See the white moon shape
in the bottom area of this
boy's eye? Note the ridge
under the dog's eye.
The dog is also looking away
from the person approaching
him. The dog is showing
concern of someone or
something entering his space
and is also a "calming signal"
to the trespasser.
Another calming signal being
given by this dog is sitting.
Ears are down and drawn back.
The dog is as far back
in the pen as he can go.
He is "Moving Into Pressure" which is a term used to described a dog pushing against an
object or person.
The closed tense mouth is also a warning.
An anxious dog that has nowhere to flee may be forced to bite in order to "defend himself"
from what he perceives as a danger.
Dogs have powerful
jaws. Just look at what a
dog can do to this metal
A Parent's Guide to Dog-Bite Prevention
by Colleen Pelar, CPDT, CDBC
“If my dog ever bites my child, he’s out of here!”
I hear that all the time. It just makes me want to scream, “But that will be too late!”
Each year nearly 2.8 million children are bitten by a dog. Most of these bites are not coming
from some scary dog that got loose. Sensational stories make headlines, but most dog bites
are more commonplace. Half come from the family’s own dog, and another 40 percent come
from a friend or neighbor’s dog.
As a dog trainer and a mother of three boys, I want families to love having a dog, but I am
perpetually frustrated by the lack of knowledge most parents have about basic dog safety.
They seem to be operating under the Disney-esque assumption that a good dog would
never bite a child, and their dog is certainly a good dog.
Well, I’m sure their dog is a good dog and their kids are good kids, yet every day
misunderstandings occur because the parents don’t know how to set everyone up for
success. We parents can do much more to prevent our children from being bitten by dogs.
But it takes some knowledge.
The best barrier against aggression is a strong social drive. When choosing a dog for your
family, look for one that adores people, especially children. A dog that really enjoys kids will
give your kids the benefit of the doubt when they step on his tail or fall over him. Even with
the best supervision, there will be times when a child hurts a dog. Today, one of my sons
kicked off his snow boot, which went flying down the hall and hit the dog. Fortunately for all
of us, Gordo didn’t bat an eye.
Several times a month, I am asked to perform behavior assessments of family dogs. One
painful part of my job is telling parents when I do not believe their dog has the right
temperament to be a safe companion for their children. That breaks my heart, but I feel
strongly that I must call the shots as I see them. Sugar-coating or painting a rosy picture
might put the family’s child in danger, and I can’t live with that.
I often see dogs that could be great family members with some support from the parents.
Supervision, along with a basic understanding of dog behavior, is the key.
For example, here is something I bet you don’t know: Dogs don’t like hugs! Oh, I know, your
dog loves when your kids hug him. While I believe that dogs can be taught to accept and, in
a few cases, even welcome hugs, I also know that hugging is not a normal dog behavior.
Think about the last time you saw one dog “hug” another. It wasn’t a gesture of affection,
was it? No, it was either mating or a dominance display. Do you really want your dog
thinking your child is attempting either of those behaviors?
Children, especially preschoolers, rarely understand the concept of personal space. We
parents need to be sure that our dogs get some downtime away from the kids. It’s wearing
to have someone following you around all day, even if he means well. My kids know that if
the dog goes in his crate, they cannot talk to him or pet him until he chooses to come back
out. It gives the dog a private refuge where he’s not expected to be the local celebrity, the
center of attention.
Learning a bit about canine body language helps too. There is a set of behaviors—called
calming signals—dogs display when they are stressed. These serve two purposes: they are
an attempt at self-soothing, akin to thumb sucking, as well as a message to others that the
dog would like the situation to defuse. Watchful parents can step in when they see their dog
exhibiting these behaviors.
Lip licking—When a dog is a little anxious, he will often quickly stick out his tongue and lick
his lips. It’s usually just a fast, little flick. Watch your dog; this is one of the most common
signals I see.
Yawning—This is often mistaken for contentment. The dog is surrounded by kids, and he
lets out a big yawn. Isn’t that sweet? Nope, it’s a sign that he’s in a little over his head and
would appreciate your help.
Shaking off—We’ve all seen dogs shake off when they are wet, but this happens at other
times too. I liken it to a reset button on a video game. Time to shake off and start over. It will
happen right after something makes the dog uncomfortable, usually as he’s walking away.
Freezing—Watch out! Freezing is one step beyond a calming signal; it’s often a last-ditch
attempt to tell you to back off. Dogs typically freeze right before they snap or bite. That may
sound obvious, but one of the scariest things I ever saw was when an owner told me, “Lucy
loves to have kids hug her. Look how still she is.” It was a heart-stopping moment for me.
Lucy, thank goodness, did not bite, but she was definitely not enjoying the experience.
Spaying and neutering our pets helps too. Nearly 80 percent of dog bites come from intact
It’s important not to blame kids for being kids or dogs for being dogs. Let’s be realistic; it’s
impossible to control someone else’s behavior 100 percent, be it dog or child. We parents
can, however, teach dogs and kids to enjoy each other’s company more by building an
understanding of each other’s behavior—and in doing so, we will decrease that scary
number of annual dog bites and help ensure that our children are not bitten.
Colleen Pelar, CPDT, CDBC, author of Living with Kids and Dogs . . . Without Losing Your Mind, is America’
s Kids and Canines Coach. Colleen has more than 15 years’ experience as the go-to person for parents
trying to navigate kid-and-dog issues. Because every interaction between a child and a dog can be
improved by a knowledgeable adult, Colleen is committed to educating parents, children, and dog owners
on kid-and-dog relationships. For more information visit www.livingwithkidsanddogs.com.
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