Dogs and Children

Dogs and Children

Kid-proof your dogs; dog-proof your kids

Everyone knows that a dog is man’s best friend. Also it is generally known that every dog has the capacity to bite, and that children are often the ones who get bitten. Everyone, particularly children, should learn some basics about dog behaviour and safety around dogs.

To see a child and a dog in a loving embrace, playing or sleeping together is a wondrous thing. However, statistics show that most dog bites causing serious injury are from medium to large sized dogs and usually are to children under the age of nine. Injuries to the head, neck and face are common and the dog is usually known to the child or is the family pet.

All dogs have the potential to bite. Some breeds are friendlier, more tolerant and easier to train. Children are confusing to dogs because of their size, movements and sounds. Dogs do see them differently to adults.

When friends came to visit us with their two year old son to…“play with the doggie,” Polo greeted the adults but looked scared of the boy. She moved away as he approached her. A very clear warning signal! If allowed to continue a more stern warning will follow from the dog, often a growl or just a stiffening of the body. Dogs usually do not bite without some indication of a warning beforehand. It is really important to be alert to these signals from the dog. (See “Body Language.”)

Small children (and some adults) do not recognize a warning when they see or hear one. Children under the age of six do not know what a growl is. The child may continue to follow or pet the dog even though the dog has clearly indicated what will happen if he does not stop. If the dog has tried to leave and has issued a warning with no appropriate response or withdrawal from the child then the dog may bite. This is normal instinctive dog behaviour. He does not understand what we regard as a child’s innocent action. To him, petting or pulling at his tail can be provocation for a bite. Many dog bites occur because the child unknowingly teases the pet beyond endurance.

Dog owners share the responsibility for bite prevention. The dog should never be left alone with a child less than five years old. They should socialise their puppies to small children at an early age. The younger the puppy is exposed to gentle children, the more tolerant of children it will become.

What can be done to prevent dogs from biting children?

Dog-proof your kids

Just as children need to be taught to be well-behaved around other people, so they should also be taught to be well-behaved and respectful around animals. Much depends on the age of the child and whether it is a strange dog or a family pet.

Teach children to keep their faces away from the dog’s head. “Hugging is for humans” I always say but if you want to hug a dog, do it the right way. It must be brief and you must face the tail end of the dog with your arm around the dog’s neck. That way you won’t get bitten.

Running, playing and screaming children can trigger an instinctive predatory reaction in some dogs. Rough play can encourage them to use their teeth. This is akin to playing with his litter mates when using teeth is allowed. Startling a sleeping dog or petting him while he is eating can lead to a bite.

Small childrenshould never be left alone with a dog, no matter how reliable the dog has been in the past. Adult supervision is needed to monitor the behaviour of the dog and to see to it that the child does not put himself or herself in danger. A small child has no idea of what constitutes a danger and telling him to stay away from the dog is not enough. If for some reason you are not able to supervise the children then it would be best to put the dog out of reach of the child.

Children must learn to always ask permission to pet a strange dog. If the owner gives permission, do it gently and slowly. Let the dog sniff your closed fist (to protect the fingers in case the dog is frightened and tries to nip). A dog may also be allowed to sniff other parts of your body. That’s how they say ‘Hello’ and find out who you are.

Do not walk up behind a dog, even if it is one you know, and try to pat it if it does not know you are there. Let it see and sniff you first. Never go up to a strange dog, particularly one that is alone in a backyard chained to a doghouse or tied to a fence. Wait for the owners to come before entering. Strange dogs may see you as an intruder or a threat, so be careful.

Never stare into a dog’s eyes, particularly if it is a strange dog. (That is how dogs challenge each other to fight,) Do not disturb a dog that is sleeping or eating, or a dog taking care of puppies.

The dog should have a place he can call his own, a resting place, a den or a kennel in a back yard. Children should never be allowed to bother the dog when he is in his place. Dogs and children should also be separated at snack or meal time so that the dog doesn’t learn to steal food from tiny hands.

Puppies grow very quickly, have very sharp teeth and can play rough. If your children are too young to understand, it will be up to you to physically supervise them and protect them from harm. Puppies are inclined to snap at food offered between the fingers. Children must be taught to offer food from the palm of their hands.

Kid-proof your dog

The best way to prevent your dog from becoming a problem is for you to have a good understanding of dog behaviour. Read from many books on the subject and discuss concerns with a dog trainer. Make sure your dog is in good health. Provide companionship, proper food, care and grooming.

The dogneeds to be taught to obey commands under all conditions. An immediate response to “Come” or a “Down” may save his life from a speeding car or some other danger someday, and a “Leave” or “Leave it” could also save a child from serious injury.

Obedience training and socialising are an absolute must for a dog that will be spending time with children. There is no point in giving a dog a command and not insisting on being obeyed, also, the training must be kept up with regular practice. When a child is old enough to understand he should be included in the training process. He must learn how to give a command and how to enforce it.

Make sure that the entire family is consistent in their handling and treatment of your dog and that they reinforce good behaviour. Immediately correct aggressive or inappropriate behaviour when it starts, before it becomes a bad habit. The dog must respect your leadership at all times, not challenge you or members of the family.

When you bring an older dog into your home, you must be aware that the animal has already developed some habits, likes and dislikes, so you must go slowly until you can get to know each other. If you don’t know how your dog will react in new situations or how it will react to visitors or when workmen come to the door, act with care by keeping it in another room or safe area until you have had time to get advice on what best to do in those kind of circumstances.

Until you get to have a good understanding of your dog’s reaction to people, keep a collar and leash on your dog any time there is someone new in your home or in his space. In that way you can easily and quickly yank him away if he curls his lips, acts afraid or snaps at the person or child.

Remember that what your dog tolerates from your own children may not be tolerated from someone else’s. You need to take extra safety precautions when other children visit. Make sure that they obey your ground rules related to the dog.

If the dog is kept in a fenced yard, owners must make sure that the neighbourhood children cannot tease him. Kids often try to provoke the dog to bark by rattling the fence with a stick or throwing things to chase him away. This teaches the dog to hate children and sadly dogs that bite children do not live long, they get put down. This disappointing result can be

How dogs warn us?

Dogs give warning signs before a bite occurs, but they may be unknown to many owners. The dog could have been giving these warnings for a long time before it ended in a bite. Signs that you should take seriously, include:

The dog gets up and moves away from the child.

The dog turns his head away from the child.

The dog looks at you for help with a pleading expression.

You can see the “whites” of his eyes, in the form of a half-moon shape.

The dog yawns when the child approaches him.

The dog licks his lips while the child interacts with him.

The dog suddenly starts scratching, biting or licking himself.

The dog does a “wet dog shake” after the child stops toughing him. When a dog has given any of these warning signs, then there is a possibility that a bite may occur. Do your dog and your child a favour and intervene when you notice any of these signs.