Children And Dog Safety: Tips to Prevent Biting Attacks

Did you know that dog bites are considered one of the biggest health hazards to children under the age of 12?

It is estimated that there is a child bitten by a dog every 40 seconds in the United States. That’s 5 kids every four minutes.

And while many bites do occur by dogs that are unknown to the child – random attacks or careless interactions - most often it is the family dog or a friend’s dog that is responsible for these incidents.

So while there is a lot we can do to prevent these events from happening by properly training our dogs, it is so much more important that we educate our children on how to interact with dogs. All dogs. Any dog. Ones they don’t know as well as ones they do know.

Let’s remember, in the middle of the last century most dogs lived outside and not in our homes. A lot has changed in the last few years. Adoptions are up and dogs are living closer with humans than ever before.

They are even going to work with us and sharing our beds.

No wonder the incidents of dog bites have increased so much in the last 20  years. There are more of us (dogs and humans)  together more often in more places. It’s almost inevitable that at some point your child or your dog will meet the other.

Teaching kids how to interact with dogs is hugely important!

Children and Dog Safety

If you are planning on getting a dog or already have  a dog, it is important you spend time educating your kids about dogs and how they think.

Many times, I will take the Sesame Street approach to teaching and use a stuffed dog to physically demonstrate to children appropriate and inappropriate interactions with a dog. This offers an easy to grasp, non-threatening way to demonstrate things like how to approach a dog, how to pet a dog, and what areas of the body to leave alone.

Basically, what dogs like and don’t like.

Tips to Prevent Dog Bite Attacks

Here are some basic rules that are very important to share with your children (feel free to use a stuffed dog or puppet to demonstrate):

  1. Stranger Danger! Do not approach a dog that you do not know. Always ask the dog’s handler if a dog is child friendly before you try to pet them. If the handler does not know, act as if the answer is no.
  2. If a dog runs up to you and you don’t know him, stand still and don’t run or scream. Keep your hands by your sides and do not reach out to pet him. If the dog sniffs you, try not to react and wait until the dog is done with his investigation. I always teach kids to stop and then “make like a tree” when they meet a strange and/or excitable dog. Most often if they do this, the dog will just go away.
  3. Don’t put your face into any dog’s face or try to kiss them. Dogs can see this as a threat.
  4. Never hug a dog, as dogs generally don’t like to be hugged. Many dogs see hugs as threatening. Primates are the only species of animal that naturally accept chest to chest hugging as a way of showing affection. A child hugging a dog is often a recipe for disaster.
  5. A small child approaching a dog resting on an elevated area can be a very dangerous situation. Many dog bites to children happen when the dog is elevated. If you have a dog that growls or grumbles when you try to move them off the couch or bed, this is a dog that will very likely snap at a child who does the same.

    Dogs generally don’t see children as leaders, but more like siblings. And siblings compete. Dog siblings compete for resources and elevated areas are many times highly desirable spots from which they gain a resource advantage. It’s worth snapping to keep.
  6. Let sleeping dogs lie. Don’t disturb a dog that is sleeping or resting. Don’t let children climb into the dog’s bed or into their crate. Dogs need a place to escape the ever-pursuing child and the bed or crate is the dog’s sanctuary.
  7. Never let children be unsupervised with a dog that you are not sure is “bulletproof.” Children can unintentionally hurt a dog and the dog may feel the need to protect itself. This rarely happens out of malice but pure curiosity. And we know where curiosity leads.

    Many years ago I knew a 7-year-old girl who stuck a pencil up her dog’s rectum and the dog bit her in the face. How awful! The owners decided to re-home the dog (instead of their daughter). This unfortunate incident could have been avoided by adult supervision. Because, lets face it; kids will do some pretty crazy stuff and it’s impossible to completely curb a child’s curious actions.

