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!
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.
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):
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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