Preventing bites 

Never leave a child unsupervised with a dog, regardless of what type of dog it is or its previous behaviour.

Even if a dog has no previous history of biting, it can still bite. A dog breed’s reputation or appearance is also no guarantee of a dog’s behaviour. Family dogs such as labradors, collies and terriers have all been involved in fatal attacks.

Follow the below advice to help you and your children prevent dog bites:

  • Avoid making your dog too important within the family. Don't let them sleep on the furniture or beg for food. This can sometimes confuse a dog, making it think it has a higher status within the family group. If someone, such as a young child, challenges that status, the dog may react aggressively.
  • Dogs love to chase things, so you and your children should avoid running or screaming in the presence of a dog.
  • Respect a dog’s boundaries  like many animals, they have a sense of personal space. If you suddenly approach a dog, they can react unpredictably. Don't greet a dog with an outstretched hand and don't suddenly interrupt a one when it's eating, sleeping or playing with a toy. Also, don't pet a dog without letting it sniff you first.
  • Socialise your dog by allowing it to experience many different types of people, situations and environments. This will help stop your dog becoming frightened or nervous if it finds itself in unfamiliar circumstances or when meeting new people.

Signs that a dog is becoming aggressive and may be about to bite include the:

  • dog's hairs on its back rising up
  • dog baring its teeth
  • dog’s ears moving forwards or backwards against their head
  • dog staring directly at you
  • the dog’s legs stiffening

If you're presented with an aggressive dog, you should stand still with your feet together, your arms placed against your chest and your fists folded below your neck. Avoid direct eye contact, as the dog may interpret it as an aggressive act.

Don't attempt to run away from the dog. By standing still, it should lose interest, giving you the chance to back away slowly.

If a dog jumps on you and knocks you to the ground, try to lie still, face down, with your legs together and your fists behind your neck, and your forearms covering your ears. Once the dog realises that you're not moving, it should lose interest and move away.

Cat bites

As many cat bites are from strays, avoid disturbing or stroking a cat that you don't know.

If your cat is attempting to bite or jump at your hands and feet while it's playing (playful aggression), don't push them away with your hands, because this can reinforce the pattern of behaviour. Instead, use a water spray to discourage them.

Using a sock or small felt toy on the end of a string that you can drag around the room is a good way of letting your cat play without encouraging bad behaviour.

Human bites

Most human bites are the result of alcohol-related violence and disorder. Therefore, the most effective way to avoid being involved in this type of incident is to moderate your alcohol consumption and avoid binge drinking.

Read more about alcohol misuse, including the risks associated with heavy drinking and how to avoid them.


The Blue Dog

If you're thinking about getting a dog as a family pet and you have young children, visit the Blue Dog website, which has lots of useful information and advice.

It's an educational programme supported by a number of animal charities that aims to help parents and teachers educate children about dog behaviour and ownership.

Page last reviewed: 28/03/2014

Next review due: 28/03/2016