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Exploring the Hidden Psychological Wounds of Dog Attacks on Kids

By Matt Lalande in Dog Attacks, Dog BItes on October 08, 2023

Exploring the Hidden Psychological Wounds of Dog Attacks on Kids

Our Dog Bite Lawyers: Psychological Implications of a Dog Attacks on Young Minds.

For little kids, dog bites inflict lasting damage. Powerful jaws crush fragile bones. Young bodies endure deep wounds and broken bones. The pain goes on and on. Through stitches, surgeries and rehab. But the worst hurts hide inside. In their heart and head.

The attack memories won’t go away. They replay the attack again and again. Loud barks make their heart race. For the rest of their lives they will panic whenever a dog is near. Nightmares will keep them from sleeping. Their personality changes too. Up and down moods. Getting angry for no reason. Bad thoughts they can’t control. They don’t laugh or play the same anymore. The attack hurts keep hurting. For years and years after. Ruining their childhood. Maybe forever.

Dog attacks on children can result in devastating physical and psychological consequences. Beyond the immediate pain and trauma of the attack, children may suffer from disfigurement, requiring multiple surgeries to repair the damage, and even then, some physical scars may remain visible for a lifetime. These visible reminders can significantly affect a child’s self-esteem and body image, often leading to social isolation and bullying. Furthermore, the psychological impact of a dog attack can be quite profound, with many children developing a debilitating fear of dogs, anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These mental health challenges can hinder a child’s ability to form relationships, focus in school, or engage in normal childhood activities, thereby impacting their overall quality of life and well-being.

Dog Bite Statistics

In Canada, dog bites are a significant concern, with an estimated 500,000 dog bites occurring annually. Children between the ages of 5 to 9 are the most common victims of these incidents. Adults typically sustain bites on their hands, while young children are more likely to be bitten on the face and neck.

Each year, approximately one to two fatalities result from dog attacks, with a notable 24 out of 28 fatalities between 1990 and 2007 being children under 12 years old. Interestingly, urban residents are twice as likely to experience dog bites compared to their rural counterparts. The prairie provinces, including Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta, have recorded the highest incidents of fatal dog attacks. Public opinion on the matter leans towards owner responsibility, with 58% of Canadians attributing attacks to irresponsible owners rather than dangerous breeds.

The Enduring Psychological Devastation of Dog Bites on Children

Following a canine-inflicted trauma, children may undergo a spectrum of psychological responses, each varying in intensity and duration. This exposition delineates the potential psychological ramifications for a child who has sustained severe injuries consequent to a dog attack.

Immediate Traumatic Stress Response:

Upon the occurrence of the traumatic event, children are likely to exhibit acute stress reactions. These immediate responses encompass physiological alterations such as elevated heart rate, as well as behavioral manifestations including crying, trembling, or a transient state of immobilization (freeze response). These reactions are transient, typically subsiding within a span ranging from several hours to days.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD):

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in children following a dog attack is a serious concern that warrants careful attention and understanding from parents. This condition normally manifests as a prolonged stress response to the traumatic event, with children often reliving the attack through recurrent nightmares and intrusive thoughts. These symptoms may be accompanied by heightened arousal, leading to difficulty concentrating, irritability, and an exaggerated startle response. The child could also exhibit avoidance behaviors and steer clear of places, people, or activities that remind them of the traumatic incident, which in this context, may include a complete avoidance of dogs or places where dogs are likely to be present.

It is imperative for parents to acknowledge that PTSD is intricately linked to the child’s perception of the event and their sense of helplessness and horror experienced during the incident. The severity of PTSD symptoms can vary, with some kids who are quite resilient and others kids who require professional help to navigate through their trauma.

Specific Phobia (Cynophobia):

A child may develop a pronounced, irrational fear of dogs, clinically referred to as cynophobia. This phobia precipitates intense anxiety upon exposure to dogs, compelling the child to evade environments where dogs are likely to be present.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder:

Following a severe dog attack, some kids may be prone to develop Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), a psychological condition characterized by pervasive and excessive anxiety that is not confined to specific situations or objects. In the context of a serious dog attack, children with GAD may experience heightened anxiety not only about dogs or similar animals but also about their general safety and well-being in various environments. This chronic state of worry and tension may manifest even in situations that are unrelated to the initial traumatic event. Kids may become overly cautious, expecting disaster or harm to befall them at any moment, which can significantly impair their daily functioning, social relationships, and academic performance.

