I love dogs. I can’t imagine my life without one in my home, having lived with a canine consistently since I first graduated college. That being said, our happy synergy has not come without a bit of work. As the mother of two young children I have spent the last nine years or so working consistently, every day, to help children be safe around dogs. It takes work, but when it doesn’t happen, children get injured and pets lose their lives.
Dog bites are disproportionately an injury that affects children. According to the American Humane Association, 4.7 million dog bites happen a year. 50% of those bites happen to children under 12, with those in the 5-9 age group most affected. Two thirds happen on or near a victim’s property, and most victims know the dog.
So what does this tell us? Although the horrible stories of a young child getting mauled while they ride down the street on their bike do happen and are tragic, they are also rare. It is much more likely that your child will be bitten by your own dog, or the neighbor’s dog, a canine they see on a regular basis. The majority of these bites could have been prevented, and that is why I am so passionate about this topic.
As a parent and a pet owner, there are steps you can take to make sure your child is not one of these statistics. Here’s a few:
1. Neuter your dog. Over 90% of fatal dog attacks involve male dogs, and 94% of those are unneutered
2. Supervise children at all times. That means no leaving the toddler with the dog while you answer the doorbell, run to the bathroom, or get a snack.
3. Know the warning signs. The vast majority of dogs do give warnings, but we fail to see them for what they are. Licking the lips. Yawning. Trying to get away. The “half moon eye” where you can see a crescent of white. A growl. Stiff posture. All of these signals mean, “get this kid off me.” Not later. Now.
4. Make sure your dog is trained and socialized. And if he is not, be extra vigilant around children who may not realize your dog is not the same as the goofy, tolerant lab they have at home.
Educating children is also an important component of dog bite avoidance. I am a huge fan of the Doggone Safe organization, whose sole purpose is to keep kiddos safe through education. They have excellent and extensive resources for humane organizations and teachers that can be implemented in the classroom. Among some of the vital tents that they teach to children:
1. Dogs don’t like hugs and kisses. Don’t let those popular pictures on Pinterest fool you; that type of contact makes most dogs quite uneasy. Kids don’t know any better, so it’s up to us to teach them otherwise.
2. Be a Tree. If a dog runs up and is acting overly aggressive or excited, teach kids to “be a tree”- stand up straight, with arms down (folded branches), look at the ground, and wait for help. The reason? This calm, uninteresting posture de-escalates many situations.
3. Be a Rock. If a child is knocked down, they should curl up with their hands tucked behind their head- much like some of you may remember from emergency drills in school. This protects the head and neck, and makes it harder to get a hold of extremities.
4. Know the proper way to pet a dog. Make kids ASK, every time. When they get the all clear, have the child extend a fist and allow the dog to approach them, not the other way around. And make sure when the child does pet the dog, they do so on the side of the body or neck, not on the face. Reinforce this every single time.
(P.S. These tips work for grownups too. )
Last week, I was walking with my children when my nine year old tugged my shirt. “That’s an apprehensive looking greyhound,” she said. I turned, and there he was, tail tucked, leaning behind his owner. She didn’t ask to pet him. It was a proud moment for me.
How have you worked with children to keep them safe around dogs? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments.
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