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CVM Behaviorist Urges Increased Awareness to Help Protect Children from Dog Bites

More than 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year in the United States with some 800,000 receiving medical treatment. Children, age five to nine, are the most common bite victims and are far more likely to be severely injured with bites to the face and head.

Barbara Sherman, a veterinary behaviorist at NC State University, wants to educate parents and children on how to avoid becoming a victim of a dog bite.

“Simple information and education can dramatically reduce what is a public health issue and keep children out of the barbara shermanemergency room,” says Dr. Sherman, a clinical professor and director of the Behavior Medicine Service at NC State’s Veterinary Health and Wellness Center.

Dr. Sherman relates a first-hand experience with the need to educate children. “At a College of Veterinary Medicine Open House Tenya, a certified therapy dog greeted thousands of visitors,” says Dr. Sherman. “Many of young guests were eager to pet Tenya and our Behavior Medicine Service team taught each child to ask, ‘May I pet your dog?’ and, once permission was granted, showed how to pet Tenya along her back. Without such guidance, most children approached the dog face-on, looked her in the eye, and reached over her head. Tenya responded by turning her head to avoid what she considered confrontational approach.”

Dr. Sherman says many dogs—even those known to the child and parent and believed to be friendly—could consider such direct face-to-face approaches and reaching over the head to be threats and may respond with “keep back” bites to hand or face.

To avoid this miscommunication during greetings, Dr. Sherman says it is critical for parents to teach children safe methods of approaching and greeting dogs, and to avoid them at certain times. Three simple rules can help:

  • Children should always ask owners if it is okay to pet the dog;
  • The dog should be petted on the back from collar to tail, never on the head;
  • Leave dogs that are eating, sleeping, or caring for puppies alone.

Additional basic child safety around dogs:

  • Do not approach an unfamiliar dog.
  • Do not run from a dog and scream.
  • Remain motionless ("be still like a tree") when approached by an unfamiliar dog.
  • If knocked over by a dog, roll into a ball and lie still ("be still like a log").
  • Do not play with a dog unless supervised by an adult.
  • Do not disturb a dog when it is in a car, behind a fence, or tied up.

Parents: Never leave babies or small children alone with any dog, even the gentle family pet. If you have small children, make a safe place for your dog that is “out of reach” of the children.

For more information:

NC State Behavior Medicine Service

The College of Veterinary Medicine faculty collaborated with the Wake County Department of Public Health to develop a bi-lingual coloring book to teach children of all ages about good etiquette as it relates to interacting with dogs. The book may be downloaded from the site.

The American Association of Veterinary Medicine offers a Dog Bite Prevention resource page.

Doggone Safe Bite Prevention Challenge.

ASPCA Dog Bite Prevention.

Updated Nov. 6, 2013