Kids and Dogs: Preventing Dog Bites
Any dog can bite. It is a common canine behavior. Most dogs bite because they are fearful or in pain. According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year and half of these are children under the age of 12. Children are at high risk of being severely bitten, most often to the head, face and neck. Teach your children the following rules about dogs so they can have safe interactions and avoid being bitten.
– Just wave to the cute doggy! Toddlers are at eye level to most dogs’ faces and when they reach out to touch the dog, the dog may see this as a threat and react to protect themselves. Teach babies and toddlers to wave hello to the doggy but do not touch.
-Can you tell me what the doggy is saying? Teach your child how to understand what a dog is saying by learning to read the dog’s signals. Is the dog happy? How do you know? A wagging tail does not always mean a dog is happy. Look for warning signs that a dog is experiencing anxiety or stress including attempting to walk away, looking away, yawning, lip-licking, wide “whale” eyes, growling.
-You need to know how to read a dog’s body language because many adult dog owners do not. An owner may say their dog is friendly but they may not really know if they are or not. Teach your child to look for signals that the dog is telling them to stay away such as staring at them, lip curling, moving away from them, or hiding behind their owner.
-Teach your child how to pet a dog appropriately. May dogs feel stressed and cornered when hugged. As the dog sees it, a hug is a headlock. Many dogs become anxious, fearful, and they feel they have to protect themselves. Reaching over a dog’s head to pet it can be seen as a threatening gesture, so teach your child to start with a pet over the shoulders or under the chin.
-Let sleeping dogs lay. Dogs that are in their crate, pet, or gated-off area need to be left alone. Dogs need some downtime, just like people.
-Your friends may have different rules for their dog. When visiting friends, you need to follow our rules about how to safely interact with dogs. Some people do not understand dog language and behavior. When a dog growls, it is not “happy talk”.
-People rules can apply to dogs too. For example: Don’t pull someone’s hair. Don’t jump on their back or pull their arms or legs. Don’t take another kid’s toy without permission. Don’t yell at them. Don’t take their food. Don’t wake them up. You can discuss these with your child and ask them how they would feel if this happened to them and explain that a dog feels the same way.
Understanding canine body language and behavior and teaching this to children is important to be able to avoid unsafe interactions with a dog and prevent dog bites.
The following are several resources to use to start you on the path to learning how to understand what your dog (or that unknown dog) is trying to tell you.