Every year about 4.7 million people are bitten by dogs. Among these, most are children. As a parent, you can reduce this risk by teaching your children smart behavior around dogs. Laying the groundwork early will go a long way towards preventing dog bites and keeping your family (and your dog) safe. Here are some basics.
- Never leave a young child unsupervised with a dog. This goes for any dog, including your family dog. Until you are 100% certain that your child is old enough to understand dog behavior and demonstrate good judgment, you should oversee all contact.
- Never interact with a loose dog. If your child sees a dog running in the neighborhood, they should not approach it. Exercise your judgment as to whether you should approach the dog to find the owner or contact Animal Control.
- An eating or sleeping dog is off limits. This is the dog’s personal time. Leave him alone.
- If a dog wants to be alone, let him. If a dog removes himself from a situation by going into his crate or another room, respect his space.
- No teasing. This goes for withholding toys and treats, and pulling tails and ears.
- No “roughhousing” with the dog. Don’t let your children climb on, drag around or wrestle with the dog. No yelling in the dog’s face.
- Greet dogs correctly. When approaching a dog you do not know, always ask the owner if it’s okay to pet the dog. If the owner says it’s ok, proceed to greet the dog this way:
- Do not make direct eye contact (eye contact can be interpreted as aggression)
- Approach the dog from the side (never from above as this can be interpreted as dominance)
- Let the dog approach and sniff you first (don’t force yourself on the dog)
- If the dog looks at ease and willing, pet him on the side of his face, body or back (not his ears or tail)
Reading a Dog’s Body Language
These telltale signs will tell you that a dog would rather be left alone:
- Licking lips (when no food is nearby)
- Panting (when not overheated)
- Furrowed brow
- Walking in slow motion
- Yawning (when they’re not tired)
- Trying to move away
Teach your kids at a level they can understand now, and reinforce it as they grow. Another tip is to teach your child to “be a tree”. If your child ever feels uncomfortable or threatened by a dog’s attention, they should assume a posture of head and eyes down, hands at sides, and quiet, like a tree. This will discourage a dog from engaging.
Most dogs truly love children, and this bond can be one of the most formative of a young person’s life. By educating and reinforcing respect for your four-legged companions, you will ensure that your child’s experience is positive, loving and safe.