It’s hard to believe the unthinkable could happen, that your child could get bitten by a dog. However, there is new dog bite data that might surprise you.

The bond between a child and your family dog is amazing. Once you experience it for yourself or see it within your family, you understand just how much a child benefits from growing up with a dog in the home.

The Risk We Face

Yet even with the closeness and familiarity, there’s some degree of risk that your dog may bite your child.  It’s hard to believe your furry sweetheart could do such a thing, but about 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year, half of which are children under 12, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And now a just-released study focusing on dog bites has surprising findings, and is a useful reminder of the importance of supervising children around dogs and doing your best to educate each about the other.

The study from Vikram Durairaj, MD, associate professor of Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery from the University of Colorado School of Medicine, is the largest of its kind and looked at 537 children treated for facial dog bites at The Children’s Hospital  between 2003 and 2008.

Findings included the following:

  • 68% of bites occurred in children 5 years old or younger with the highest incidence in 3-year-olds. Unsupervised children were found to be most at risk for bites.
  • In nearly 90% of dog bite cases, the child knew the dog. In 51% of cases the dog was a family pet, in 15% the dog belonged to a neighbor, 13% a friend, and 10% a relative.
  • More than half the time, the dog was provoked when the child petted it too aggressively, startled or stepped on it.
  • The dogs that bit were not breeds most commonly thought of as aggressive. Mixed-breed dogs were responsible for 23% of bites, followed by 13.7% by Labrador Retrievers, 4.9% for Rottweilers and 4.4% for German Shepherds 3% for Golden Retrievers 3%. The researcher added that the study was done in the Denver area where pit bulls are banned (and Woof Report won’t get started on our opposition to BSL).

Durairaj stressed that familiarity with a dog is no guard against attack. “What is clear from our data is that virtually any breed of dog can bite,” Durairaj said. “The tendency of a dog to bite is related to heredity, early experience, later socialization and training, health and victim behavior.”

The takeaway is not to say a child or a dog is to a blame, but for parents to be reminded of the potential risks and educate their children to understand the behavior of his or her beloved dog.

The Scoop:

Read more from the University of Denver newsroom, “Study shows young, unsupervised children most at risk for dog bites”

Read Woof Report’s past tip for information to help kids interact safely with dogs

Thank you to Josh Puetz on flickr for the photo.

Reviewed/Updated October 2016.