    Even in my home, recently my daughter wanted to know if she could put nail polish on Dave’s paws. While this could be a silly, harmless interaction, I needed to be sure she would not scare or hurt him when she grabbed his paws to put on the polish.
  8. I let my daughter feed Dave every morning. She knows that after she places the food down on the ground, to back away and give him space. It is important to teach children not to go near a dog that is eating.
  9. If a dog has a toy or a bone in his mouth, leave him alone and do not try to take it away. If you hear a growl, move away from the dog.
  10. On that note, you need to teach your children what a growl sounds like, and what a snarl looks like. There are some good videos on YouTube that you can use to show your children some of these images. The idea is not to scare your kids, but to educate them to how this looks so they recognize it if they see or hear it.
  11. Children cannot be trusted to “read” a dog’s body language. Unfortunately, most adults can’t read it either. One of the biggest misconceptions many people teach their children is that if the dog’s tail is wagging, he is friendly. A dog wagging his tail can mean a variety of things. If his tail is wagging up high, it can mean he is confident.

    When I have worked as a “helper” or decoy in protection work, many times the dog biting my sleeve is wagging his tail. Parents should try to educate themselves on how to “read” dogs and their body language. This will allow them to teach their children correctly.
  12. When a child is allowed (with adult supervision) to pet a stranger’s dog, make sure that the child pets the dog from below the chin or on the side of the dog’s body. Have them stay away from the dog’s ears and tail, as some dogs may be sensitive to these spots. Many dogs also do not like to be petted on top of their heads and see this as a sign that the child is trying to be dominant and can end poorly.
  13. Another misconception is allowing the dog to give your child kisses. Do not allow the dog to lick the child’s face, as teeth are right behind that tongue and a dominant dog will many times try to force this licking and then become aggressive when you try to stop them. The dog may also be doing a “tongue flick”, which is a signal in canine behavior to back away because I am feeling too much pressure. Many times a bite comes right after a “tongue flick”.

I think those are probably the most important lessons to get across.

Believe me, I know it’s a lot. And maybe it seems like a bit much. But when it comes to children being bitten, I prefer to err on the side of caution.

Before I get a bunch of emails, allow me to be very clear:

I am not trying to imply that dogs should not be around children.

There are few more beautiful sites than seeing children interact with their own dog.

I have been with dogs from the time I was born and was given my very own dog (by my grandmother) at the age of 7 years old. My wirehaired dachshund, Magic, was my best friend and was always putting up with my childhood antics. He slept in my bed every night and nestled under my arm as we exchanged back scratches every evening. Often there is a special bond that happens between a child and their dog. Dave is more excited to see my children upon coming home from Dog Gone Smart than he is with any other person in his life. Including me. He just loves my kids. And they love him. And I would never say that they should not interact.

That’s why it’s important that it be done safely.

I love to involve children in the training process as it helps build a relationship of cooperation. And it’s fun. And both child and dog learn together.

It’s interesting to note that children many times make the most consistent and best teachers. They have no preconceived ideas of training. A leash correction is something they have no concept of. Putting a clicker and some treats in their hands and teaching them to train in a positive motivational way is a wonderful thing.

However, as I’ve mentioned, children are not seen as leaders but as siblings. So I encourage parents to involve their children in the training process as long as they are supervising. Always. And under no circumstances should a child be a disciplinarian to the dog. If you feel the need to use an aversive on your dog, I recommend that you do this training not in the presence of your children, no matter how mild the aversive is.

If you have a child that is scared of dogs, it is important that you help this child conquer these feelings. Studies have shown that a child that is fearful of dogs has a much greater chance of being bitten in their lifetime than a child who is more secure and confident around dogs. Fear leads to rash actions that can have consequences.

Several years ago I had a client whose dog severely bit her daughter’s hands. It was a horrible experience with several bad outcomes. The dog was euthanized and the child was left petrified of dogs. Ironically, this uncontrollable fear caused by her trauma actually put her in more danger in the future. We could teach her all the right things to do but it was forgotten as soon as she was in front of a dog. In the end we had the little girl visit us at our canine center several times to help her overcome this fear. We put her around calm and friendly canines and it finally worked.

Like they say, prevention is worth a pound of cure. A stuffed dog doll and following the above rules before something bad happens is worth it.

Dogs are the most wonderful gift we can give our children. We just need to make sure we give them the guidance needed to make it as beautiful and safe as it should be.

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