I’m in a desperate situation. I have a 2-year-old German shepherd. Last week, he bit my neighbor’s 7-year-old girl. They had been playing fetch, and he nailed her in the back of the head. She needed 12 staples. Needless to say, I’m sick over this. I have 5-year-old twins, and they can do anything to him. I will say when kids are over he avoids them and seems almost afraid of them. He has growled before, but usually he will just leave the room when kids visit. So I don’t know if this bite was intentional, a reaction out of fear, or a mistake. In any case, I cannot risk him biting again. How can I know if he’ll be safe around kids in the future? ~ Susan
There are several red flags in your letter. First, your dog growls at visiting children. This is his way of expressing discomfort. Never punish a dog for growling; warnings convey valuable information! But whenever a dog growls at a child, you need to carefully assess the situation to prevent it from recurring. By leaving the room, he is telling you that he would like to be away from visiting kids. For now, be sure to put him in behind a locked door whenever children are visiting.
Twelve staples means your dog did not show good bite inhibition. Most dog bites do not puncture the skin. In this case, your dog created a large gash. If he were to bite again, the injury would probably be similar.
And the ages of your kids and of your dog are another cause for concern. Kids between 5 and 9 (like your kids and most of their friends) are bitten more often than people of other ages. Also dogs grow into their level of aggression. Most serious dog bites come from dogs between 2 and 5 years old. Your dog is at the earlier end of this time frame.
I strongly suggest you take your dog for a professional evaluation to get a better idea of your dog’s social drive, tolerance levels, and reactivity. This information will help you decide how best to ensure the safety of your kids and their friends.