Stray dogs may worry you, but would you believe that 77% of dog bites come from dogs the victim knows? Most of the dogs involved in bites belong to a victim’s friend or family member. Because dog bites can be so serious for young children, it’s particularly important to know what you can do to prevent a bite from happening.

Some smart ways to minimize your child’s risk:

Keep very small children apart from dogs

Until your child is old enough to understand the word, “No,” it’s important to keep them away from any family dogs (or other pets). Very small children don’t quite understand the difference between a living animal and a stuffed toy — and they can physically hurt a dog by grabbing its snout, ears, tail or legs. A dog in pain may lash out, which means your child could end up bitten.

Teach young children to respect the animal

It’s never acceptable to hit, poke, pull on or tease a dog. Nor is it okay to touch the dog’s toys without permission — even if your child only means to play. Dogs are territorial creatures and may react badly if they think your child is trying to “steal” their favorite toy.

Help older children recognize signs of danger

Older children should know the signs that a dog isn’t feeling friendly and doesn’t want to be bothered. They include:

  • Growling and bared teeth
  • A stiff tail or arched body
  • A prolonged stare where the dog refuses to look away
  • Ears that are either pricked forward or lowered way back close to the dog’s head

Help your child understand that even when they’re familiar with a dog, they need to pay attention if the dog is acting skittish, agitated or scared. Those are signs that something is wrong, and they need to back off.

Ask the dog’s owner to put the dog away

As difficult as it may be to ask your mom, dad, sibling or neighbor to put their dog in another room while your child is around, that may be the best solution. Doing so protects the dog and the child alike from harm.

Ultimately, the dog’s owner is primarily responsible for the dog’s behavior. If your child is seriously injured by a dog bite, find out what rights you have to compensation.