Dog Bites Child: Provoked vs Unprovoked Dog Bite

Nicholas A. Battaglia
Reviewer Details

This post was reviewed by Nicholas A. Battaglia, Esq., an attorney licensed in New York and New Jersey.  He is owner and legal content writer for a law practice marketing firm and a realty group focusing on new construction builds in upstate New York, where he lives with his lovely wife and his counselor-at-bark Flora, a mixed breed rescue.

Dog bites a child: when can a child be found to have provoked a dog? In terms of provocation with children, state laws have different points. Common sense would tell you how children react whenever they see dogs; they’re known for grabbing, pulling, and squeezing dogs.

However, it seemed like the protection is always in favor of children who provoke, not the dog. This being said, as the dog owner, you have the responsibility to give optimum protection to the child against your dog. The question is: is the dog also protected by the law? That question will be answered later on.

Indeed, injuries from dog bites are usual. The sad news is that children are more affected than adults. Just come to imagine that there is about a 50% chance a child sustains a dog bite, and around 80% of which is severe (one that involves neck and head) according to statistics.

There are varying laws among different states; we have to know about these laws first before discussing whether or not a child is considered to have provoked a dog. Read along, and you will understand!


Law Governing Liability For Damages Caused By Dogs

Here are the laws showing the presumption that children at a certain age don’t cause provocation, resulting in liability of owners in case of dog bites:


  • Massachusetts

Under Massachusetts General Law – Part I, Title XX, Chapter 140, Section 155, the general rule is that the owner is liable for the damages caused, either the body or the property of another, by the dog.

However, there is an exception to this liability, such as when the person trespassed, committed other torts, teased, tormented, or abused the dog. As an exception to this exception, it is presumed that a child under seven years of age does not commit the said acts. The burden of proof to reverse the presumption is in the defendant.

You see, this law only shows that a child who’s under seven years of age is presumed not to have provoked a dog. Playing and petting with dogs are undoubtedly exciting for many children. Who could resist teasing their pets? Sometimes, it seemed like children hurt dogs; in fact, they’re just playing with them.

As a result, dogs would bite them. It was found out that one percent of emergencies is due to bite wounds, the majority of which is dog bites. Sadly, around 15 to 30 percent of these cases involve dogs belonging to the family. Although numerous cases of dog bites are only minor cases, those which involve severe injuries are scary.

What’s worse is that most cases require the dog owner to pay for damages to the victim. How about the protection of dogs in this case? Are these animals really protected? Should they be entirely blamed? Well, not all the time! There are laws protecting dogs, especially if they’re provoked.


  • Connecticut’s presumption

According to Connecticut’s law on the damage by dogs to persons or property, there’s a presumption that there’s no provocation if the one who provoked is under seven years of age.

This law speaks about the liability for damage by the owner or keeper of the dog causing damage to the body or property of another.

However, there’s no liability to speak of when the said damage was obtained due to trespassing or the commission of a tort by the victim. Furthermore, liability is not commenced when the victim teased, tormented, or abused the dog.

Just like the law above mentioned, there’s an exception to this exception: it is presumed that the said acts are not committed when the child is under 7 years of age. In this case, the burden of proof is given to the defendant.


Cases Involved

To further understand the laws regarding children and dog bites and how they’re applied, let’s look at the cases below:


  • The presumptions ARE rebuttable

In the case of Reed by Through Lawrence v. Bowen, No. 86-182, October 24, 1986, the appellants (plaintiffs) seek damages resulted from the attack of the dog of the appellees (dog owner). Indeed, it was established that the dog is owned by the appellees, the Bowens’, and that the child is lawfully on their property.

However, the issue herein is whether or not the child acted carelessly or mischievously, thereby aggravating or provoking the dog.

According to the facts of the case, the child (who was only 4 years old) went to the Bowens’ and played with the dog in their yard. However, Mrs. Bowens gave a warning not to play with the dog because it has an ear infection. But then, the child insisted on playing so, he was asked to go home.

When the child left, the Bowens went inside the house. However, a neighbour testified that she saw the child returned to the yard. Although she can’t entirely see what has just happened, he presumed that the child was pulling either the chain of the dog or the dog itself. The dog turned and bit the child.

In this case, the law does not always rule in favor of the injured. This case shows the presumption that a child under 7 years of age is deemed not provoked the dog is rebuttable. It manifests that the Florida courts do not agree with an automatic presumption, thereby concluding that the 4-year-old child provoked the dog.

In deciding thereof, it is crucial to take note of all the circumstances of the incident (such as the maturity and age of the child). Since it is shown that the child aggravated and provoked the dog, the conclusive presumption of contributory negligence is not considered in the case.