It’s important for parents to recognize that GAD in kids after a dog attack is not merely an amplified fear of dogs but a broader anxiety disorder that affects the child’s overall perception of safety and security in the world around them. Kids may go on to develop physical symptoms such as restlessness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability, muscle tension, and sleep disturbances. Early intervention is vital, as GAD can impact the child’s development and quality of life if left unaddressed. Always remember that as parents, you should consider consulting with healthcare professionals, including psychologists or psychiatrists, if you are able to afford it or if you are lucky enough to have an extended benefit plan to help fund ongoing therapy.


Children may also succumb to depressive disorders, characterized by pervasive sadness, loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities, and a general sense of hopelessness. These symptoms may be directly attributable to the trauma or may emerge as a reaction to the alterations in their lifestyle and self-perception following the injury.

Behavioral Modifications:

Post-trauma, children may exhibit a constellation of behavioral changes, including heightened aggression, social withdrawal, or regression to earlier developmental stages manifesting as bed-wetting or thumb-sucking.

Trust Impairment:

After a serious dog attack, some kids might struggle with trust issues, which can be a big deal and last a long time if not addressed. This happens because dogs are usually seen as friendly pets, so when a dog attacks, it shakes up a kid’s basic sense of trust not just in dogs, but also in people and the world in general. This broken trust can show up in different ways: kids might not want to get close to others, might always expect the worst from people, or feel unsafe a lot of the time. If these trust issues aren’t tackled early, they can stick around as the kid grows up, affecting friendships, social life, and emotional health.

To help kids rebuild trust, it’s important for parents and caregivers to create a space where kids feel safe to talk about their fears and worries. Having honest talks about trust, showing kids that they can rely on you, and gently helping them have positive experiences that build trust can all make a big difference. In some cases, talking to a psychologist or therapist can also be a really helpful way for kids to work through trust issues. Without the right support, these trust problems can follow kids into adulthood, making it hard for them to have strong, trusting relationships and feel confident in social situations.

Self-Esteem Issues:

It is not uncommon for kids to develop significant self-esteem and body image issues if the dog attack resulted in visible scars or disfigurement. The physical scars serve as perpetual reminders of the traumatic event, often leading to a negative self-perception and dissatisfaction with their appearance. This altered self-view can cause feelings of alienation and worthlessness. Kids may sense a disconnection from their peers due to their altered physical state. A kid’s diminished self-esteem can penetrate into various aspects of the child’s life, impacting academic performance, social interactions, and overall mental well-being. In some cases, the visible scars may render the child more susceptible to bullying or social exclusion, further undermining their sense of self-worth.

Body Image Issues

In tandem with self-esteem challenges, body image concerns may also surface. Body image is inherently linked to an individual’s perception of their physical self and the presumed perception by others. Children bearing the physical aftermath of a dog attack may develop a skewed body image, internalizing a belief that their value is predominantly tethered to their physical appearance. This distorted self-image can foster a preoccupation with their scars or disfigurements, potentially leading to body dysmorphic disorder, a condition characterized by excessive rumination over perceived defects in appearance. The child may engage in persistent comparison with peers, exacerbating feelings of inadequacy and dissatisfaction, thereby necessitating timely and appropriate psychological intervention to mitigate the long-term impact on their mental health.

Intervention and Treatment:

Early psychological intervention is imperative to mitigate the severity and duration of these psychological effects. The manifestation of any aforementioned symptoms warrants professional consultation to devise appropriate therapeutic strategies and interventions. These may encompass cognitive-behavioral therapy, exposure therapy, or pharmacological interventions, each tailored to the child’s unique psychological profile and the specific nature of their traumatic experience.

Teaching our Kids about Potential Dog Danger

As protective parents and dog owners, we shoulder the solemn responsibility to shield our vulnerable children from the pain of dog bites to the best of our ability. Understanding prevention strategies is key to fulfilling this duty we hold dear.

