Our family dog is about to turn 11 years old. She’s been amazingly tolerant as we’ve added 3 children to her household. Thankfully, she’s never shown any signs of aggression. However, I get increasingly nervous as she gets older. Her hearing and sight are deteriorating, and so she is more easily startled.
I’ve been reviewing some safety tips about dogs with my own kids and thought they were worth sharing.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, around 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs every year. Children ages 5-9 years old are most likely to be bitten. At least 1 out of 5 bites requires medical attention and some of these bites can cause infection, be incredibly disfiguring, and sometimes require plastic surgery.
If You Are Thinking About Getting A Dog
Learn about the different breeds and what would be best for your home. Read books, search the Internet, or call local veterinarians’ offices.
Spend some time with a dog before adopting it. Bring the kids.
Avoid any dog with a history of aggression.
Be willing to invest the time to train and socialize the dog.
Strongly consider spaying or neutering the dog, since this has been shown to decrease aggressive tendencies (and it would also to cut down on unwanted animals).
If You Get A Dog or Have One at Home
Take the dog (and yourself) to training classes.
Supervise children all the time whenever they are with the dog, especially infants and toddlers.
Don’t punish a dog for growling. This rule was actually a surprise to me, but it makes sense--growling is a dog’s way of warning you to stay back. If the dog is taught not to growl, it might decide it has to go directly to biting. You’d rather have your children yell at each other than hit each other, right? (Neither would be the best, though, I know!)
Don’t play aggressive biting games with your dog, such as keep away or tug o’ war. Instead, play things like fetch-and-return, or teach tricks and reward with treats.
Remember that dogs often get more sensitive and crotchety as they get older. Just because a dog has never bitten doesn’t mean he can’t or won’t.
Provide the dog with a safe “retreat”--a place where it can be alone when it wants--and teach your children to leave the dog alone when the dog is resting in that place. The dog’s bed or crate, if you use one, is a good choice.
Teach Your Children
Let a dog see you and sniff you first. Don’t approach a dog from behind.
If approached by a strange dog, stay still. Do not scream or run away—these actions will only encourage the dog to give chase.
If a child is ever attacked and gets knocked down by a dog, the child should automatically roll into a ball and stay still.
Don’t stare into a dog’s eyes—even your own pet’s. Some dogs find direct eye contact threatening.
Leave dogs alone if they are eating, sleeping, or playing with a toy or chew toy. Remind children that they themselves don’t like to be interrupted at those times either, and that dogs can get grumpy, too.
Dogs don’t like hugs and kisses. Hugs are a big source of facial bites because the child is trying to envelope the dog in a big hug, the dog gets nervous or is not pleased, and the dog and child are face to face. The dog might feel trapped and threatened.
Speaking of which, don’t ever “trap” a dog by running in right behind it just after it’s entered a small space like a closet or a tent.
Teach your child what kind of affection a dog might like, e.g., scratching behind the ears or on the side of the neck. Belly rubs are a universal favorite, too--if the dog rolls over and presents its belly for rubbing.
Encourage your child to tell you whenever a dog growls at them. It is important to find out which of the child’s actions or behaviors bothered the dog--then you can try to figure out how to make those actions more positive or less threatening for the dog--or you can teach your child never to repeat those behaviors around dogs.
Teach your child not to follow a dog if it walks away. This may be the dog’s way of ending a game, calling for a time out, or getting some space.
Don’t put your fingers through a fence or a hole in a crate when a dog (or any other animal) is on the other side.
Don’t enter somebody else’s yard or house where there’s a dog, unless the owner is with you.
For more information, Doggone Safe is the website of a non-profit organization I’ve found to be really helpful.