In this post:
- Why do dogs bite kids?
- How to keep your child safe when interacting with dogs
- How to say “Hi” to a dog
- How to teach your dog to like kids
Just about the only time dogs make the news is when they save a child or bite a child, and as both a dog owner and a parent, you really don’t want to have to deal with either scenario.
If you’ve recently adopted a dog or are considering bringing a dog into your already growing family, then there are some things you need to take into consideration. The responsibility to protect both your child or children and your dog lies on your shoulders. If you’re not prepared to keep them both safe, then you may want to rethink bringing home a new dog.
Why do dogs bite kids?
Children tend to be higher energy than adults and interact with dogs differently. They are noisy, small, move quickly, and are extremely unpredictable.
“Dogs bite children because children behave in ways that dogs do not understand. You can’t train every child how to interact with your dog, but you can train your dog on how to interact with children.
One of the biggest mistakes that we can make as dog owners is to assume that all parents have trained their kids on how to properly behave around dogs. It is a common assumption, which can often lead to dangerous outcomes. Instead, we need to focus on training our dogs to be bulletproof around kids. You just cannot afford to assume that a child is going to know how to be around a dog. You have to make sure your dog is safe around children.” – Jeff Tinsley
How to keep your child safe when interacting with dogs
Texas Veterinary Medical Association (TVMA) would like to emphasize how education and awareness are the keys to preventing many, if not most, dog bites. An estimated 4.5 million dog bites are reported each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and 20 percent of these incidents require emergency medical care. At least half of the victims who require medical attention are children. Pet owners can take preventative measures to decrease the number of dog bites, from teaching children how to avoid dog bites to properly training and socializing pets.
In terms of educating children on preventing dog bites, TVMA encourages parents to learn canine behavioral cues and teach their children the signs that a dog is uncomfortable. Signs to watch for include a dog lifting its lip, panting or yawning inappropriately, cowering, holding its breath, flattening its ears to its head, growling, or snapping.
“Many dogs will give a warning or several warnings that they are uncomfortable and a person needs to back off,” said Lori Teller, DVM, DABVP, a past TVMA president who practices at Meyerland Animal Clinic in Houston. “People often miss these signs and think a dog bite occurred out of the blue.”
It’s best to teach children not to approach strange dogs; however, it’s not only strange dogs that bite. In fact, many dog bites occur during everyday activities, and while children are interacting with familiar dogs. Even the gentlest dog can bite its own family member if it’s feeling frightened, distressed, or in pain. Parents may consider supervising children’s interactions with dogs so they can intervene if the dog appears to be avoiding the child or displaying distressed behavioral cues. Aside from teaching children warning signs, dog owners also can lower the chances of dog bites by socializing their companion animals.
“Puppies need to be socialized to people of all ages, from crying babies to excitable children to teens listening to loud music to adults and senior citizens,” Dr. Teller said. “And certainly if your dog, whether a puppy or an adult, exhibits signs that he or she may bite someone, it’s imperative that you seek veterinary help immediately to address the problem.”
How to say “Hi” to a dog
It is best to teach your child to never run-up to a strange dog and your child should never be left alone with an unfamiliar dog (or even your own dog). However, dogs are so stinking cute that most kids can’t help it! It is your job to help your children learn how to say “Hi” to dogs properly.
When meeting a dog, ask the dog’s owner first to pet the dog. When you meet them, you don’t want to run up to them and scare them. Let him sniff your hand. Pet the dog in his chest or his back. Always ask the adult to pet the dog. Golden rules for greeting a dog:
- Never approach or pet a dog without owner permission.
- Always let the dog make the first contact.
- Never just walk up and start touching a dog, especially working dogs. Working dogs who get distracted can fail to do their job of keeping their owners safe.
- Once you get permission don’t force yourself on the dog. Hold out a hand and let the dog sniff and come up to you.
- Pet the chest and back area. Be gentle.
How to teach your dog to like kids
The suggestions here are for dogs who are not aggressive. If your dog is not good around children I strongly suggest you work with a professional behaviorist to help your dog to learn that children are not scary.
I play games like “Simon says” to help kids learn to be gentle and to teach your dog to like being touched by children. First Simon, an adult, needs to have high-value treats. Then Simon gives a direction. For example, “pet the dog’s tail,” as the child pets the dog’s tail, Simon gives the high-value treat to the dog. We repeat this with different actions, which, over time helps the dog feel comfortable with various kinds of interaction with different kinds of people.
Another tool that I use to help with child dog interaction is what I call “toddler training.” Toddler training is where an adult behaves like the child when they are interacting with the dog to help the dog become desensitized to the way toddlers act. To do this, slowly allow yourself to get a little more playful while interacting with your dog — tug on toys, gently tug on ears or tail, hug your dog, lay on your dog, dress up your dog — remember to give lots of high value treats!!
Surround your dog with noisy kids, perhaps visiting a playground, while giving treats to get him used to that type of environment. Of course, remember to do this in moderation to ensure your dog isn’t put into a position that will make him uncomfortable.
To build a stronger bond between your dog and your child, encourage your child to train your dog with you. Training helps the dog understand that the child is also part of the family and needs to be taken seriously. It can also help your child feel like they have control of the dog and can give him direction when needed. Only use positive reinforcement training as it is the only form of training safe enough for a child to do. You want your dog to like the child, and not associate your child with any form of punishment.
Never leave a dog unattended with a child as accidents can occur at any moment. If an adult is not there to read the dog’s behavior, a child could push the dog too far, causing the dog to play rougher than he understands and potentially hurt the child. So much can happen that you really should not take the risk.
It’s in EVERYONE’S best interest for dogs and children to get along in safe, happy, and positive manners. When a bad situation occurs and a dog feels the need to bite a child, everyone loses.
As the adult in the situation – the parent to the child and the owner to the dog – preventing these scenarios lands squarely on your shoulders. If you don’t feel capable of handling that responsibility, then you shouldn’t bring a dog home to live with your child or you should prevent your dog from being around children. It’s that simple. In that way, you can ensure safety, however, you will be missing out on some benefits from bringing children and canines together. But it’s always good to know limits for the sake of everyone involved.
Special thanks to:
Jeff Tinsley is the owner of Sound Animals and Seattle’s most trusted dog behavior expert. He has been helping Seattle dog owners to solve their dog training and dog behavior problems for over 15 years. Recommended by veterinarians, rescue organizations, breeders, and other pet professionals, Sound Animals has all the dog classes and dog behavior training that you need.
Founded in 1903, the Texas Veterinary Medical Association is a professional association composed of more than 3,700 veterinarians committed to protecting public health, promoting high educational, ethical, and moral standards within the veterinary profession and educating the public about animal health and its relationship to human health.