Dogs have long been known as man’s best friend. That doesn’t always apply to children, however. It’s in a child’s nature to want to get in the face of a dog, especially a dog they don’t know, but children don’t understand that such behavior can be quite threatening to a dog. Even a dog that is familiar to and with the child can unexpectedly lash out and bite if he feels challenged or defenseless.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, over 4.5 million people in the United States are bitten by dogs each year. Children are the most frequently bitten, and their bites are more likely to be severe.
What to Do If Your Child is Bitten by a Dog
All dogs, regardless of breed, can bite. Dogs often bite in reaction to a stressful situation or if they are sick. If the worst possible scenario happens and your child is bitten by a dog, stay calm and follow these guidelines created by Doggone Safe, a nonprofit organization from Florida that stresses “dog bite prevention through education”:
- Provide first aid medical attention for your child immediately:
- Press a towel gently to the bite to cause some bleeding to flush out bacteria.
- Wash the bite with mild soap and water.
- Slow the bleeding by pressing gently on the bite with a clean cloth.
- Apply antibiotic ointment.
- Wrap the dog bite in a sterile bandage.
- Seek medical attention from your child’s doctor, urgent care or the emergency room.
- Make sure that others are not in danger from the dog while you are tending to your child. One of the suggestions from Doggone Safe is for other bystanders, especially children, to “be a tree,” and stand quiet and still if the dog is still in the area. Have another adult step in to care for any other children in the area if you can.
- If your child’s skin was broken, see a doctor right away. Dog bites can easily and quickly become infected. If you can’t get in touch with your child’s pediatrician immediately, take him to the emergency room or to an urgent care clinic for treatment.
- Request proof of the dog’s rabies vaccination from the dog’s owner. Get the dog owner’s contact information. Do not let the owner leave without obtaining this information.
- Report the dog bite to the proper authorities to prevent this from happening to anyone else’s child:
- Call the local health department to report the bite. Even if you know the owner and he says the dog has been vaccinated, this vaccination should be on file with the health department. Get actual proof of this.
- Contact your local animal control officer or animal services to report the dog bite. This will establish a record for the dog and allow action to be taken if it has bitten before or bites again.
- Contact the police. Even if you know the owner, make sure to do this. The police will determine whether an official investigation needs to be launched and what next steps should be taken.
- Report the dog bite to children’s services if other children are in the vicinity of the dog, They can determine whether an official investigation must be conducted.
- Get photos. While you are tending to your child’s needs, have a family member or trusted friend take photos of your child, the dog bite, the dog, the scene in which the dog bite occurred and anything else that may be of use later should you decide to seek legal action against the dog’s owner.
- Don’t forget about your child’s emotional health. Being bitten by a dog can naturally be quite stressful. Make sure your child understands that it is not his fault that he was bitten by a dog. Don’t make your child feel guilty by saying things like, “you should have…” or “I told you not to….” Make sure to talk about your child’s feelings with him, and if he withdraws, has nightmares, seems upset or does not want to talk about the incident in the days and weeks following, seek professional help from a therapist who is trauma-informed. Use these questions and guidelines to locate such a therapist.
- If it’s your dog, restrain and confine it. If your own dog bit your child, make sure to immediately restrain and confine your dog and report the incident to animal control and the health department.
- If your dog must be euthanized due to the incident, seek counseling for yourself and your child and make sure he knows it’s not his fault. The Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement can help.
- Check the Dog Bite Laws in your state. These will tell you if the dog’s owner can be held liable for medical costs and negligence relating to your child’s dog bite.
- If you decide to seek legal action against the dog’s owner, the simplest way to begin is to google a search for “dog bite lawyer” in your area. Some resources that can help include:
- If you feel you need additional support from others who understand, join the online Dog Bite Victim Support Group, run by Doggone Safe.
Help Prevent Dog Attacks in the First Place
It’s always best to prevent dog bites if you can rather than be faced with treating them later. Make sure your child knows:
- Not to approach strange dogs.
- Not to approach a dog that is sleeping, eating or caring for puppies.
- Not to pet a dog without letting it smell you first.
- Never get in a dog’s face, even if you know the dog.
- Never tease a dog.
- Never play with a dog unless an adult is with you.
- Tell an adult if you see a stray dog.
If your child is approached by a dog, make sure he knows to:
- Not make any sudden movements – don’t scream or run away.
- Stand very still and quiet, like a tree, with arms by your side and cup your hands near your waist.
- Do not make direct eye contact with the dog. Many dogs see this as a challenge or threat.
- Keep still like this until the dog walks away, which should happen once the dog realizes you are not a threat.
- If you are bitten by a dog, tell an adult immediately.
Teach Your Child What to Do in the Event of a Dog Attack
Ensure that your child understands what he should do if attacked by a dog in order to minimize the risk of injury:
- Use a jacket, your backpack, or whatever you have near you to protect yourself from the dog. Cover yourself with this if you can.
- If the dog knocks you to the ground, curl up in a ball and put your hands over your ears and neck area.
- Keep your hands fisted to protect your fingers.
- Stay down and be quiet and calm until the dog loses interest and walks away. Once this occurs, do not make any sudden movements. Get up slowly and back away to a safe place.
- Tell an adult what has happened.
- If you are bitten by a dog, tell an adult right away.
Most dogs will not bite unless threatened. However, any dog can bite if it feels challenged. Never leave your infant or young child alone with a dog. Teach your child how to act around dogs and what to do in case of attack. Being prepared is the best defense.