Kids + dogs = great combo, right?
Absolutely, but not without a little education and effort. According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, out of nearly 1 million dog bites reported in the US each year, 60-70% are to children, and almost 80% of dogs involved were familiar (either the family dog or a friend’s or neighbour’s dog).
These incidents are hugely distressing for owners who feel their beloved pet has ‘turned’ and bitten out of the blue. But the truth – and the good news – is that the majority of these bites are entirely preventable. Learning to read our dogs better and teaching our children how to interact with them can ensure that everyone lives happily – and safely – ever after.
Top 5 things kids should do:
1. Always ask an adult if it’s OK to pet their dog AND wait for permission to actually do so.
2. Ask the dog if it’s OK to say Hello: make a fist with the palm pointing down and slowly reach your arm out a little to invite him to sniff. If he approaches willingly with a waggy tail and body and relaxed open mouth: GREEN LIGHT. If he averts his eyes, backs away, barks, growls or stares straight on with a stiff body: Definite RED LIGHT. No matter what the owner says, walk away.
3. Never bother a dog who is busy sleeping, eating, chewing, minding puppies, in his crate or tied up.
4. If one or more dogs run up to you, BE A TREE (stand very still and quiet).
5. Learn how to pet a dog. Most dogs don’t like hugs or being patted on the top of the head. They also don’t love having their ears or tails held onto. Gentle stroking on the back is usually best.
Top 5 things adults should do:
1. Train and properly socialize your dog. Be sure to use positive reinforcement methods. More aversive approaches such as pinning, scruffing, rolling and choking a dog can result in their turning their aggression towards the weaker members of the household.
2. Children under 10 years old should NEVER be left unsupervised with a dog.
3. Learn a little about canine body language. Even the most vigilant adult won’t be able to prevent a bite without learning a little bit about reading a dog’s warning signs. Growls are more obvious (am always surprised when I see people continue to pat a growling dog) but there can be more subtle ways for a dog to say Go away!!
4. Teach your kids to recognize a dog’s ‘GO AWAY’ signals. Start by showing them how they also use body language – make happy faces, sad faces, angry faces, scared faces, and have them guess which emotion you’re displaying. Then teach them that dogs faces can show the same emotions. Watching the following clip from Doggone Safe together will help you both get better at recognizing how dogs display those emotions:
5. If your dog has growled or snapped at your children you need to consult with a professional. Recognizing there might be an issue that needs attention is the first step to preventing possible tragedy in the future.