Keep Your Child From Getting Bitten by a Dog

The fact that a furry best friend could chomp down on a child is a scary one, yet the potential to bite exists in every dog. Even the most laid-back dog can lash out if provoked, startled or in pain. You can help your child avoid a dog bite by taking the following tips from PetMD

1. Before engaging with a strange dog, teach your child to ask for permission from the owner and the dog. Children should always connect with the dog guardian first to ask if it’s okay to approach the dog. (Prepare the child for the possibility that the answer might be no if the dog is sick or doesn’t feel comfortable around children.) Demonstrate how to meet a new dog, by letting the dog approach and extending a hand with fingers curled under. Keep in mind that “extending” does not mean thrusting the hand in the dogs face. Watch to see if the dog approaches in a relaxed, waggy, friendly fashion. If the dog seems hesitant to come closer don’t force an interaction.

2. Teach your child the proper way to interact with dogs. Our typical human methods of conveying affection and excitement don’t translate in the dog world, so a child’s gleeful head-on dash towards a dog and hug to the head aren’t appreciated, and in some can be downright dangerous. Most dogs prefer gentle pats on the chest and neck instead of thumping on top of the head. Children should also learn to recognize a dog’s “Nice to see you, but I’m moving on” behavior. A dog that walks away from a child is very clearly conveying that she is finished with the interaction.

3. Help your child understand canine body language. Our dogs are constantly talking to us, but we don’t always take the time to understand what they’re saying. Learning to recognize when a dog is conveying discomfort or fear can greatly minimize the risk of a bite. A dog that is worried about interacting with a child might show it with subtle stress signals like lowered ears, yawning, ducking away from the child’s hand (which seems like an obvious signal but many people ignore it), or frequent lip licking. Most dogs that welcome interaction with children show it with loose body movements and a low broadly wagging tail. An easy way to check if a dog is enjoying an interaction with a child (or any person, for that matter) is to have the child pet the dog for a few seconds and then stop and see what the dog does. If she solicits more contact by moving in closer it’s a safe bet that she’s enjoying it. If the pooch moves away, the petting session is over.

4. Supervise interactions and then some. Supervising children and dogs means more than just being physically present in the room with them. Being an active observer requires that parents pinpoint when the dog is tipping over from enjoying the child’s company to needing a break in the action, and that means understanding canine body language. Stepping in and separating the parties when you see the dog showing the stress signals mentioned above can help avoid unfortunate escalations. If you feel unable to adequately supervise, allow the dog to escape into a “safe zone” away from the children.

5. Don’t punish your dog for communicating discomfort. Most parents panic when the family dog growls at a child. The first instinct is often to reprimand the dog for the growl, but doing only teaches the dog to suppress his reactions. Punishment does nothing to change the way the dog feels about the child or the interaction, which means there’s a good chance that the growl will happen again if the dog is put in the same situation, or worse, the dog’s reaction may escalate to a bite. The growl is a warning that something isn’t right with the interaction—whether it’s the way the child is handling the dog, his or her proximity to a valued resource like a bone or toy, or the fact that the dog might just be overwhelmed. Take note of the circumstances surrounding the growl and seek help from a qualified dog-friendly trainer who uses positive reinforcement methods.