Which types of dogs are most likely to bite children?

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If you have young children and you’re looking to adopt a dog, new research from The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center can help you decide which breed to choose.

The study, published in the International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology, explores the risk of dog bite injuries to the face in children, and bite severity by breed, size and head structure. Researchers found pit bulls and mixed breed dogs have the highest risk of biting and cause the most damage per bite. The same goes for dogs with wide and short heads weighing between 66 and 100 pounds.

“The purpose of this study was to evaluate dog bites in children, and we specifically looked at how breed relates to bite frequency and bite severity,” said Dr. Garth Essig, lead author and otolaryngologist at Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center. “Because mixed breed dogs account for a significant portion of dog bites, and we often didn’t know what type of dog was involved in these incidents, we looked at additional factors that may help predict bite tendency when the breed is unknown, like weight and head shape.”

To assess bite severity, researchers reviewed 15 years of dog-related facial trauma cases from Nationwide Children’s Hospital, and the University of Virginia Health System. They looked at wound size, tissue tearing, bone fractures and other injuries severe enough to warrant consultation by a facial trauma and reconstructive surgeon and created a damage severity scale. 

Researchers also performed an extensive literature search going back to 1970 for dog bite papers that reported breed to determine relative risk of biting by a certain breed. This was combined with hospital data to determine relative risk of biting and average tissue damage of a bite.

“There’s an estimated 83 million owned dogs in the United States and that number continues to climb,” Essig said. “We wanted to provide families with data to help them determine the risk to their children and inform them on which types of dogs do well in households with kids.” 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 4.7 million people in the United State are bitten by dogs annually, and 20 percent of victims require medical care for their injuries. Those who require treatment after dog bites are predominately children ages 5 to 9 years.

The circumstances that cause a dog to bite vary and may be influenced by breed behavior tendencies and the behavior of the child, parents and dog owner. 

“Children imitate their parents,” said Meghan Herron, associate professor of veterinary clinical services at Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine. “Be a model for your child and avoid any confrontational or risky interactions that might trigger a fear or fear-aggression response if the child were to mimic it. This includes harsh reprimands, smacking, pushing off of furniture and forcibly taking away an item.”

Herron offers the following tips for dog owners:

Most bites to children by a family dog occur when the dog is resting and the child approaches.

  • Solution: Try to provide and encourage resting places away from where children run and play.

Many bites to children occur even when an adult is in the room.

  • Solution: Have a physical barrier between the child and dog, such as a baby gate or crate for the dog. This is especially important for toddlers, whose behaviors may be more erratic, unpredictable or frightening to a dog. 

Teach children to let resting dogs lie and to stay out of dog crates, beds and other resting places that are designated for the dog.

  • Solution: If the dog’s favorite spot is on the couch, put a towel or blanket down to clearly delineate dog space from child space. 

Children shouldn’t approach, touch or otherwise interact with dogs while the animal is eating.

  • Solution: Provide quiet areas for dogs to eat away from areas where children run and play. Rawhides and other flavored chews should only be given when dogs are separated from child play areas. 

If a dog takes a child's toy or snack, children should never attempt to retrieve it on their own.

  • Solution: Teach children to find an adult if a dog takes one of their items. 

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