Dog bites: an everyday occurrence? - Veterinary Practice
Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now



Dog bites: an everyday occurrence?

WENDY TAYLOR continues her reports based on a recent BVBA/APBC One Health symposium and urges a concerted and collaborative approach to restoring dogs to their position as ‘Man’s best friend’

WE have all read the horrific headlines that seem to be in print weekly about yet another “dog attack” that often seems to end in a fatality. These stories, spread across the media, are in danger of creating a very “anti-dog” society.

The new dog law changes which have recently come into force will, I suspect, make matters worse.

So when did “Man’s best friend” become “Public enemy number 1”? After attending the joint BVBA/ APBC symposium “One Health: People and Pets’ Behaviour” it became quite clear that this has been going on for a long time. True, the fatalities have increased, but the number of bites per year has also been steadily increasing over many years.

The most disturbing fact was the majority of facial bites were in children under 11 years old. In adults, bites to the extremities are more common (Mannion and Shepherd, 2014). So who should be advising the dog owners and victims about how to stop this happening? The doctor who treats the bite? The nurses at the hospital? A social worker? Who is trained to assess the dog? Who else has contact with the pet?

What about us? Often, the first time we realise there is a problem is when the dog is presented for euthanasia.

So can we help? I believe we can, particularly with new puppies or dogs entering a new family. After all we are committed to the well-being of the animal: shouldn’t this include preventing the animal getting into a situation where it may bite a child and ultimately end up being euthanased? Not to mention prevention of damage to a child, both physical and emotional. This trauma is just as significant in adults.

We are in a prime position to help these dogs and children from the start of their lives together. From the first appointment we can ask if the family has children or grandchildren and start to advise on how to introduce the puppy, house rules for the children, social skills for the puppy and teach clients the “Ladder of Aggression” so they can learn to read their dog’s reactions.

Use your reception staff to alert you if children are out of control in the waiting room, invading the dog’s personal space or if they notice a dog looking stressed. If this happens when the children are out with the dog, it’s likely it will happen at home. The vets and nurses can then address this in a non-confrontational manner so that the client feels we are there to help and not accuse.

A “puppy development” consultation at six months is also a good idea. We encourage all family members to come so we can go over house rules, training and behaviour. It gives us a chance to watch the dog interact with the children and pick up on any early warning signs of stress, training problems or misunderstanding.

Puppy training classes are a great way for children and puppies to bond, also teaching children how to communicate with and be responsible for their dog. I would always try to find a class that does the Kennel Club Good Citizen Scheme as this teaches everyday scenarios.

What happens after a dog has bitten a child? Currently there is no aftercare provided for the victims and their families. For the dog there is one of four outcomes:

1. Rehoming – privately or left with rescue organisations possibly without any history about the bite, as owners may deny it has happened. This can cause a lot of problems for the dog and new owners in the future.

  • Euthanasia – these cases are distressing for everyone involved.
  • Abandonment.
  • The dog stays in the house, nothing changes and the child is bitten again. The severity of the bite may increase if the dog becomes more stressed.

Due to the new dog laws, the owner of the dog could now also be prosecuted.

Kendal Shepherd, a veterinary behaviourist, Danielle Greenberg, a vet in practice, and Chris Mannion, a human facial reconstructive surgeon, are currently collaborating to try to set up a scheme, involving agencies such as healthcare workers, vets, social workers, behaviourists and police. This “team” of all the relevant agencies should then react like a “999” call after a dog bite incident ends up in A&E.

Each incident should be investigated and treated, with a postbite treatment plan put in place. This collaboration is seeking to establish data collection from vet practices, A&E and the police on all dog bite incidents. Danielle can be e-mailed on

As a profession we can do our bit to help by giving good advice on dog/ human interactions and in particular when it comes to dogs and children.

There are many reputable websites which have detailed handouts about children and dogs. The APBC (Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors) produces a list of all its approved links to dog safety resources for children and parents. Of these I always recommend:

  • the Blue Dog website and DVD (;
  • The Dogs Trust Learn with Dogs (; and
  • Kendal Shepherd’s Canine Commandments ( Together let’s make our dogs “Man’s best friend” once again.
  • In the next article we will be looking into “Cat Cafes”.


Kendal Shepherd (2014) Proposed Pathway for routine investigation and treatment of dog bite injury. Kendal Shepherd: Ladder of Aggression.

Mannion, C. J. and Shepherd, K. (2014) One Health approach to dog bite prevention. Vet Record 174 (6): 151-152.

Have you heard about our
IVP Membership?

A wide range of veterinary CPD and resources by leading veterinary professionals.

Stress-free CPD tracking and certification, you’ll wonder how you coped without it.

Discover more