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"Help! My Dog Bit My Child!" Helping Parents Navigate a Bite: Where To Go From Here...?

Updated: Mar 5

Has your dog ever growled, snapped at or bitten your child?

Maybe you, yourself, were bitten as a child.

What is a parent to do when a situation arises where the safety of their child may be in jeopardy?

Who is responsible? Can this dynamic be mended?


A message I received a few days ago has once again prompted me to write....

A message of a sticky situation that I

hear all too often:

"My dog bit my child."

This is the second message I have gotten regarding a child being bit by the family dog in less than 2 months.

This mother wants to keep her dog, but isn't sure if that is possible with a bite incident on the record.

My mind immediately starts spinning.

I have no perfect answer for her.

I think to myself all the possible scenarios that could have happened, but one question is at the base of them all:

"What did the child do?"

This may sound cold, but hear me out.

Dogs don't just casually walk up to children and bite them in the face. There is always a reason for a bite (exemptions to this are outlined at the end of this post).

I sincerely apologize to the distraught and heartbroken mother that this happened and assured her that this is not the first message I have gotten regarding this topic.


When a Bite Happens, I Begin to Wonder:

  • Was the child invading the dog's space?

  • Were they pulling on the tail, ears, or fur?

  • Was the child laying on and/ or bothering the dog at rest? (Dogs may also snap at adults when they try to move them while resting. This is usually labeled 'resource guarding')

  • Did the dog have a high value object (toy, treat, bone, etc? Another form of resource guarding)

  • Was the child running around, yelling or screaming?

  • Did the toddler hit the dog? (This one is SO tough to deal with)

  • Has the baby recently started crawling? (Dogs are often startled by newly mobile children)

These can all be huge triggers for a dog to react.

*Note on resource guarding:

Many people mistake resource guarding as a dog being 'protective.' And this couldn't be further from the truth. Resource guarding is a very serious and dangerous behavior that should be addressed with

I see inappropriate engagements all too often that lead to bites.

All of these interactions roll into one giant snowball of inappropriate.

The child means no harm, but dogs see it differently. And this could result in disaster.

Usually, when I hear of a bite incident, I don't immediately blame the dog... Like most people automatically would.

Dogs only know how to talk with their teeth, they cannot tell us if they are:

  • Anxious

  • Overwhelmed

  • Not feeling good

  • In physical pain

  • Hormonal

.... And so-forth.

Most parents unknowingly allow inappropriate interaction between their pets and children. No shade to them, as my motto states:

"When you know better, you can do better."

We as pet owners raise our animals to be friendly, and we usually assume they wouldn't harm anyone.

In this situation, I then think to myself:

  • Was there an adult present? Was supervision absent, or active? Or maybe somewhere in-between?


The Sad Reality with Dog Bites:

It is a serious situation... And can have very serious consequences.

Most will jump to muzzle training, re-homing, or even euthanasia of the pet.

Next, my mind flips to:

"What are the family dynamics in the household?"

*You can read my magazine article on family dynamics here.

  • Are the kids being taught boundaries?

  • Is work being done to desensitize the dog to certain touches/ actions?

  • Is the dog spayed/ neutered?

  • Has any training been started/ implemented yet?

  • How has the dog been socialized? (This is extremely important. Socializing is not what most people think it is).

  • Have the kids bothered the dog in any other way before that she didn't like? Maybe invading their space too much? The dog could be getting defensive and slightly territorial, and just down right fed up.

I do want to note that most dogs are naturally a bit timid of children, toddlers especially, as they are unpredictable, loud, fast, and don't respect personal space. Crawling babies grab and pull on things (tail, fur, etc), toddlers hit and scream. This is the hard reality with the mix between parenthood and pet ownership.

Without saying any of the above mentioned scenarios to the mother who messaged me, I empathize with her and simply ask:

"How old is the dog? And how old is your child?"

*Older dogs tend to be grouchy and less tolerant... While younger dogs tend to be hormonal and not yet trained or socialized enough to handle rough-housing.

She explains that the dog is just over a year (giant breed, so waiting to neuter), her child is a teenager.

The dog and child were playing, and the child went to kiss the dog on the face.


Note: dogs do not like face-to-face interactions. Nor do they like hugs or kisses. Especially from children. This is a very un-natural display of affection in the animal world, and can be read as a threat.

Dogs rarely greet face-to-face. Butt to face is their preferred method of saying hello.

Here we have a variety of body language signals/ warnings:

  • Head turn

  • Ears pulled back

  • Lip lick

The mother then goes on to tell me that the dog previously had an ear infection as well and has been a bit nippy lately, and then informs me that she also runs a daycare.

So, there you have it.

The dog was:

  • Hormonal

  • In physical pain (any pet who suddenly starts displaying aggressive behaviors should ALWAYS be evaluated by a vet for pain, infection, underlying medical issues, etc.)

  • Space was invaded

  • Probably overwhelmed and a bit anxious (constant screaming and yelling from daycare kids)

  • Potentially becoming reactive from all of this and feeling the instinct to protect themselves from outer conflict and further pain. you see now why I don't automatically place blame on the dog?

Not that I blame the child, or the parent. At all! So please, don't assume that I do.

This is just an example of why the FULL PICTURE needs to be looked at and closely evaluated.


Often Times, It's a Situation of Just Not Knowing.

Simple as that.

"One of the most common things we hear from adult bite victims and the parents of child victims is "I wish I'd known...". We don't want you ever to have to say that. We want you to know and we are going to tell you."

Source: Doggone Safe

This is why I don't place blame in dog bite situations.

