Let’s not get bogged down in too many statistics here; suffice it to say that the number of dog bites that occur annually are overwhelmingly experienced by children. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the odds that a dog bite victim will be a child are 3.2 to 1. Most of these children are under the age of 12. It’s easier to imagine your kid getting bitten by a strange, stray dog than the one in your own family, but the majority of bites happen at home or with another familiar dog. For this reason, it is extremely important that all pet parents teach the children in their families how to safely interact with their dogs.
Now, it’s important to know that children have a higher risk of choking on a small toy rather than dying from a dog attack. Dogs today are no more dangerous than they were a thousand years ago and they lash out for the same reasons as their ancestors. This is not specific to breed, either. So before you go shouting “The dog bit because he’s a pitbull!”, you should know that unsupervised children are the most likely to experience a bite or attack from the family dog. They often engage in behavior toward a dog that could be prevented by the interference of an adult, such as getting too close while a dog is eating, tugging on the dog’s tail or ears, or squeezing too tightly during a hug. Kids are more unpredictable than adults, they are often loud and much more likely to unknowingly encroach on a dog’s boundaries than adults are. Children tend not to be experienced in interpreting a dog’s behavior, body language or vocal signals. Often times, adults can miss them too. Anyone who lives with a dog should be educated in reading some of the basic signals. This not only helps prevent bites, but it helps the dogs stay safe in their families too. If there is no one there to help the dog feel safe and secure, he will often take steps to protect himself and this is what leads to injuries.
The best way to protect your child from being on the receiving end of an irritated dog’s nip are listed below. Please take the time to teach the children in your family how to respect dogs and interact with them in a way that builds a healthy bond between the two.
- Teach kids that if they come across a dog they don’t know, just leave the dog alone. Never take any chances by approaching a dog you’ve never met before, especially if the dog is on their own.
- If a child encounters a dog that seems angry or “aggressive” in any way, teach the child to “be a tree”. This means that they should stand still, keep their hands low and in the dog’s line of sight (clasped in front or at their sides), keep their head down and do not talk.
- If the dog is with his or her parents, always ask for permission before approaching or petting the dog. Do not ask “Is he friendly?” but rather “May I say hi?” or “May I pet him?”. The adult can guide you in the best way to greet their dog.
- NEVER hit, yell at, push a dog, pull on their tails, ears or legs, do not try to ride large dogs like a horse and do not pick up small dogs. Children should avoid hugging tightly or for a prolonged amount of time, and they should not be encouraged to give the dog kisses or get in the dog’s face.
- Children should not be encouraged to dress dogs up. Not all dogs enjoy this and may only tolerate it from their parents. It’s best to leave that sort of thing to the adults who are better able to tell if the dog is uncomfortable.
- Children should be taught not to approach a dog who is eating or to take anything out of their mouths. It is not uncommon for a dog who thinks he’s in danger of losing his food or toy to snap at someone. Encourage the child to alert an adult when they see a dog with something in his mouth that he’s not supposed to have.
- Teach children that if a dog walks away from playing or receiving attention, the child needs to leave him alone. They should not try and continue interacting with the dog, as this is a signal that he needs a break. Children need to respect the dog’s space and know that the dog will approach them when ready for more games.
There is also a great campaign called Stop the 77 that was created by mothers who wanted to teach their children how to safely interact with the dogs they have in their families. The title of their campaign comes from statistics they found reporting that 77% of dog bites come from dogs in the home or in friends’ homes. Of course that statistic may change over time, but what they have to say is more important that the numbers. Please visit their website at stopthe77.com; there are several videos aimed at children that will help them better understand what their doggie friends are trying to tell them and can foster a stronger relationship between them.