Dog bite injuries in children are a preventable health problem. To characterize this type of injury, we have undertaken to define demographic criteria and patterns of injury inflicted by dogs in our pediatric population. A retrospective chart review was conducted of pediatric patients with dog bite injuries admitted to a Level I pediatric trauma center from January 1986 through June 1998. Patient demographics, canine characteristics, and hospital patient data were collected and analyzed using the Excel program and appropriate statistical methodology. There were 67 patient records reviewed. Thirty-eight (57%) of the patients were male, and 29 (43%) were female. There were 43 (64%) white children, 22 (33%) African-American children, and 2 (3%) Hispanic children. The average age of the children was 6.2 +/- 4.2 years, with an average weight of 23.3 +/- 13.7 kg. More than half the attacks occurred in the afternoon and 55 per cent of these attacks were documented as "unprovoked" attacks. Thirty-one (46%) of these attacks involved family pets, and 30 (45%) dogs were known to the attacked child. The head and neck was involved in greater than 67 per cent of these injuries. Pit bulls caused 25 per cent of the bite injuries. Large dogs were responsible for 88 per cent of the attacks. Forty-four (66%) patients required operative intervention. Twenty-eight of these patients had multiple anatomical areas injured. There were 44 procedures involving the head and neck, 21 involving extremities, and 6 involving other areas of the body. All patients 5 years of age and under had head and neck injuries. Dog bite injuries requiring admission occur more in male children. Caucasian and African American children were the majority of children affected. The children under 5 years of age suffered the most devastating injuries. More than half of these attacks were not provoked. More than two-thirds of the injuries to these children involved the head and neck. We conclude that effective prevention strategies must stress careful supervision of young children and the family or neighbor's dog, a scenario that may easily lead to complacency and set the stage for a severe injury.