A brief report titled Behavioral Assessment of Child-Directed Canine Aggression by Reisner, Shofer, and Nance (2007) provides some demographic data on child-directed dog bites that include bite circumstances and dog characteristics.
In their 2007 paper titled Behavioral Assessment of Child-Directed Canine Aggression, Reisner et al. report case data obtained from dog owners whose dogs had been presented to the behavior clinic of the University of Pennsylvania between 2002 and 2005 for human-directed aggression. Researchers identified 111 cases in which the dog had bitten a child under 18 years of age and for which circumstances of the bite were known. Their data reveal some patterns in child-directed aggression among dogs. For example, familiar children were most likely to be bitten in circumstances of food or resource guarding (26% of cases) or in “benign” interactions such as bending over or hugging the dog (18% of cases). For children under 6 years of age, 44% of bites were in relation to food or resource guarding. Among bites to unfamiliar children, most were characterized as territorial, taking place when the child was in or entering the dog’s territory (with or without interacting with the dog directly).
The majority (81%) of dogs in this sample had previously bitten a human more than once. Of those past incidents of aggression, 61% occurred in the context of resource guarding. Seventy-seven percent of dogs also exhibited anxious behavior in the presence of thunderstorms or fireworks and/or when home alone or separated from the owner in the home, suggesting a possible correlation between anxious or attention-seeking behavior in these contexts and aggression. The majority of dogs (75%) were male and many had been through basic obedience training. Medical conditions were identified or suspected in 50% of cases, suggesting a set of precipitating variables related to pain or sensitivity that may have influenced the likelihood of aggressive responding.
With demographic and behavioral data of this sort, researchers can narrow their focus on conditions that evoke child-directed aggression in dogs. In particular, these data support ongoing public education efforts designed to teach parents and children alike how to avoid antecedent conditions associated with aggression. They also speak to the importance of ongoing dog training and behavior therapy efforts designed to establish, strengthen, and reinforce tolerant, calm, and nonaggressive responding among dogs in situations that might otherwise evoke aggression.