Education and responsible pet ownership are the keys to preventing animal bites. To reduce the chance of you or your child being bitten by an animal, make sure that you both know the basics of canine body language and how to behave appropriately around animals. 

Recognizing Signs of Aggression, Anxiety, and Fear

Understanding canine body language and recognizing when a dog is feeling uncomfortable, fearful, threatened, or aggressive is critical in preventing animal bites. 

Signs of Aggressiveness: 

  • Ears up and forward
  • Tail held high and tense, possibly vibrating
  • Fur along back raised
  • Tense body leaning forward
  • Teeth bared, possibly growling 
  • Direct eye contact

Signs of Fearfulness and Anxiety: 

  • Ears flat back
  • Tail tucked between legs
  • Fur along back raised
  • Tense body leaning backward
  • Head lowered
  • Teeth bared, possibly growling
  • Avoids direct eye contact
  • Rolling over/showing belly

Do not approach an animal that is showing any of these signs. Even the slightest bit of aggression, fear, or anxiety can cause an animal to bite. Be mindful that a wagging tail or a crouching body does not always mean friendliness.

Teaching Your Child About Animal Safety 

It is important to be aware of the fact that any dog can bite. If provoked, even the smallest, calmest, and most easy-going animal might bite. You can prevent your child from an animal bite by teaching him how to appropriately behave around animals. 

Move slowly and talk quietly around animals. An animal is more likely to respond positively to someone who is calm and patient around them. Never yell, scream, or be rowdy around animals.

Do not approach, pet, or play with animals when they are eating, sleeping, or chewing on a bone. 

Leave mother animals alone when they are with their babies. 

Do not approach a dog that is barking, growling, or showing any other signs of fear or aggression. 

Avoid making direct eye contact with an animal. Many animals perceive this to be threatening and may react fearfully and aggressively. 

Always ask permission before petting someone else’s pet. If the owner says it is okay, always allow the animal to smell your hand before petting them. Only pet the animal if it approaches you and is showing signs of contentedness. Avoid petting an animal on the top of the head. Rather, pet the animal’s chest or shoulders. 

Do not stick your fingers in animal cages. 

Do not tease an animal or use an animal to tease another person. 

Do not pet an animal if it behind a fence or in a car. Some animals, especially dogs, can become quite territorial and often protect their home or space. 

Do not approach a dog that is off-leash. If you see that a dog is loose, make sure to tell an adult immediately.

If a child is approached by a loose animal, he should not run and scream. Instead, stay calm, quiet and still, like a tree. Avoid eye contact with the animal. Once the animal doesn’t perceive the child to be a threat, he will begin to back away. Once the animal loses interest, the child can then slowly begin to back away. 

If a child is knocked down by an animal, he should curl up in a ball and tuck his knees into his stomach. His fingers should be interlocked behind his neck to prevent possible head or neck injury. If the child remains in this position and quiet, the animal will most likely lose interest and walk away. 

For additional teaching materials, please check out our Educational Resources page. 

If you would like information from an Anti-Cruelty Behavior Specialist regarding this behavior topic, please call 312-645-8253 or email

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