There are over seven million dogs in the UK with the majority bought as family pets.

Many families choose to get a dog when their children are young and most children gain hugely from this addition, developing responsibility, caring skills and a love of animals.

However, research shows that young children are more likely to be bitten than any other group and are far more likely to be bitten by their family dog than any others.

  • 70% of dog bites happen in the home
  • 80% are bitten by dogs that they regularly meet

This is likely to be because young children don’t have understand the necessary boundaries with pets, they don’t read the subtle signs when their pet has had enough attention and fail to give them breathing space when they need it. Many dogs are not used to the continuous attention of children and find it threatening and overwhelming. Children often put their fingers and faces too close to dog’s and can also unwittingly hurt their pet whilst attempting to love them. Children should always be supervised in the company of pets and if the dog is looking stressed in anyway, remove the child to leave them in peace.

Here are some of the common reasons dogs bite. They could be:

  • protecting themselves or their property,
  • in pain,
  • feel trapped,
  • surprised by the child’s actions,
  • overexcited and just being playful.

In this article we look at how to avoid unsafe situations so that children can be safe and dogs can be happy co-existing within shared family space.

Different ways of communication

Dogs and children communicate differently. From a dog’s perspective children behave in different ways to adults; they cry, scream, crawl, poke and grab. Dogs may find these signals confusing and find it hard to work out when children don’t want to interact.


Children can treat dogs as equals. They hug and hold them, cuddle them and offer close facial contact.  While this is endearing to other family members, dogs can find it threatening and react accordingly. Most dogs in fact dislike being hugged. Make it clear to children that dogs don’t like running and screaming or someone staring into their eyes. They find it intimidating.

Rules to observe when interacting with dogs

Out and about

Never allow you child to approach a dog they don’t know, in a park or on the street. Don’t enter a garden if a dog is loose, even if you know it.

Never allow you child to touch a dog that is left alone outside a shop.

Never run or shout around a dog. Always walk past calmly.

Always ask the owner for permission before approaching any dog.

If permission is given, then approach calmly and quietly and let the dog sniff your hand rather than move your hand towards the dog.

If the dog seems happy, then stroke the dog on the shoulder or chest.

At home

Never leave your child alone in the same room as a dog, even if it is a family pet.

Always supervise your child whilst they are playing with a dog. If your dog looks unhappy or upset, allow them to have time out. Keep a designated quiet and cosy spot for your dog and encourage your pet to go there when they show signs of needing a break

Children should be aware they should never approach a dog if the dog is:

  • asleep
  • eating or has a treat or is playing with a toy or other favoured object
  • is pregnant or has puppies
  • is unwell or injured
  • is trying to move away

Instead, teach your children to treat the dog as they would another child. This means no climbing on the dog, pulling their tail or hitting them. No teasing your pet or surprising them. No chasing games or wrestling which may quickly get out of hand. Try instead to teach children to interact in fun games such as roll over or shake a paw.

It is always useful to be able to recognise and understand dog behaviour so that you can be aware of changes in behaviour

A content dog communicates his happiness with

  • a relaxed body posture, open and relaxed mouth, ears in natural position, eyes in normal shape and wagging tail
  • inviting play with bottom raised, eyes normal shape, ears in natural position, a high wagging tail, and may be barking excitedly.
  • weight is distributed across all four paws, face is interested and alert, relaxed and open mouth, tail wagging.

A concerned dog communicates his discomfort by

  • standing however his body posture and head position is low. His tail is tucked under his ears are back and he may be yawning.
  • or he is lying down and avoiding eye contact by turning head away from you. He is licking his lips and his ears are back.
  • sitting with head lowered, ears are back, tail tucked away, not making eye contact, yawning, raising a front paw.

An unhappy or angry dog shows his discomfort by

  • standing with a stiff body, weight forward, ears up, hair raised, eyes looking at you with wide and dark pupils, and a raised tail.
  • lying down cowering, ears flat, barring his teeth, tail down between legs.
  • standing with body down and weight towards the back. His head will be tilted upwards, mouth tight, lips drawn back, teeth exposed, snarling. His eyes will be staring and his ears back and down.

Train your dog to associate the kids with positive experiences – such as walkies or treats – so you pet will be more tolerant with your child if they accidentally act inappropriately


If you have a dog before you have a baby then you will need to introduce the dog to your newborn with understanding and sensitivity. Be aware that with a newborn you may have less time to walk the dog or play with him. Furthermore, you may be less patient with your pet as a result of broken nights with the baby. These changes can make a pet feel unsettled.

However, you can help prepare your pet for the big change to your household in small practical ways which will help them acclimatise to the new arrival.

These include:

 – putting the cot and pram out before your baby comes home so your dog can become familiar with them

– crying can be worrying for a dog that hasn’t heard it before so play your pet a CD of baby crying so he is less alarmed by the real thing

 – providing a time out area such as a cushion where your pet can relax when you are busy with the baby. This should be in the same room as you are but set away from the baby. Ahead of the baby’s arrival, train your dog to go and sit on the bed and give him a chew or toy so he associates the bed with treats.

When the baby comes home

Gradual exposure to the baby’s sound and smells is better than excluding your pet, but must always be done under strict supervision. Dogs can be curious.

It is well worth remembering that the noises and gestures a baby makes can remind some dogs of prey. Therefore no matter how trusted and familiar the family pet is it crucial never to leave dogs unattended with babies or children


Do think of attending dog training classes with your pet from an early age so that your dog can develop important social skills.

Finally, attending a first aid course – for both children and dogs – means you can feel confident treating any medical situations that may arise for either your child or your pet.

How to help if you child is bitten

Make the area safe to ensure you and the child are not likely to be bitten again.

Bites from dogs and other animals can be jagged and often get infected, as dog’s teeth can harbour lots of bacteria. Even if an animal bite has just punctured the skin, it is important to wash the wound really well and look out for any signs of infection. Small-looking wounds can be deceptively large as there can be additional damage underneath the skin.

Treating the bite

The initial treatment for an animal bite is the same as for any other wound, except it is important to wash it immediately with clean water and antibacterial soap.

Reassure the child.

Stop any bleeding by applying pressure.

Get them seen by a health professional as soon as possible. Bites get infected easily; they need to be cleaned thoroughly by a medical professional and the child may need antibiotics.

If the wound looks red and becomes inflamed, hot, or angry looking or starts to develop a pus like discharge; it is getting infected and they will definitely need antibiotics. If possible, avoid covering the bite so you can observe any changes. If you need to cover it, ensure you are regularly checking the wound for any of the above signs of infection.

Note: Outside the UK, if a human is bitten or licked in a wound, it is really important to get medical attention very fast and have anti-rabies medication. It is also important to ensure that they are covered for tetanus. Untreated rabies has 100% mortality, so having the anti-rabies injection quickly is vital.

Register for our free dog choking course here.

Download our free e-book on Essential First Aid Information all Dog Owners Should Know here.

Further information from the Dog’s Trust

Interesting video to watch here:

First Aid for Pets provides this information for guidance and it is not in any way a substitute for veterinary advice. The author does not accept any liability or responsibility for any inaccuracies or for any mistreatment or misdiagnosis of any person or animal, however caused. It is strongly advised that you attend a practical First Aid for Pets course or take our online course to understand what to do in a medical emergency.

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