Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit familydoctor.org, the AAFP patient education website.

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Am Fam Physician. 2004;69(11):2653

Most dogs never bite anyone. But any dog might bite if it feels threatened. Children are the most common victims of dog bites. Infants and young children should never be left alone with any dog.

What should I do if I want a dog for a pet?

Take time to learn about the breed of dog you want. Talk with a veterinarian, read books about dogs, and search the Internet. Don't just get a dog because you like the way it looks. If you have an infant or young child, think about getting a puppy instead of an older dog. Be especially careful if you have a baby in your house. Aggressive and very active dogs are not right for families with little children. Neutered male dogs are usually less aggressive.

Take your new dog to obedience training. Keep your dog's immunizations up to date. Have your dog checked regularly by a veterinarian.

What do I tell my children about dogs?

Make sure your children understand the following rules about dogs:

  • Do not go near strange dogs.

  • Never bother a dog that is eating, sleeping, or taking care of puppies.

  • Tell an adult about stray dogs near your house.

  • Always have an adult with you when you play with a dog.

  • Never tease a dog.

  • Let a dog smell you before you try to pet it.

What should I tell my children to do when a dog comes near them?

Tell your children to do these things:

  • Stand very still, “like a tree” (see the first picture below) ILLUSTRATIONS BY KATHRYN BORN

  • Act “like a log” if you fall or are knocked down (see the second picture below) ILLUSTRATIONS BY KATHRYN BORN

When the dog understands that you are not a threat, it will probably walk away. Tell your children to walk home slowly, and not to run away, scream, or make eye contact with the dog. Tell your children to let you know right away if a dog bites them.

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