only for cowards, but it’s also illegal in various parts of the world. Animals are completely innocent beings who deserve compassion. PLEASE USE POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT to train your dog. If the undesired behavior persists, please consult a professional dog trainer or behavioral specialist. Do NOT teach your children that animal abuse or neglect is ever acceptable or normal, even in the form of punishment. The future of animal welfare is in the hands of children so let’s endorse humane treatment of animals, particularly dogs and cats who are beloved members of the family.
It’s also imperative to remember that no two dogs are the same in behavior; every dog reacts differently to different things. Parents who claim, “Oh, we never had the problem with our previous dogs,” obviously do not recognize dogs as sentient individuals.
To prevent dog bites, parents need to educate themselves AND their children as to why dogs would bite humans in the first place. So here they are, 16 reasons why dogs bite children:
*For simplicity purposes, the gender of the word “dog” will be in the masculine form (“he” or “him”) throughout this post.
#1 Children are NOT APPROACHING the dog correctly, causing fear and threat to the dog
As a small dog, I am approached by random children all the time. However, 90% of them fail to ask if they can pet me; rather, they would stalk me and attempt to touch my head (or any part of my body). Some would even try to grab the leash from my human’s hand! As soon as I see an unfamiliar hand coming towards me, I move away immediately. OK, humans – this is NOT the right way to say hi to any dog, especially one who doesn’t know you. Dogs often see those unfamiliar hands as physical threats, even more so if they suffer from a history of abuse.
Dog parents – please do your part in setting the boundaries with children (both familiar and unfamiliar) for the sake of both parties. Human parents – please teach your children to ALWAYS ask the pet parent before petting. What’s more important is to teach your child to gauge the dog’s behavior AFTER receiving permission. If the dog is cowering or walking away, then do NOT force the interaction as the dog appears uncomfortable.
The proper way to say hi to a dog:
Crouch down, greet the dog calmly from a safe distance, and LET the dog come to you. Then allow him to sniff you out on his terms. If he seems comfortable and inviting (that’s why understanding a dog’s body language is so important), you can start by gently stroking his back and slowly working up towards their face. Nevertheless, if the dog doesn’t want to come to you, then please do NOT force it. Imagine random strangers running up to your child and trying to carry him – your child would be terrified! There’s no difference here.
#2 Children use seemingly “innocent” tactics to SCARE the dog, causing fear and threat to the dog
Please do NOT allow your child to tease or taunt dogs in any way. No matter where I’ve set my paws around the globe, I’ve had children stomp the ground, make weird sounds or mean faces, and laugh hysterically as they get close to me. Such acts may seem innocent to most parents, but they will only worsen into full-fledged acts of animal abuse overtime if left uncorrected. Disturbingly, a high correlation exists between animal abusers and human abusers; hence, one who abuses animals is highly likely to abuse other humans.
In Spain, we saw this kid yelling AND gesturing to kick and hit a Shiba for barking. Even though he didn’t touch the dog (thankfully), his intentions were clear and cruel. Sadly, his grandma failed to reprimand him as she disregarded his actions as “harmless.” After all, he’s “only a kid.” It wasn’t until my human and I politely intervened to ask him to stop taunting the dog. Certainly, it’s not the child’s fault since his behavior towards animals stems from parenting and role modeling. If this child’s ill intentions to inflict harm are not corrected soon, it is plausible that he will use violence against BOTH animals and other humans in the future. According to the Humane Society, “studies show that chronic physical aggression (e.g. animal cruelty) by elementary school boys increases the likelihood they will commit continued physical violence as well as other nonviolent forms of delinquency during adolescence.”
#3 Children PULL, GRAB, or STEP ON the dog’s tail, causing pain and fear to the dog
As tails are a sensitive part of a dog’s body, dogs undeniably experience pain when their tails are grabbed, stepped on, or pulled. Pulling or grabbing a dog’s tail can also cause irreversible injury to the base of the tail and lead to incontinence, constipation, and balance problems. Do NOT allow your children to exert force onto a dog’s tail.
#4 Children FORCE their touch onto dogs (e.g. hugs), causing extreme discomfort and stress to the dog
Dogs do NOT like to be hugged, carried, grabbed, sat on, or ridden. Let the dog leave the scene before emotions are built up. Simply put, please don’t allow your child to force themselves onto the dog.
