Updated 29 December 2014

Which dogs are likely to bite?

In many families dogs play an important role as guards and companions. But sometimes things can go horribly wrong. Which dogs are most likely to bite?


In recent years, it has become more and more apparent that dog bites are seriously underestimated as a public health issue, while the incidence of these injuries remains high.

A study was conducted by Professor AB Sebastian van As, head of the trauma unit at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital, and two other researchers. 

The annual frequency of dog bite injuries in children has been estimated at 22 per 1,000 paediatric patients, which is less than half of those who seek care at the hospital. 13% of patients of dog bites were admitted to the trauma ward or directly to the intensive care unit, as a result of dog bites.  

Small children aged 2 to 4 years form the peak incidence group for dog bites. 

Head, face or neck, the main attraction

The report shows that Dog bites to the head, face or neck were responsible for 0.5% of all trauma unit presentations and 32% of all dog bite injuries. 

1 871 patients with dog bite wounds were admitted from a total of 125 677 patients generally treated by the hospital, and they identified 596 children who sustained injuries to the head, face or neck. 

From 1 871 patients presenting with dog bite injuries, they identified 596 children who sustained injuries to the head, face or neck.

Children under the age of 6 years are most likely to have head, face and neck injuries while children older than 6 years are more likely injured to the perineum (the region between the scrotum and the anus in males, and between the posterior vulva junction and the anus in females), buttocks, legs and feet.

  • 29% of dog bites occur in summer when children are on holiday and most likely playing outdoors
  • 42% dog bite patients are presented to hospital between 12:00 and 18:00  
  • 46% dog bite patients are presented between 18:00 and 0:00  
  • 68% of these patients are little boys
  • A large percentage of attacks occur at the victim’s home or at the homes of friends and family; and include other dogs familiar to the child.
  • Certain breeds, most often those used as guard dogs such as Pit bull terriers, German shepherds, Dobermans and Rottweilers, pose the greatest danger.

Maltreatment, hunger and territorial instinct instilled by dog owners are just a few risk factors for dog attacks. The dog’s genetic inclination towards fierceness as well as the dog’s level of training plays a big role.

The findings of this study suggest that education should particularly target dog owners with young children at home, and older school-aged children who encounter dogs outside of home. There should be close adult supervision of all interactions between dogs and young children. 

Avoid ‘humanising’ your dog

Families should also be educated to avoid ‘humanising’ their dog by not allowing them to sleep on couches, etc as the dog may not be able to distinguish between animal and master and may be more likely to bite. 

After a dog attack, many children might develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).   Many children will have trouble being themselves again after a traumatic experience but they won't necessarily be disturbed enough to be diagnosed with the disorder.

Children with PTSD often have distressing recollections and dreams about the attack that may interfere with their everyday lives. Apart from causing PTSD, grievous bodily harm and septic wounds, dog bites may transmit tetanus and, in some cases, rabies. 

(Zaakirah Rossier , Health24)

Reference: AB van As, JP Dwyer, S Naidoo, Dog bites to the head, neck and face in children, South Afr J Epidemiol Infect 2010;25(1):36-38

Read more:

When dogs bite - what to do
Dog bite infection: get help immediately
Kids face dog danger


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