Recommendations for Parents

Children & Dogs

Be aware of the fact that any dog can bite. From the smallest to the largest, even the most friendly, cute and easygoing dogs might bite if provoked. The vast majority of dog bites are from a dog known to the child-his or her own pet, a neighbor's or a friend's. You can help protect your child from dog bites by discussing with her the appropriate way to behave around dogs. To help parents educate their children about basic safety around dogs, we offer the following tips:

  • Children should not approach, touch or play with any dog who’s sleeping, eating, chewing on a toy or bone, or caring for puppies. Animals are more likely to bite if they’re startled, frightened or caring for young.
  • Children should never approach a barking, growling or scared dog.
  • Children should not pet unfamiliar dogs without asking permission from the dog’s guardian first. If the guardian says it’s okay, the child should first let the dog sniff his closed hand. Then taking care to avoid petting the dog on the top of the head, he can pet the dog’s shoulders or chest.
  • Children should not try to pet dogs who are behind a fence or in a car. Dogs often protect their home or space.
  • If a child sees a dog off-leash outside, she should not approach the dog and should tell an adult immediately.
  • If a loose dog comes near a child, he should not run or scream. Instead, he should avoid eye contact with the dog and stand very still, like a tree, until the animal moves away. Once the dog loses interest, the child can slowly back away until he’s out of sight.
  • If a child falls down or is knocked to the ground by a dog, she should curl up in a ball with her knees tucked into her stomach and her fingers interlocked behind her neck to protect her neck and ears. If a child stays still and quiet like this, the dog will most likely just sniff her and then go away.
  • Children should never try to outrun a dog. If a dog does attack a child, the child should “feed” the dog his jacket, bag, bicycle-or anything that he has for the dog to grab onto or anything he can put between himself and the dog.

Pledge for Children

The following activity will help you and your child understand the difference between safe and potentially dangerous interactions with dogs. Recite aloud with your child the following list of pledges:

  • I will not stare into a dog's eyes.
  • I will not tease, try to go near or pet dogs behind fences, dogs in cars, or dogs chained or tied up in yards.
  • I will not touch a dog I see loose (off-leash) outside.
  • If I see a loose dog, I will tell an adult immediately.
  • I will not run and scream if a loose dog comes near me.
  • I will stand still like a tree and be very quiet if a dog comes near me.
  • I will not touch or play with a dog while she’s eating or sleeping.
  • I will only pet a dog if I have permission from the dog's owner.
  • Then I will introduce myself to the dog by letting her sniff my closed hand.

Dog Body Language

Understanding dog body language is another key way to help you and your children avoid being bitten. Teach your children that they can read dogs’ body language to better understand what dogs are feeling and avoid those whose body language indicates that they’re feeling anxious, afraid, threatened or aggressive.

  • An aggressive dog may try to make herself look bigger. Her ears may be up and forward, the fur on her back and tail may stand on end or puff out, and her tail may be straight up-it may even wag. She may have a stiff, straight-legged stance and be moving toward or staring directly at what she thinks is an approaching threat. She may also bare her teeth, growl, lunge and bark. Continued approach toward a dog showing this body language could result in a bite!
  • An anxious or scared dog may try to make herself look smaller. She may shrink to the ground in a crouch, lower her head, repeatedly lick her lips, put her tail between her legs, flatten her ears back and yawn. She may look away to avoid direct eye contact. She may stay very still or roll on her back and expose her stomach. Alternatively, she may try to turn away or slowly move away from what she thinks is an approaching threat. If she can’t retreat, she may feel she has no other alternative but to defensively growl, snarl or even bite.
  • Many dogs can show a mixture of these body postures, indicating that they feel conflicted. The main idea for children to remember is to avoid any dog showing any of signs of fear, aggression or anxiety-no matter what else the dog is doing. It’s important for children to realize that a wagging tail or a crouching body doesn’t always mean friendliness.

Safety around Animals

The main lesson for children practicing safety around dogs is to not chase or tease dogs they know and to avoid dogs they don’t know. The ASPCA Online Store offers several teaching tools that can make learning about how to be safe around animals fun, including

  • Dogs, Cats and Kids (DVD and video)
  • Dogs, Cats and Big Kids (DVD and video)
  • The Teaching Bite Free Package (DVD and video)
  • Dog Bite Prevention Activity Worksheet

The National Association for Humane and Environmental Education (NAHEE) also offers The BARK (Be Aware, Responsible and Kind) Dog Bite Prevention Program, the Play It Safe with Dogs coloring book in English and Spanish, and the Doggone Crazy family board game.

Recommendations for Pet Guardians

Although you can’t guarantee that your dog will never bite someone, there are many ways that you can significantly reduce the risk.