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For adult pet owners, you likely know how to react when an unfamiliar dog barks or lunges at you. Through your experience with dogs throughout life, you may be able to tell when a dog is feeling territorial or ready to attack.

Yet for children, studies show that both size and a lack of understanding about body language puts them at greater risk for injury. Not limited to bites, these injuries could be the result of traumatic, potentially disfiguring attacks that may change the course of their life forever.

General Dog Bite Statistics

family playing with dogNearly 40 percent of American households own at least one dog, which equates to about 70 million dogs in the United States. An estimated 5 million people experience a dog bite each year, half of which are children.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 800,000 of all dog bites demand medical attention and 334,000 are so severe, they require treatment in a hospital.

On an annual basis, dog bites are more common for children than measles, mumps and whooping cough. They also occur more frequently than injuries involving a skateboard, moped, ATV, bicycle or playground equipment.

Infants and toddlers bear the greatest amount of risk. Whether your children are walking around the neighborhood, you’re bringing a new baby home or thinking about getting a dog, here’s what you should know to keep the household safe.

Who Has the Greatest Risk?

A study published in Injury Prevention examined 7,900 dog bite incidents in the National Trauma Data Bank involving individuals age 17 or younger. Results showed that:

  • The largest demographic, 34 percent of children ages 6 to 12 got bit, followed by children under 2.
  • More girls than boys were bit, but the male bites tended to be more severe.
  • Female victims skewed younger in age.
  • Over 80 percent of all incidents occurred in the child’s home.
  • Half of all dog bite injuries involved the child’s face.

Why and How Do These Incidents Happen?

Due to their small size, children can be more easily knocked over by a dog, compared to adults. Attacks tend to occur as a result of one or more of the following:

  • A dog is resting and a child approaches, causing the animal to jump and react.
  • The adult responsible for watching the child and dog is inattentive.
  • A child climbs into the dog’s crate or bed, igniting their territorial nature.
  • The child approaches or chases a dog while it’s eating or attempts to take a toy from its mouth.
  • A child wanders onto a property where a dog is loose.
  • A child attempts to hug a large unfamiliar dog.

To help reduce the risk of these dangerous incidents occurring, it’s recommended that:

  • Children not be left alone in the same room as a dog.
  • A dog’s toys should be kept away from the child’s toys.
  • A dog’s sleeping area be inaccessible to children.
  • Rules should be established for interacting with a dog. For instance, a child should never attempt to feed the pet without an adult’s assistance.
  • An adult keeps an eye on the child and dog at all times and is alert to any dangerous situations.
  • You teach your child to stay away from dogs and animals they don’t know well, always ask permission before petting and never look a dog in the eye or scream if they seem aggressive.

As a child gets older, it’s important to talk about dog body language and how to understand cues for aggression. A study published in the Journal of Nursing, Social Studies and Public Health found that the majority of children ages 8 to 12 cannot accurately recognize a dog’s emotions. As one concern, fewer than 10 percent of all 372 participants were able to determine when a dog was angry or about to attack.

Do Certain Dog Breeds Pose Greater Risks?

Although all dogs can bite, an animal’s size influences the risk it poses to a child and the damage it can cause. A study from Ohio State University found that animals weighing 66 to 100 pounds or with a wider, short head pose the most significant risk.

Keeping these points in mind, those considering a dog for the family should:

  • Think about the breed’s size in relation to your child.
  • Neuter the dog to reduce bite risks and have them vaccinated.
  • Enroll the dog in obedience school and work on their socialization.
  • Avoid putting the dog in a position or situation where it feels threatened.
  • Consider using a muzzle or similar protective device if the dog’s behavior can be unpredictable.

Connecticut has strict liability laws for dog attacks, including for bite and non-bite incidents, that hold the animal’s owner, handler or keeper responsible. Children under age 7 are not held responsible for provoking a dog, even if they wander onto the owner’s property.
If your child was bit or attacked by a dog and is now living with physical injuries or life-changing trauma, Trantolo & Trantolo is here to help. To pursue your claim with our dog bite attorneys, contact us today.