Child Safety Around Dogs

Reading dog body languageMost dog bite victims are children.  In many cases, the dog that bites is their own, a friend’s, a neighbor’s or a babysitter’s dog.  There are many things that a parent can do to reduce the risk of a dog bite.  Some of the ways to reduce the risk of your child being bitten are as follows:

  1. Always supervise children when interacting with a dog, even the family dog … especially, a foster dog that is new to the home.
  2. Encourage children not to approach any dog that does not belong to them.
  3. Teach children not to hug a dog or approach a dog while it is eating or sleeping, even the family dog and especially a foster dog.
  4. Teach children to stand still and be a tree if a dog is bothering them or frightening them or a strange dog approaches.
  5. If you have a dog, train it to enjoy the presence of children using positive methods and never allow rough play or chasing games between child and dog.

Children love dogs and want to pet them.  It is important to remind the children that dogs are animals and we can never really know for sure what they are thinking or how they might act. This article will provide some guidelines to learn about dog communication and bite history.

It is possible to guess at how a dog feels and how he might act by studying his body language or postures.  Some body postures can have more than one meaning.  For example, erect ears may mean that the dog is happy, excited, confident, aggressive or interested.  Some dogs have naturally erect ears so other features must be used to determine how they feel.  If a dog is aroused for any reason, he is to be considered dangerous and should not be petted by a child.

There are certain signals that dogs give that indicate that they are stressed or fearful and may bite.  It is a very complex language that dogs have, and people need to learn read the dog’s body language.  Here are a few examples of things to look for that may indicate that a dog is aggressive.  Don’t forget, dogs are cute but that does not make them friendly.  Any dog that is off leash could become a problem and children should be kept away from unknown dogs that are off leash.

  1. Ears that are laid back against the head indicate that a dog is fearful and could be dangerous.
  2. Whale eyes are when the whites of the eyes are showing. Half Moon eyes is another term that is often heard.  This indicates that the dog is worried and may react aggressively if cornered.
  3. If the dog is staring directly at you or a child, the dog is on alert and may bite if provoked.
  4. If the dog is snarling (lips lifted and pulled off the teeth), the dog is warning that he is afraid and to stay back.
  5. A wagging tail does not mean that the dog is happy and friendly. Dogs can wag their tails when worried or aggressive as well.  When the tip of the tail is wagging or the tail is flat and wagging slowly, the dog is telling you that is afraid and may bite.
  6. Dogs that have their hackles up (fur raised along the back, or fluffed up all over) are dangerous.

Once a dog has been determined to be a safe dog to pet and permission to pet the dog has been given by the parent of the child and the dog handler, then the child can pet the dog using the following guidelines.  Adult supervision is required for all dog-child interactions. Greeting a strange dog

  1. Only interact with dogs who are under control and will sit for the handler.
  2. Look at the dog’s paws while you greet him. Staring into the eyes can be interpreted by the dog as a challenge and may bite or growl.
  3. Do not surprise the dog, make sure he sees you coming close
  4. Stand shoulder facing dog. Sideways is less threatening to a dog.
  5. Extend hand held in a fist for the dog to sniff.
  6. Move away sideways slowly if the dog is not interested. Do not excite the dog.
  7. Do not force an interaction. Move away sideways slowly.
  8. Crouch sideways to greet small dogs or dogs that are lying down.
  9. Pet dog on side of neck or on the chest. Do not pet the dog on his head which can be threatening to the dog.
  10. Move your hand away slowly when finished. Rapid movements can frighten the dog.
  11. Respect older dogs or ill dogs. They can have reduced vision or hearing or may be painful which can affect their judgement.
  12. Drop a treat in front of the dog which avoids the possibility of the dog biting the child’s hand.

Interacting with a family or friend’s dog

  1. Be calm around the dog. Rapid movement or loud voices may excite the dog.
  2. Respect a dog’s resting place.
  3. Respect dog’s possessions. Dogs can be possessive of toys, treats or other items.  They may bite to protect them.
  4. Respect dog’s feeding place, food and water. They may bite to protect their food and food bowls.
  5. Do not take anything away from the dog.
  6. Play safe games with the dog.
    1. Obedience games
    2. Fetch
    3. Hide and seek with an item
    4. Hide and seek with people
    5. Teaching tricks
  7. Be a tree if the dog gets too excited or becomes aggressive.  This means the child stands still and does not make any sound.  The dog will lose interest and wander away.
  8. Approach the dog only if awake. Sleeping dogs can be easily startled and may bite.

Dogs can be very reactive around children.  The following is a list of “don’ts” for dog-child interactions.  These rules apply to the family dog as well as dogs belonging to others.

  1. Do not hug a dog.  Dogs do not naturally like hugs and may become frightened.
  2. Don’t sit on the dog.
  3. Don’t put your face right up to a dog’s face.
  4. Don’t play dangerous games with a dog.
    1. Tug-of-war
    2. Chase-me games
    3. Wrestling games
  5. Don’t put your hand into a car, crate or pen in which a dog is confined.
  6. Don’t approach a dog that is tied up.
  7. Don’t approach a dog who is eating, drinking, chewing on lying beside any object.
  8. Don’t pull your hand away or back away from a dog as he tries to sniff.
  9. Don’t run away crying or screaming from any dog, no matter how scary he seems.
  10. Don’t back away from a dog that is growling or barking. Stand like a tree.

Dogs are great additions to the family.  Please make sure that all children understand the rules about being around dogs to help prevent dog bites.  After all, they are dogs and will act like dogs when provoked.

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