Dog Bite Prevention Programme: Organisation, Evaluation, New Concept
World Small Animal Veterinary Association World Congress Proceedings, 2010
Colette Pillonel, Dr.Med.Vet., Behaviourist Veterinarian, ENVF Qualified
Renens, Switzerland

Read the German translation: Präventionsprogramm: Organisation, Beurteilung, Neues Konzept

Establishment of a PAB-CH Team

Ideally a PAB team is composed of 3 people and 3 dogs of different sizes and different colours, or at least 2 people and 2 dogs. It is important that the people know each other and mutually complement each other in their work with children. The PAB team is supervised by somebody with pedagogic experience (a teacher, a special needs teacher, etc.). The group leader must have a good knowledge of dog behaviour. He must be capable of reacting effectively in a stressful situation and have good observation skills (in relation to children and dogs, and also to the handler). The handler must be able to control his dog in every situation and know his body language and the reactions and signs given by his own dog when he is stressed. The handler must, above all, enjoy working with children. He must have a balanced relationship with his animal, without harshness or insecurity. He is an example to the children.

PAB dogs must be adult, healthy (back, hips, eyes, hearing, clean, without parasites, etc.), socially competent, with a composed behaviour in relation to humans and dogs, and be used to children. These dogs must be confident, well trained, and under the control of their handler when faced with children and other dogs (be calm, capable of waiting and able to tolerate stress). Bite inhibition of PAB dogs must be impeccable. The dog must not show any undesirable behaviour (e.g., jumping up at anybody when greeting them). Dogs that have shown any aggressive behaviour towards children are immediately excluded, even if this behaviour was justified in a particular situation (e.g., if he is ill-treated).

PAB Test for Dogs and Handlers

The test for PAB dogs is an aptitude test and not a behaviour test. At the time of the PAB test, it is the handler-dog pair that is tested. The aim is to determine if the dog is capable of working with his handler in a classroom with children and other dogs. Until now, about 150 dogs have been tested. The test appears to be adapted to the selection of dogs able to work in schools; it has not been validated.

Efficiency of the Prevention

The evaluation of the prevention programme in Switzerland is not easy, even though an enormous amount of work has been done in the field: on the one hand, because these prevention programmes have not been followed and applied in a comparable way in every 'canton'; on the other hand, because no epidemiological follow-up on dog bite accidents has been put into place at federal or cantonal levels.

Regarding the efficiency of educational interventions for preventing dog bites by children, few studies exist with a good quality of methodology. Duperrex3 mentioned only a few studies that are randomised and have a before/after control. The conclusion was that educating children in a school environment who are less than 10 years old could improve their knowledge, attitude and behaviour towards dogs.

In Switzerland, two studies have been undertaken concerning the efficiency of the prevention of dog bite accidents. The first concerns the evaluation of the PAB programme,1 the second concerns the knowledge of risk situations acquired by people in charge of a dog.2

Evaluation of the 'Prevent A Bite' Programme in Western Switzerland1

92 children divided into two groups filled in a questionnaire (Q-PAM) corresponding to bite-risk situations. It was filled in on three separate occasions: one day before the programme (pre-test), immediately after the programme (post-test 1), and finally one month later (post-test 2). Two weeks after the programme, some children from both groups were filmed interacting (four situations) with a dog in 'semi-real' conditions. This was then evaluated, based on an observation scale. The results of the pre-test showed that the children had a relatively good knowledge of how to behave in the presence of a dog. The average score for both groups of children was similar. An average of 22.71 for the experimental group and 22.68 for the control group. However, at the time of post-test 1, the scores of the experimental group went up to an average of 29.3, thus representing a success rate of 89%. The children from the control group showed no improvement, with an average of 22.8. The same results were observed at the time of the post-test 2. None of the independent variables that were taken into consideration showed significant correlations with the results of the children. Concerning the behaviour of the children in the 'semi-real' situation, the results did not show a significant difference between the two groups; the children who had followed the prevention presentation had a tendency to stay further away from the dog than the children in the control group.

How Dangerous is the Dog for a Child; Do Handlers Have Enough Knowledge About Risk Situations in Switzerland2

By filling in a questionnaire at the veterinarian's the knowledge of dog handlers is evaluated, along with the origins of any courses followed and information to which he has had access. The questionnaire is orientated towards the recognition of risk situations (for the child and the adult), knowledge of the communication skills of a dog (using drawings) and the behaviour adopted in key situations. Independent variables are taken into consideration.

