Dog Bite Prevention
Increasing Safety, Reducing Risks
To reduce the number of injuries from dog bites, adults and children should be educated about bite prevention, and dog owners should practice responsible dog ownership.
Understanding dog body language is a key way to help avoid being bitten for people of all ages. Know the signs that dogs give to indicate that they’re feeling anxious, afraid, threatened or aggressive, and be sure to respect the dog’s feelings about interacting with or being touched by strangers.
- An aggressive dog may try to make themselves look bigger. Their ears may be up and forward, the fur on their back and tail may stand on end or puff out, and their tail may be straight up—it may even wag. They may have a stiff, straight-legged stance and be moving toward or staring directly at what they think is an approaching threat. They may also bare their teeth, growl, lunge or bark.
- An anxious or scared dog may try to make themselves look smaller. They may shrink to the ground in a crouch, lower their head, repeatedly lick their lips, put their tail between their legs, flatten their ears back and yawn. They may look away to avoid direct eye contact. The dog may stay very still or roll on their back and expose their stomach. Alternatively, they may try to turn away or slowly move away from what they think is an approaching threat.
- Many dogs can show a mixture of these body postures, indicating that they feel conflicted. Remember to avoid any dog showing any of signs of fear, aggression or anxiety—no matter what else the dog is doing. It’s important to realize that a wagging tail or a crouching body doesn’t always mean friendliness.
- Ask first before petting a dog. When meeting an unfamiliar dog, don’t reach out to pet them. First, ask their pet parent, “May I pet your dog?” A strange hand in a dog’s face may scare them, leading to a bite.
- If you receive permission to pet a dog, let them sniff your closed hand. Then, you may proceed to pet their shoulders or chest. Avoid petting the top of the dog’s head. If the dog looks uncomfortable, speak happily to the dog and casually remove your hand. Resist moving abruptly or jerkily.
- Avoid dogs who are barking or growling. It is also best to steer clear of dogs who are loose, behind a fence or tied up.
- If an unknown dog approaches you, stay quiet and still. Do not run or scream.
- Always supervise children and dogs. Never leave a baby or young child alone with a dog. Teach your children to treat your dog gently and with respect, giving the dog their own space and opportunities to rest.
- When in public, always keep your dog on a leash for the safety of your dog and those around them.
Recommendations for Pet Parents
Although you can’t guarantee that your dog will never bite someone, there are many ways that you can significantly reduce the risk.
- Adopt from a well-managed animal shelter whose staff and volunteers can fill you in on the dog’s background, personality and behavior in the shelter.
- Socialize your dog! Well-socialized dogs make enjoyable, trustworthy companions. Undersocialized dogs are a risk to their owners and to others because they can become frightened by everyday things—which means they are more likely to aggress or bite. Socializing is the opposite of isolating. It’s important for puppies to meet, greet and enjoy a variety of people, animals, places and things. Done properly, socializing helps puppies feel comfortable and friendly in various situations, rather than uncomfortable and potentially aggressive. The main rule for effective socializing is to let your dog progress at their own pace and never force them to be around someone or something when they’re clearly fearful or uncomfortable.
- Take your dog to humane, reward-based training classes—the earlier the better. We recommend starting your puppy in puppy kindergarten classes as early as eight weeks, right after their first set of vaccinations. Early training opens a window of communication between you and your dog that will help you consistently and effectively teach them good behavior.
- Always supervise your dog while they’re outdoors—even in a fenced yard. Don’t allow your dog to roam alone.
- Don’t wait for a serious accident to happen. The first time your dog shows aggressive behavior toward anybody, even if no injury occurs, seek professional help from a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB), a veterinary behaviorist (Dip ACVB), or a qualified Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT). Please see our article, Finding Professional Behavior Help, for information about finding an expert in your area. Your animal shelter may also offer or be able to refer you to helpful services.
- Err on the safe side. Be aware of common triggers of aggression, including pain, injury or sickness, the approach of strangers or strange dogs, the approach of people in uniforms, costumes or unusual attire (especially hats), unexpected touching, unfamiliar places, crowds and loud noises like thunder, wind, construction, fireworks and appliances. If possible, avoid exposing your dog to these triggers. If they seem stressed or panicked in crowds, leave them at home. If they overreact to visitors or delivery personnel, keep them in another room when they come to your house. Work with a qualified behavior and training professional to help your dog become more comfortable with these and other situations.
- License your dog as required by law and provide regular veterinary care, including rabies vaccinations.