Did you know that 77% of dog bites don’t come from aggressive dogs? Prevent dog bites by taking these steps to create safe interactions between your dog and kids...
BY REBEKAH OLSEN
It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood. Your pooch is trotting along happily beside you. You let the leash loosen in your grip, and while he checks out a new mailbox, you catch up on your mobile newsfeed.
You hear the squeal of delight, but before you can retract the leash, ten little fingers are coming toward your dog's face. Your dog balks, but doesn’t bite. So, you allow the neighbor’s kid to pet him while you give a self-satisfied grin at how well mannered your pooch pal is.
But, wait. Your dog isn’t just well trained. You’re also lucky.
A dog bite can come at any time, and from even the friendliest of pups. That's why it's vital to learn to read your dog's body language and guide any interactions he has with children -- for their protection as well as his.
Why You Should Always Be Watching
Did you know that 77% of dog bites don’t come from an aggressive dog attack? In contrast, they come from a family or friend’s dog--from pets that are well socialized, trained and friendly.
Many of these bites occurred under supervision of the pet guardian. But while someone may have been watching, they weren’t watching the right thing.
Watch this video from the Stop the 77 campaign. It tells a story of a child and her best friend, her dog. They did everything together and they loved it each other dearly. But it also tells a story of a dog that tolerated unwanted hugs, costume changes, yelling and even dancing for their child guardian. One day, the dog finally reacted.
Why? Because no one was watching the dog speak.
Dog bites don't occur without warnings. Your dog clearly communicates her feelings using body language. She gives you signs or triggers when she is uncomfortable, afraid or in pain. You just need to understand how to listen.
A dog bite is a last resort for your pet, much like when a human yells to get their point across. As a pet guardian, your responsibility is to watch your dog’s language and then translate that language into words other children, friends or strangers can understand.
So, here’s what you need to know to create safe interactions between your pet and children.
Learn Your Dog’s Body Language
I have a large mastiff named Midas. Recently, a neighbor’s eleven-year-old girl stuck her face into his, and he quickly walked away. That’s his words for “I don’t like that, so I’m leaving.” I asked the girl to not approach him and then politely walked Midas home. The girl was upset I cut the visit short, but as Midas’s advocate, I’m responsible for reacting to his feelings, not hers.
Spend quality time with your dog to learn how he is communicating with you. Observe his body movements in different situations, not just when you’re safe at home.
What do his ears do when a stranger is talking? Her tail when you’re walking by a bike rider?
A dog that is relaxed and comfortable will be loose and have curves in her body. A dog that stiffens, freezes, holds their breath or yawns (outside of waking up) is exhibiting early signs that they’re alert, afraid or uncomfortable.
You can use (and memorize) this infographic below to learn your own dog’s body language:
Guide Interactions Between Your Dog and Kids
Like a basketball coach, when your dog is interacting with a child, your job is to guide and instruct both teams on what to do. Require the child to ask permission before approaching your dog. If they don’t, end the interaction. I usually explain, “If you don’t ask permission first, then you don’t get to pet Midas.”
It’s important to establish rules in the beginning that will protect your dog and the child (and remember, you are never obligated to allow a child to pet your dog).
Once they have permission, ask your dog to sit and then instruct where the child is allowed to pet, if at all. The best place for a child to pet a dog is along the dog's back, away from the face and tail—two places children love to pull.
Stand closely to your dog’s head and reward good behavior with treats to create a positive association. Be ready to give your dog commands to calm down or sit.
Keep the interaction short and sweet. Even if the child’s parent is lurking nearby, give the child clear instructions with positive words, such as:
“You like Midas, right? <child agrees> He likes you, too, and wants to be your friend, but he gets nervous when people run. You can play with him if you stand quietly. <child complies> See? Midas loves that! What a good friend you’re being to him!”
Your goal is to encourage cooperation and understanding with the child.
Make Your Dog Unavailable to Children
While you can’t always prevent what a child does to your dog, you can prevent a child getting to your dog.
If you know your dog is uncomfortable with children, prevent access to your dog. This is also a good solution if you’re too busy hosting a party and unable to watch your dog carefully.
You can do this in a variety of ways:
- Have your dog on a leash next to you
- Place your dog behind a gate or in a separate, enclosed room
- Place your dog outside while the child is inside (or vice versa)
- Assign a guardian to monitor the dog and prevent the child from interacting with them
Tell the child that you’re dog is resting or doesn’t want to be bothered. You should never force your dog to interact with others.
Rinse and Repeat
If you’ve ever worked with children, you know that most things go in one ear and out the other.
Be consistent and constant in your methods, no matter how many times the child has interacted with your dog. Remind them of the rules and never let down your guard; the alternative isn’t worth it, I promise!
Do you have tips on introducing your dog to a child? SHARE with us on social media!