The majority of dogs that bite kids do so for the first time, but they may have a causal behavioral medical problem, according to an article in Injury Prevention.

A team of scientists looked at 111 cases of dog bites over a four-year period, involving 103 dogs. All the dogs had bitten kids and had been referred to the same veterinary behavior clinic.

The researchers found characteristic patterns of behavior. However, these behavior patterns were not linked to specific breeds.

A dog is more likely to bite a child if it feels that its food, toys, or other resources/possessions are under threat. Older children seem to be at the receiving end of most aggressive canine territorial behavior.

They found that if the dog knows the child, it is more likely that child may be bitten because of food (guarding it). Dogs that bit children they did not know more likely did so because of territorial guarding.

According to behavioral analysis, by far the two most common causes of dog bits were: 1. The guarding of possessions. 2. The guarding of territory.

The authors also report that about three-quarters of dogs that had bitten children showed signs of anxiety when left by their owners, or were exposed to loud and sudden noises, such as thunderstorms or fireworks.

The authors suggest that demonstrable fear could be a signal of having a tendency to bite when confronted with an apparent threat. Young children may be boisterous and unpredictable – two factors which could trigger violent behavior in an anxious dog.

Half of the dogs that had bitten children had medical problems, mainly problems related to their skin or bones. Some of these dogs also had kidney disease, hormonal problems, infections, growths, or eye problems.

It is possible that pain aggravated the dogs’ behavior, suggest the authors.

“Behavioural assessment of child-directed canine aggression”
Injury Prevention 2007; doi: 10.1136/ip.2007.015396

Written by: Christian Nordqvist