Summer is the Season for Dog Bites: Helpful Tips For Parents and Dog Owners in Virginia

Author: Sandra S. Gregor, Fredericksburg VA Personal Injury Attorney

Children love dogs. They are cute, playful, and loads of fun. As summer approaches and your children are out of school and outside more often, the chances of running into dogs – particularly dogs they may not be familiar with – greatly increases.

To avoid potential problems, it is important to talk with your children about how they should act around and approach dogs with which they come into contact. The following tips will assist in teaching your children how to interact with dogs:

  • Always ask permission to pet a dog. Teach your children never to approach a dog without first getting the permission of the owner. Dog owners should be aware of whether their dogs are safe to be around and like petting.
  • Don’t hug or kiss dogs. Almost instinctively, children want to throw their arms around the dogs they come across. As a general rule, dogs do not like to be hugged or kissed and face-to-face contact with a dog is a common cause of bites to the face.  Instead of hugging, teach your children to scratch dogs on the chest or on the side of the neck.
  • Stay away from unfamiliar dogs. Children should avoid dogs they do not know that may be running loose and unsupervised.
  • If your child is confronted by an aggressive dog, instruct him or her to quietly walk away. If a dog does chase after them, instruct the child to stay still.
  • Teach your children to never tease dogs or disturb them when they are sleeping or eating. They also should never pull a dog’s ear or tail, or climb on or attempt ride dogs.[1]

Talking with your children about how to treat and respect dogs will go a long way towards avoiding bites or other injuries. Of course, if the unfortunate happens and your child is harmed by a dog or another animal, seek immediate medical attention.

While teaching children about the potential dangers of dogs helps to prevent injuries, dog owners also have a duty to prevent their dogs from harming others. Many cities, counties, and towns in Virginia have enacted “leash laws.”[2]  “Leash laws” require a dog owner to keep their dog on a leash or otherwise restrained, such as in a dog pen, when the animal is outside.

Additionally, Virginia has enacted a law that governs “dangerous dogs.”  A “dangerous dog” is a dog that has bitten, attacked, or inflicted injury on a person or companion animal that is a dog or cat, or killed a companion animal that is a dog or cat.  If a dog is determined to be a dangerous dog, the dog owner is required to follow specific regulations such as registering their dog with the local animal control, keeping the dog confined indoors or in a securely enclosed and locked structure while on the dog owner’s property, and kept leashed and muzzled when off of the dog owner’s property.  An owner of a “dangerous dog” is also subject to criminal penalties if the dog bites a human being or attacks a human being causing bodily injury a second time.

To hold a dog owner civilly liable for a dog bite, Virginia law generally requires proof of prior notice that a dog is dangerous or is likely to bite or attack. This notice can be shown by

  1. registration as a “dangerous dog,”
  2. proof the dog has bit someone before; and/or
  3. proof that the dog was of a type that has “inclinations or characteristics” of a kind of dog likely to cause injury of which the owner should have been aware.

Hopefully the tips provided above will assist with helping your children avoid injuries from dogs. If the unfortunate happens and you or your children are bitten or injured by a dog, we are happy to review your case and explain your rights regarding recovery. 

About the Author: Sandra Gregor is a personal injury lawyer with the law firm of Allen & Allen working out of our Fredericksburg, VA office. She handles a variety of injury cases including bicycle accidents, car accidents and premises liability accidents.


[1] Information gathered from “Teaching Children How to Prevent Dog Bites,”  American Veterinary Medical Association, https://www.avma.org/public/Pages/Teaching-children-about-dog-bite-prevention.aspx and Doggone Safe: Dog Bite Prevention Through Education, http://www.doggonesafe.com/dog_bite_prevention.

[2] See  Va. Code Ann. § 3.2-6539.

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