It’s reported that more than 800,000 Americans seek medical attention for dog bites every year, and more than half of these are children. Children between the ages of 5-9 are most often the ones who are bitten. Those are some staggering statistics!
A wonderful resource for parents is www.doggonesafe.com. I highly recommend it! It’s a really wonderful website! There is wonderful information about dog and kid safety, and there are all sorts of great practical guidelines and pictures with great descriptions to help parents work with their children in order to educate and keep them safe as well. There are kid pages geared to children, and great videos that are practical and help children understand how dogs learn, behave, and also how to stay safe!
Part of the reason dogs have issues with kids is because kids are simply unpredictable to a dog. Sometimes they pet gently, and sometimes they pull on their ears….just to see what happens. Kids are just kids, and they don’t always follow clearly defined rules which are set out for them. Dogs never know what they are going to get from kids, so they are often a bit nervous around them right from the start.
Kids also tend to generalize all dogs with their dog at home. In other words, kids tend to think that if their own dog lets them do something, then ALL dogs will let them do that, and that’s simply not true at all! Dogs will often allow their own kids to do things that they won’t tolerate from other kids, so it’s often the neighbor’s kids or their friends or cousins who are bitten….or your child in their home!
Tips for Keeping Children Safe With a Dog….
I work with many families as I train dogs, and I see some good and bad things when I’m working to train a dog in these homes. Here are some general tips I have created based upon what I see every day! The webpage I referred to earlier in the blog has many more tips that are well worth reading!
- Children should never be left alone with dogs! Even patient, understanding dogs can bite when frightened or hurt, and it’s never worth taking chances!
- Educate yourself in how dogs communicate stress or anxiety. Know what you are seeing! Missing key cues from your dog can result in a bite! (Please refer to a recent blog post “Learn to Recognize Stress Signals From Your Dog” for help in seeing calming signals that your dog will be using when he feels stressed).
- When stress signals are present, it’s very important that you remove the children from the situation to prevent anything from escalating, and also to let your dog see that you will champion him.
- Your dog should always have a safe place to go that is off limits to the kids. A dog crate or dog bed can work nicely for this. Children should be taught to respect this space as off limits, and allow the dog to be left alone while he is there.
- Children should be taught proper behavior and handling around dogs. Dogs should not have to “put up” with children mistreating him simply because he’s the family dog!
- When a dog is playing by himself with a toy or chewing a bone, he is off limits! This also needs to be true when a dog is eating, sleeping or drinking. Children simply have no business bothering a dog in those situations!
- I often see children hugging their family dog or laying on the floor face to face. This is very dangerous and can result in a face bite to your child.
- ALWAYS be sure to ask if there is a dog in a home that your child will visit. I typically recommend asking that the other dog be confined during your child’s visit since you can’t control the supervision that will be given, unless you are very, very comfortable with the home and dog.
- Teach your children how to recognize the difference between a happy dog (relaxed and loose) and one who is uncomfortable (stiff and tense).
- Teach children to never approach a strange dog, and to always ask the handler if the dog is friendly and can be petted.
Giving Treats Safely…
Kids always love to give a treat to a dog….it’s just a really big deal to a kid. However, if a dog uses teeth at all on the child’s skin, the child will often say, “The dog bit me!” As a dog trainer, I can tell you that some dogs are overly excited in taking treats, so that they really can hurt when those teeth hit your skin! Trust me….I KNOW!! Here’s how to avoid that unpleasant situation altogether!
I always tell children that my dog, Rugby, eats food out of a bowl, so we need to offer treats to him in a bowl. I ask them to make a bowl with their hands, by cupping them. Be sure to show them what you mean. Then, I place a treat in the child’s “bowl,” and help them put their hand just under the dog’s mouth so that he can easily eat the treat out of their “bowl.”
Typically, the dog will use his tongue to pick up the treat rather than his teeth, and then he will lick the bowl clean! The child will feel his dog’s soft, wet tongue, and it will sort of tickle their hand. No teeth are involved, and it’s a much safer way to give dogs a treat, and it will feel a bit like a game to the child.
A Great Video to Watch With Your Kids….
In closing, here is one of my favorite videos to help parents and kids understand what things dogs tell us with their body language! Let’s reduce those dog bite statistics drastically this year!!