Surprising Advice on Kids and Dogs

Study: Parents Should Delay Getting a Dog Until Children Are School-Aged

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on March 06, 2006
From the WebMD Archives

March 6, 2006 -- To curb kids' risk of dog bites, a new study recommends that parents delay getting dogs until kids are old enough to go to school.

"Any dog may attack," write the researchers. They included Johannes Schalamon, MD, of the pediatric surgery department at the Medical University of Graz in Graz, Austria.

Schalamon's team studied all children -- 341 kids -- treated at their hospital for dog bites from 1994 to 2003. Data included the kids' ages and the dogs' breeds.

The study shows that young kids are most likely to get bitten, and that the risk of dog bites varied among certain dog breeds. The report appears in Pediatrics' online edition.

Youngest Kids, Biggest Risk

Young kids accounted for most of the patients. One-year-olds had the highest dog bite rate. Nearly three-quarters of patients were less than 10 years old.

In most cases (73%), the children knew the dogs that had bitten them. But only 33% of those dogs were "household members," the researchers write.

Kids were typically bitten in the face, head, or neck. Six percent of kids had more than one injury from their dog bite. Afterward, among the 341 kids, five children reported having nightmares and 34 remained afraid of dogs. No dog bites were fatal.

Most dog bites happened when the child interfered with the dog, such as pulling the dog's tail or disturbing an eating dog. However, some children were bitten after running or biking past dogs without touching those dogs.

Breed by Breed

The researchers also checked which dog breeds accounted for the bites and how common those breeds were in the area.

Based on those data, they ranked the breeds by risk of dog bite. Here is their list, from highest to lowest risk:

  1. German shepherd
  2. Doberman
  3. Spitz
  4. Pekingese
  5. Dachshund
  6. Schnauzer
  7. Collie
  8. Hound dog
  9. Poodle
  10. Rottweiler
  11. Beagle
  12. Terrier
  13. Bernese dog
  14. Labrador retriever
  15. Cross-breed
  16. Spaniel
  17. Shi Tzu
  18. Maltese

German Shepherds, Dobermans

German shepherds and Dobermans accounted for 37% of the dog bites but only 13% of local dogs, note Schalamon and colleagues.

"The relative risk for a dog attack by a German shepherd or Doberman was more than five times higher than that associated with a Labrador retriever or cross-breeds," the researchers write.

"On the basis of the dog population in our... area, German shepherds and Dobermans were the most aggressive breed," they continue. "These findings are similar to other reports. However, every breed poses the threat of dog bites."

Of course, many dogs never bite anyone, regardless of their breed, and a dog's training may also be important.

Avoiding Dog Bites

"Despite possible training programs for school-aged children, it still seems to be more reasonable to teach the dog owners and parents to pay attention when children are close to dogs than to place the blame/responsibility for a dog attack on the children," Schalamon and colleagues write.

Their study includes these tips to help avoid dog bites:

  • Before petting a dog, let it sniff you.
  • Do not run past dogs.
  • Do not try to outrun a dog.
  • Remain calm if a dog approaches.
  • Do not hug or kiss a dog.
  • Avoid direct eye contact.
  • Do not try to stop two fighting dogs.

The researchers also offer these tips for handling dog attacks:

  • If attacked, stand still (feet together) and protect your neck and face with your arms and hands.
  • Stand up. If attacked while lying down, keep your face down and cover your ears with your hands. Do not move.