Because, unfortunately, most do not know that many dog-child interactions are inappropriate and/ or potentially dangerous. Parents, caregivers and by-standers usually aren't aware of how to handle situations like this, and it's why 50% of all children are bitten before the age of 12.

The majority of dogs bites towards kids are on the face, by a known dog. This is fact.

Perhaps the reason is because most assume a known dog would not react the way a strange dog would?... Therefore we don't respect their space and boundaries as much?

We often don't put ourselves into our pet's 'shoes.' We assume that they are just comfortable with life, accept their circumstances and would never bite because they love us (and our kids).

Some folks would think:

"Well, if he didn't like it or was uncomfortable... He would just move or walk away."

But, would he?

The problem with this mentality is that if we expect the dog to get up and leave... We are placing all responsibility on them for whatever happens, and taking the blame and responsibility off of ourselves, and our child(ren).

It's an all too common statement:

"He should've just moved if he didn't like it!"

Dogs often look to us for guidance, and if they are not advocated for and given a voice...

They may make the wrong choice in saying "NO!" themselves... By biting or snapping. I've seen it happen many times.

Even a standing dog that is run up on by a toddler can feel boxed in and snap and growl... Could they walk or run away? Of course, but their instinctual behavior isn't limited to 'flight.'...

Dogs (and cats) often display many subtle warning signs before a reaction occurs.

Signs of stress and discomfort may include:

  • Lip/ nose licking

  • Ears pulled back

  • Whale or half-moon eye

  • Head turning/ looking away

  • Paw lift

  • Yawning

  • Slow tail wag or a stiff raised tail

Now, this is not an all inclusive list, but knowing these most common body language signals can be a game-changer in preventing bites and conflict between dogs and children.


Where to Go From Here...?

As a Certified Dog Bite Prevention Educator through Doggone Safe, this is something I have aimed to thoroughly teach parents and children to help families live in harmony!

  • How to relay to children what actions are appropriate (and not)

  • Teaching the family how to accurately read animal body language and watch for stress signals to prevent bites.

  • How to advocate for both animal and child

  • Ways to give the dog a safety zone away from the child(ren) in the home

...and much more!

Giving dogs a safe spot away from kids (think kennel time, or a gated area) can prevent the need to guard, react, and/ or fight for their space.

This is especially true for resting dogs. Our pets should ALWAYS have free access to a certain spot for rest & sleep as most dogs will guard their space (and themselves) when tired.

And let it be known, I've also seen parents allow total invasion of a dog's space by letting the child crawl into the kennel/ crate with the dog and lay against them... This is a HUGE bite risk.

Now, if you've been reading this thinking:

"This dog needs to be re-homed, sent to a trainer, or muzzled...!"

Think again.

Does the dog need a trainer?

Truth is: a trainer can only do so much. The kids also need to learn, and so does the parent. This is not solely the dog's fault. Remember, parents and children do not automatically have a blueprint for dog behavior, body language & warning signs embedded in their brains.

The problem with re-homing:

Re-homing at the first sign of conflict is not always the best solution, either. A better approach is to reevaluate your strategies and goals as a parent and pet owner. And get help from a professional when needed.

  • This 'solution' does not advocate for them, it tosses them out for instinctual behaviors.

  • It does not teach the parent or child how to prevent this scenario from happening again with another dog.

Most would rather take the easy way out and toss the dog overboard rather than take responsibility for their actions.

What about muzzling the dog?

Muzzle training, while needed in some cases, is again, not a solution for this problem. In most instances, muzzling is a safety initiative that is more so a band-aid approach until a person can receive the appropriate training for the dog that is needed.

I prefer a 3-way approach with situations like this:

  • Train the dog.

  • Train the kid(s).

  • And train yourself.

This kind of stuff doesn't come naturally. It needs to be taught.

I'm here to support anyone who needs/ wants help in managing the difficult tide of parenting as a pet owner.

And I would LOVE to offer your family some support in regards to promoting a Pawsitively Safe environment, to prevent dog bite from happening, and help you navigate the rocky path if a dog bite does occur.

Together, we can get your family back on track in the best way possible in order to bring peace-of-mind and harmony to your household.


Further Resources:

Consent testing a dog to see if they want interaction:

Learning to read dog body language:

Actions to take after a bite incident, dog bite lawyers & National Organization for Victim's Assistance regarding dog bites:

How to help your child after a bite:

Children who have been a victim of a dog bite should always see a mental health professional. Trauma in cases like this is not limited to physical scarring... But emotional pain as well.

Bite prevention tips:

Learning to speak dog:

Bite prevention for parents:

Informative downloads for parents and caregivers:

Pro Tip:

*In some cases of bite incidences, aggressive and/ or territorial dogs may run up to you, your child, or your dog(s) while out walking.... I have had this happen and recommend carrying dog mace (many different products are available) and/ or a large stick (can put this in the stroller).

Your family's safety comes first, but it's also VERY important to judge each situation carefully before using self defense tools as this may cause some dogs to become more aggressive.

Certain medical conditions can also cause sudden changes in behavior, such as thyroid dysfunction and physical pain in the animal. If your pet has a sudden change in behavior, a veterinary visit is always recommended.


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***This post is in no-way saying that all dogs or situations can be managed and/ or rehabilitated. In some cases, re-homing a dog to someone without any children IS the safest option for all. This post is an example based on most situations I hear of and is not intended as primary training advise for truly aggressive and/ or reactive dogs. Dogs biting anyone (especially children) is a very serious issue that needs to be carefully evaluated with a professional.

*Some graphics in this post are courtesy of other Bite Prevention organizations and were used with permission to share the message of dog-child safety and creating awareness to the seriousness of dog bites and how to promote safer interactions to prevent injury and conflict.

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