Based on their body language, you don’t need to be a dog whisperer to know that dogs generally do not like hugs, particularly from rough children who treat them like toys. For dogs, hugs are uncomfortable but they learn to tolerate them from people they know (because they don’t have a choice). Most dogs, myself included, run away from hugs whenever possible. The problem is that babies and children love hugging or carrying us around like stuffed animals, but yet, dogs dislike such treatment (like any other obnoxious prank) and rather be left alone.
When children cross the line, some dogs will snap out of extreme frustration. All of a sudden, the dog is deemed vicious and must be put down or surrendered. Does that sound fair at all? Parents, please look at both sides and first ask yourselves WHY the dog behaved a certain way. Again, teaching kids respect for animals is crucial. I’ll bark that over and over again.
#5 Children PRANK the dog, causing threat and fear to the dog
As children are in the developmental stage, parents have the responsibility of teaching them right from wrong. Teasing dogs with food, hiding their belongings, or splashing them with water balloons (or worse, throwing rocks), etc. are common pranks that children “innocently” make. Such egregious pranks are FAR from harmless in a dog’s world. Please understand that dogs are possessive over their food and belongings; if your kids are going to try to take away their bowl, they are undoubtedly in the wrong even if the dog doesn’t react. Throwing anything directly AT a dog is animal abuse.
#6 Children PLAY with the dog’s ears, fur, or paws, etc. causing pain and fear to the dog
Dogs are NOT furry toys that should be played with by children. Any pulling or grabbing of the ears, fur, or paws, etc, generate both pain and fear for the dog. The question of “Why dogs bite children?” needs to be redirected as “What do children do to cause dogs to bite?”.
#7 Children STARE into the dog’s eyes, causing a threat to the dog
Dogs perceive staring contests as threats or challenges. When children stare into the eyes of a dog, they’re essentially asking for trouble whether or not they realize it.
#8 Children CHASE the dog, causing threat and fear to the dog
I’ve had toddlers and young children chase me around thinking that it was all fun and games. Let me tell you that it was NOT fun; it was a complete nightmare for me (or any dog)! It didn’t take long for me to start growling, warning them to please STOP and leave me alone.
#9 Children SCREAM or YELL at the dog, causing fear and confusion to the dog
I can’t tell you how many times random children have run up and screamed at me. FOR NO REASON. I’d be walking with my human, and I’m abruptly stopped by a screaming kid. Screams (even if undirected at dogs) can easily startle them due to their highly sensitive ears, leading them to react in fear.
#10 Children HURT the dog (or exert FORCE, regardless of how little), causing fear and pain to the dog
Pinching, pulling, poking, stepping, slapping, hitting, kicking, or throwing things at a dog (despite the amount of force) will still cause inevitable pain, fear, and confusion for dogs.
With a teddy bear face and soft eyes, most children see me as a cute fluffy toy that they can pick up, grab, kiss, string around, and toss to the side whenever they want. While some of their actions may not have harmful intentions, others do. Some children disgustingly find joy or curiosity in torturing or inflicting harm on animals; again, a high correlation strikingly exists between animal abusers and human abusers (AND serial killers). Just look at Jeffrey Dahmer who collected dead animals and tortured them as a kid – along with other serial killers.
Parents, I beg you to please be good role models and condemn animal abuse when you see it. From kids chasing pigeons “for fun” to forcibly yanking dogs on a leash to show them “who’s boss,” animal abuse involving children is real whether or not you recognize it. And yes, a violent pull during a walk inflicts pain onto the dog. To ensure the safety of both parties, I suggest that children should not walk dogs until they reach the age of 14.
#11 Children get in or near their TERRITORY, causing threat to the dog
Never allow children to wander into a dog’s territory or safe place, e.g. crate, designated area, room, bed, etc. This is arguably one of the most common reasons why dogs bite children.