These results should be considered as a guide because the questionnaire has not been validated. However, these results give a good indication of the depth of preventive information acquired by dog handlers.

The Evolution of the Number of Dog Bite Accidents in Switzerland

The evolution of the number of dog bite accidents is not known, because these accidents are not part of any epidemiological study. The compulsory announcement of dog bite accidents put into operation in 2006 does not reflect the reality of these accidents,4,5 neither the incriminated dogs, nor the victims. The results from the announcements only represent a part of the bites, as the very idea of a compulsory announcement inevitably carries a bias.5 On top of this, the procedure for treating the data is not comparable from canton to canton.

A reliable source of information showing the efficiency of the prevention programme would be to follow each accident by introducing a code when a case is admitted to hospital.

Development of a New Concept of Prevention in the Family; Workshop 'The Dog and Us'

During an inter-disciplinary seminar on the prevention of accidents with infants,7 a participant described a child who came to ride a pony in a riding school, who simply mounted her pony, galloped, and then put the pony back in his stable. It so appears that before being able to teach 'know-how to handle" to the child in relation to the animal, the child must acquire social competence ("savoir être"). This social competence is not limited to the child in relation to the animal, this knowledge ("savoir être") could open ways for the child to discover living beings that have a different way of living, thinking and communicating. This knowledge in relation to all that is different could open another door, one of respect and gratitude towards others. This knowledge is inseparable from 'know-how to handle'.

This theory was echoed when observing the evolution of the prevention programme for children; several elements were missing in our puzzle of the dog-child relationship. It was observed that when certain children were in contact with a dog, they didn't get involved in the relationship, staying at a known level of behaviour without entering into any exchange, as if the child and the dog remained strangers to each other. The dog replied by keeping his distance. The elements of prevention and knowledge of the dog that the child had learnt did not seem sufficient to establish a positive relationship; work on social competence ("savoir être") must be added to "know how to handle" of the child in relation to the dog. On the other hand, the parents' attitude towards dogs in general makes us think that the prevention information does not pass from the child to the adult in a satisfactory manner.

A new concept has therefore been developed in the form of a theoretical and practical workshop that is aimed primarily at adults (parents), who can themselves experiment the relationship with exchanges with the dog; then, in another practical workshop, with the child and his parent in the presence of dogs. In this way we hope to re-establish the involvement of the adult (parent) in the prevention programme, not only by giving him responsibility but also by him taking part in the experience. We will therefore have the possibility to work a congruence of behaviours with the adult and the child because the adult (parent) often remains a reference in matters of behavioural patterns, and because new behaviours must be repeated for them to be integrated.


The management of dog bite accidents and their prevention should not stop with the victims or the dogs. This management must encompass all elements of the dog world, the population that is at risk, and the medical profession. In this way, the prevention package will contain elements concerning the dog, the owner, the breeder, the dog trainer, the veterinarian, the doctor, infant school teachers, children and their parents (dog owners or not). All these elements are connected to each other. If one link in this chain is ignored or absent from the prevention programme, the risk of bites cannot be reduced to an optimal level. The prevention programme for children alone is not sufficient to reduce the risk.1,3

Moreover, there is a need for high quality studies that measure dog bite rates as an outcome3 of risk management, because there is a general lack of evidence about the impact of information, education and repression to prevent dog bite accidents.


1.  Chalet S. Evaluation des programmes de prévention des accidents par morsures de chien (PAM) en Suisse Romande. Revue Suisse des Sciences de l'Education, 2008, 30(2), 367-383.

2.  Hornisberger L. Wissensstand der Hundehalter in der Schweiz zum Thema Gefährdung von Kindern durch Hunde, Inauguraldissertation, Universität Berne, 2009.

3.  Duperrex O, et al. Education of children and adolescents for the prevention of dog bite injuries. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2009, Issue 2. Art. No.: CD004726. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD004726.pub2.

4.  Bocion Ph, AGGH

5.  Horisberger U. Medizinisch versorgte Hundebissverletzungen in der Schweiz: Opfer-Hunde-Unfallsituationen, Inauguraldissertation, Universität Bern, 2002.


7.  Reinberg O. Prevention des accidents de la petite enfance, Proceeding, 2009, Lausanne (à paraître).

Speaker Information
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Colette Pillonel, Dr Med., Behaviourist Veterinarian, ENVF Qualified
Renens, Switzerland