The first line of defense lies in comprehensive education. Parents must teach kids appropriate behavior around dogs to lower bite risk. Vital safety lessons include:

  • Never approach an unfamiliar dog without asking its adult owner first
  • If permitted to pet a dog, always touch gently – no hugging, squeezing or patting on the head
  • Never bother a dog while it is eating, sleeping or tending to puppies
  • Note subtle signs of fear, pain or aggression in a dog like growling, stiffening or baring teeth – then immediately back away slowly without running

However, formal instruction is never enough. Even well-educated kids cannot be left unsupervised with family pets or strange dogs. Adult vigilance is non-negotiable. Parents must provide constant visual oversight whenever children and dogs interact.

Allowing a child to wander through the neighborhood alone or play unmonitored in the yard with their own pet sets them up for potential heartbreak. While inconvenient, tethering and leashing dogs, installing secure outdoor fencing, using pet gates and assigning an adult “dog monitor” during play dates provides vital protection.

And while judging or vilifying an entire breed is unethical, ignoring statistical reality also puts our kids at risk. Some specific dog breeds, bloodlines and mixes, especially those bred for violent functions like fighting, show markedly higher rates of aggression. A pet that shows warning signs like baring teeth, stiffening, growling or dominant behaviors warrants an immediate professional veterinary behavior assessment.

If a family dog exhibits violent tendencies, a child’s safety must come before an owner’s attachment to that pet. As excruciating as it may be, re-homing to a child-free home or euthanization are sometimes the only responsible ways to preempt tragedy.

If your Child has suffered Serious Injuries in a Dog Attack, call our Dog Bite Lawyers today.

There’s no doubt that In egregious cases, legal action against negligent dog owners may aid healing while ensuring accountability to prevent future attacks. If your child was the victim of a dog attack, it’s important that you speak to a dob bite lawyer with expertise in dog attack litigation so that you are fully informed about your rights and entitlement to damages.

While financial settlements cannot erase psychological trauma, they provide resources for the massive costs involved in the child’s physical recovery. Legal action also motivates owners to prevent future attacks by taking responsibility for securing and training high-risk dogs.

Since 2003, Matt Lalande has represented hundreds of kids and their families who’s lives have been devastated by dog attacks in Hamilton – and all over Ontario. Our consultations are 100% free – and if you decide to work with our Hamilton dog bite lawyers, the fee is free. We do not charge our clients anything unless we win their case. We are happy to provide you the legal advice you need in order for you to make an informed decision about your own particular situation. Call us no matter where you are in Ontario at 1-844-LALANDE or local in the Southern Ontario region at 905-333-8888. Alternatively, you can send us a confidential email through our website – and we would be happy to explain your long-term disability rights and legal options to you, at no cost.

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What are the common psychological effects on children after experiencing a dog attack?

Children who have been attacked by dogs often experience a range of psychological effects including anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), fear of dogs (cynophobia), and depression. Early intervention and professional counseling can significantly aid in their emotional recovery.

How can parents help children cope with the trauma following a dog attack?

Parents should offer strong emotional support, engage in open communication, and consider seeking help from a qualified therapist or counselor specializing in trauma and anxiety in children. Engaging in therapy can provide children with coping strategies to deal with their fears and anxieties.

Why is it crucial to pursue compensation after a child has been attacked by a dog?

Compensation is vital as it can cover medical expenses, therapy costs, and future treatment needed due to the psychological and physical scars left by the attack. It also provides a sense of justice and closure for the child and their family.

How does compensation support a child’s psychological recovery after a dog attack?

Financial compensation can facilitate access to the best available psychological support and treatment, helping the child to overcome the trauma more effectively. It also alleviates the financial burden on families, allowing them to focus on the child’s recovery without added stress.

What steps should be taken to pursue compensation for a child victim of a dog attack?

Initially, seek immediate medical and psychological help for the child. Document the incident, gather witness statements, and consult with an experienced personal injury or dog bite attorney who can guide you through the legal process to secure fair compensation.




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