Studies have shown that tethered or chained dogs are more likely to bite or be more aggressive than untethered ones. As dogs are known to be protective of their territory, they resort to fighting a potential threat if they cannot physically run away. The most common incident you’ve probably heard is what makes the headlines, e.g. “A DOG BITES CHILD!” Children, either innocently or obnoxiously, walk into a dog’s territory face danger because dogs perceive them as a threat. Please keep in mind that this is NOT the dog’s fault; as dogs are instinctively protective of their territory, tethering or restricting their movement only makes them even more guarded and resort to fighting. Again, parents must teach their kids to respect a dog’s boundaries.
#12 Children INTERRUPT the dog during an activity, causing stress to the dog
Do NOT allow your children to disrupt a dog, especially while eating, gnawing, playing, sleeping, or doing any type of activity. Just let them be! Can you imagine if someone keeps pestering you when you’re trying to sleep or eat? Ugh, you’d be super annoyed.
Again, RESPECT and BOUNDARIES!
#13 Children STEAL the dog’s possessions, causing a threat to the dog
Yep, dogs are extremely possessive beings! They are possessive over their territory, food, and toys, etc. so please do not allow your children to mess with their belongings. DO supervise your children and teach them to play with the dog healthily; a game of fetch or rewarding the dog with treats for tricks can deepen the bond between children and dogs.
#14 Children REFUSE to listen to the dog’s warning signs, causing immense stress to the dog
GRRRR, I’ve done my part in growling at children for their despicable behavior, from chasing me down to mishandling me like a stuffed animal. Parents must teach children behavioral signs of dogs. If the dog is growling at your children or moving away from them, he is merely giving them a warning to please stop whatever they’re doing and to leave him ALONE. Children who continue to agitate the dog are at fault regardless of how much parents want to blame the voiceless animal.
#15 Children do NOT LEAVE the dog when he’s not feeling well, causing stress to the dog
When dogs are not feeling well, they want to be left alone. Humans are the exact same way. So please teach your children to respect a dog’s space. Well, how do you know when a dog’s not feeling well? Learn to read behavioral signs (more information below)!
Again, if a dog is walking away from you, just let him be!
#16 Children create COMMOTION, overwhelming the dog
Imagine a group of children surrounding a dog and trying to pet him at a birthday party or family gathering. The commotion generated by children can easily stress him out.
If I had more than a single child around me, I would feel overwhelmed. When children start teasing me or making sudden movements, I tense up. If I can’t remove myself from the situation, then I will SNAP. All I want is to be left alone! I’m super thankful that my humans are VERY protective of me around children.
BOTTOM LINE – Why Dogs Bite Children:
Parents MUST teach their kids how to behave around dogs instead of instantly blaming the dog when something “bad” happens. The truth why dogs bite children is because children play a vital role in taunting dogs. When dogs snap (after they’ve had enough), they are then deemed as “aggressive” or “bad” dogs. Does that sound fair?
Despite the amount of research you’ve put into finding the best dog for children, you still need to teach your kids how to respect animals, how to read behavioral signs, and how to treat them as sentient individuals.
IT STARTS FIRST WITH THE PARENTS AS ROLE MODELS.
Prevent dog bites by learning to read a dog’s body language!
Educate your children early on to recognize dog behavioral signs so they learn to respect dogs and give them space.
*Note – lists are not all inclusive
- Relaxed body
- Relaxed eyelids and gaze
- Relaxed mouth (loosely closed or slightly open)
- Upright tail (exemplifies confidence)
- Wagging tail (bear in mind that it doesn’t always mean that they’re happy – it just means they’re excited)
- Sleeping on back with paws up (worry-free as this is their most vulnerable position)
- Flattened ears
- Stiff tail (between hind legs) or lowered tail
- Crouching down (in fear)
- Licking lips (with no food around)
Stressed or tense dog
- Pacing around
- Shaking (when it’s not cold)
- Licking lips (with no food around)
Sad or depressed dog
- Sleeping more than usual
- Sad eyes
- Loss of interest in food and in general
- Paw licking
- Withdrawal or in hiding
- Dropping ears (farther back)
Mad or upset dog
- Flattened ears
- Turns back on you
- Walks away from you
- Licking lips (with no food around)
- Showing teeth
- No eye contact
- Stiff body
If you have another reason why dogs bite children, please BARK at me. Sharing is caring! Let’s promote respect and boundaries for dogs to prevent dog bites from happening in the future.
Markin’ it up,
Roger Wellington a.k.a. The Doob