It’s fairly common for families to have a pet, and for many families, that pet is a dog. Dogs are incredible companions. Their loyalty and love know no boundaries, and they really do become a member of the family. However, about 100,000 children under age 10 are treated in hospital emergency rooms every year for dog-bite-related injuries, according to the CDCP. The majority of injuries happen in familiar places by a dog that belongs to the child’s family or friend. This is why dog safety tips for kids are so valuable.
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Dog Safety Tips for Kids to Prevent Dog Bites
The Family Dog
It’s our job as parents to understand some basics about dog behavior and teach our children to respect dogs. As parents, we are at fault when our dog bites our kids- not the dog and definitely not the child.
Sometimes it is difficult for children to understand that the family dog may not always welcome their attention. It may seem hard to believe, but most bites to children are by the family dog or other dogs known to the child.
Kids (and parents) assume that because the dog knows, likes or loves them that it won’t bite them. Dogs don’t think this way. A dog may snap or bite in annoyance because the child is bothering it at that moment, whether the dog loves the child or not.
Young children need to be constantly supervised when they’re around a dog. I know that’s not always easy, trust me. But we do have to do our best to ensure the safety of both our children AND our dogs.
My youngest is just mobile enough to be dangerous. Last week she was playing with her toys while I snuck into the kitchen to grab another cup of coffee. In those 2 minutes, she had scooted herself across the room to our sleeping, 70lb pit bull and was about an inch away from poking the dog the eye. Thankfully, I saw her immediately as I entered the room.
Our dog is a saint, but even saints have their limits. When she gets excited or tired, Skittles (our dog) can become a force to be reckoned with. Which is why we’ve established some rules for dealing with dogs that we teach our kids that help to prevent bites or injury from an overexcited large dog.
Our Dog Rules
- Do not hug or kiss the dog. (Dogs do not like hugs and kisses. This is a significant cause of facial bites to children.)
- Never stare at the dog in the eyes or put your face up to the dog’s face.
- Never try to take something away from the dog.
- Never go near the dog when she is eating, drinking, or chewing on something.
- Never try to pet the dog through a fence or crate.
- Leave the dog alone if she is sleeping or resting.
- Be a Tree if the dog gets too excited (stand really still with your arms at your sides)
- Be a rock if the dog knocks you over (curl into the fetal position and be really still)
- Play safe games with the dog. (Safe games are things like fetch that do not involve running or rough play)
Tips for Other People’s Dogs
Dogs are everywhere and whether you love them, hate them or are indifferent, you and your kids are going to encounter them. It is essential even for children who have dogs at home to learn that other people’s dogs may not be as nice and tolerant as their own dog.
If you’re visiting someone with a dog, and you or your child is uncomfortable around a dog, don’t be shy! Ask the host to put the dog away. You could say something like this: “That is a lovely dog. I know he is friendly, but we are a bit uncomfortable around dogs. Would you mind putting him in another room or on a leash?”. Most dog owners will be more than understanding of your request.
Our children are never allowed to touch an unfamiliar person’s dog. Ever. Even if the owner says, it’s ok. This has made me a really unpopular person at times, but I don’t mind. If I don’t know you, then I definitely don’t know your dog, and that means that my children could be at risk. That’s not a risk I’m willing to take. I always encourage others to practice the same diligence around strangers and their animals.
For friends and family with dogs, we practice the same rules as we do at our house, but add a few.
- Make sure that the dog(s) and the kids will never be unsupervised.
- Never climb over a fence into a dog’s yard, even if the dog is usually friendly.
- Never approach a dog that is on a bed or furniture.
Dog Body Language
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Before a dog nips a child, there are almost always signals the dog gives to tell you ‘hey, I don’t like this. Please get this little person away from me before I have to say something’ But since dogs can’t talk, it’s our job to be hypervigilant- and that’s not always easy.
I’m not a dog expert by any means, though I like to consider myself a well-educated pet parent. My friend, LeeAnn, has over 13 years of experience with dogs and her guidance has been invaluable to me over the years. I asked her a few questions about recognizing dog body language, and here’s what she had to say:
What are some of the easiest body language signs for parents to recognize?
I’ve heard so many times, “He/she just snapped right out of the blue!”. And honestly, there’s nothing further from the truth. Although most people don’t notice all the warning signs, they give us it doesn’t mean that the dogs aren’t trying to talk to us. There are lots of helpful charts and photos available online to help guide even the most inexperienced person through the signs of anxious dog behavior. Their cues typically present as follows and escalate with each change in behavior.
- Yawning (when not tired) blinking (in excess), nose licking (often occurs while eyes are darting around)
- Turning head away
- Turning body away, sitting, pawing
- Walking away
- Creeping, ears back
- Standing crouched, tail tucked under
- Lying down, with a leg up (as if prepared to flee)
- Stiffening up, staring
It’s fair to say that if you witness a dog behaving in even the first three stages, it’s best advised to give them their space. It’s their primary way of saying “I’m uncomfortable.”
Are there any dog postures that could indicate they’re starting to get anxious?
The most basic postures to look for when trying to read a dog’s earliest anxiety cues include lowering head, darting eyes or staring down, crouching, raised hackles (hair on the back of their neck) and a tucked tail.
What are some common myths you hear about dog behavior?
- Dogs with pinned ears are aggressive. That can definitely be true; however, it is also just as possible for a dog with completely erect (or raised) ears to be showing signs of dominance and aggression.
- When a dog’s tail is wagging it is friendly. This is false. It’s important to observe the whole dog and not rely solely on one single thing.
Children and infants cannot read these cues and need us to interpret them for them. Dogs also depend on us to do the same. As the “leader of my pack” all my dogs know they can rely on me to care for them, protect them and love them. This includes making sure my one-year-old daughter does not breach their boundaries. If they want to interact with one another, I must be present to direct both of their behaviors, and when I see my dogs are exhibiting cues, I intervene. I hope that I will be able to raise my tiny human to love, understand, and most importantly, to respect dogs as much as I do.
Best tip for parents?
My best advice for parents is when in doubt be cautious. After working for many years in the veterinary field, rescue, and grooming world I’ve come to know that it’s always best to give dogs some extra wiggle room. It’s the least we can do since we don’t speak the same language.