  • Acts constituting provocation, thus no automatic presumption protecting the child

Here’s another case constituting provocation by a three and a half-year-old child. In the case of Toney v. Bouthillier, 631 P.2d 557 (Ariz. Ct. App. 1981), the issue raised therein (relevant to our discussion) is whether or not the acts of the child constitutes provocation.

The facts show that while the child (who was three years and eight months of age) was on a public sidewalk playing, a German shepherd bit her. At that time, the dog was roaming around the neighborhood since it was unleashed. Due to the bite, the child suffered from a nose laceration, requiring three surgeries. please read here do australian shepherds shed

Arizona law, in this case, teaches us that hitting a dog could result in a finding of provocation; thus, there is no automatic presumption (that the child does not cause the provocation) protecting the child. It is worth noting that provocation here is shown when the child hit a “bad dog.”


  • No automatic presumtion

In the case of Nelson v. Lewis, 36 Ill. App. 3d 130, 344 N.E.2d 268 (Ill. App. Ct. 1976), the injury caused to the two and a half-year-old child is not compensable. Why so? The child is deemed to have provoked the dog by stepping on its tail.

Under Illinois law, there’s no exemption from liability if the child provoked the dog. If you’re wondering what provocation means, it is the process or act of provoking (of course), incitement, or stimulation.

At common law, it is a must for the plaintiff to show that the dog is acting viciously towards another person. And this disposition should be known to the owner. please read here Why Is My Dog Acting Paranoid All of a Sudden

However, the burden imposed by the law is reduced by the adoption of the statute under the Animal Control Act.

Furthermore, there are two kinds of provocation- intentional and unintentional. The court holds that unintentional provocation entitles the victim to recover from the injuries suffered; provided that the animal’s response is too extreme in relation to the stimulus.


  • Provocation barring relief

In the case of Nicholes v. Lorenz, 237 N.W.2d 468 (Mich. 1976), it holds that the past conduct of the dog or the knowledge of the owner thereof is not necessary to establish; such statement is true if you bring an action under the dog bite statute. please read here what does it mean when a dog bites another dogs ear

The Supreme Court of Michigan requires that for a person to be liable, it should determine whether the inadvertent act (of stepping on the tail) constitutes provocation. Well, in this case, there is no evidence showing that the provocation was intentional.

However, the act of a six-year-old child pushing a seven-year-old could lead to provocation, thereby barring relief from the injury caused by the dog.

As one can see, the facts of an animal attack or dog bite case are very much considered on a case-by-case basis. please read here what is a male dog called 

Myths About Dog Safety

Yes, we have a pet-centered society. I guess you also have your own dogs at home. But then, it’s sad to think that commonly, we don’t know safety practices that we can apply, both dog owners and parents.

And we can’t just assume that there are adequate safety practices available at home. Here are the common myths about children and dogs:


Myth #1. Suppose dogs are already familiar to children while still puppies, they won’t bite as they grow old.

Here are the common reasons why dogs bite children:

  • Resource guarding
  • Fear
  • Pain
  • Benign interactions (like hugging and petting)

While puppies are around 3 to 12 weeks old, they are sensitive. You have to take note of this stage as puppies need to feel safe all the time. Exposing your children to these puppies may be dangerous.

The cure for resource guarding is not entirely through socialization. It’s hard if your dog is quite insecure about its food. Yes, your child and your pet grow up comfortable with each other. But it doesn’t mean that it won’t hurt your child, especially when it feels startled, hurt, or scared.


Myth #2. Dogs are safe with adults; thus, they’re safe with children too.

The difference in how adults and children act is significant. Dogs observe the difference in how children (pre-schoolers, toddlers, babies, or newborns) act, interact, and sound.

With this, there’s no doubt why dogs can get worried when children are around.


Myth #3. Children are taught to discipline the dog so that it will submit to them.

The humans and dogs relationship is not a competition for purposes of social dominance. As mentioned many times, the common reason why dog bites are because of resource guarding or fear, not conflicts regarding dominance.

For instance, your dog growls at a child, and the latter yells in the negative. This action alone escalates aggression, not just in the present but also in future encounters.

Also, if a dog is anxious, it will most likely become defensive to your child’s “threats.”


Myth #4. Children can be gentle; there’s nothing to worry about.

Here are the acts triggering dog bites:

  • Hugging
  • Petting
  • Touching
  • Kissing

Have you observed that these are affectionate and gentle acts?

Well, humans and dogs have different languages. For example, dogs interpret eye to eye contact as a threat, mainly if the other dog rests. Why so? The one who’s resting may signal anxiety or stress by yawing, licking its lips, or looking away. The approaching dog may feel the same way. Please read here why does my dog lick me in the morning

Don’t overlook these simple warning signs. If your child still approaches a “threatened” dog, he will most likely be bitten.


Myth #5. All dogs, aside from a pit bull, is safe with children.

Any dog can bite your child (whatever breed or mix it is). And dog bites are