An estimated several million people are bitten by dogs each year, and most of them are children. Now that school is out, the kids are spending more time outdoors, which increases the possibility of being nipped by a dog,, and it is important to understand that any dog can bite if pushed beyond his limits. Ian Dunbar, a respected animal behaviorist and veterinarian, is quoted for saying, “When dogs are upset or annoyed, they don’t call their lawyer… they bite.”
Dogs rarely bite without provocation, but when a well-meaning, excited, squealing child rushes up to a dog and tries to hug the animal, sometimes even a sweet-natured dog may snap. Although most bites do not cause serious injuries, they are frightening experiences, and the tragedy is that almost all bites can be prevented with proper education. Teach your children to never yell, poke or pull at a dog and to never interrupt a dog that is eating, eliminating or sleeping. Also show them how to stroke a dog from below his head. “Most kids pet from the top down, and they do it quickly, which violates the dog’s concept of personal space,” asserts Dunbar. To avoid dog bites, behaviorists offer these suggestions:
- Spay or neuter your dog. Statistics confirm that dogs who have not been altered are three times more likely to bite. Encourage family, friends, and neighbors to get their canine companions “fixed.”
- Properly socialize your dog. Safely introduce him to cars, bicycles, veterinarians, loud noises, other animals, toddlers, stairs, water, vacuum cleaners, and strange people and places. Dogs usually bite out of fear, and if they are not afraid (or in pain), they rarely bite.
- Teach your children to respect life. Show them how to properly touch and handle a dog. Young children should be discouraged from carrying dogs, because they lack the coordination to properly support the dog and keep him from falling. Children need to understand that dogs are living, breathing, loving creatures. There is a direct correlation between children who abuse animals and those kids, when grown up, abusing people.
- Never leave a young child unsupervised with a dog. Never, no matter how well trained you think the child is. If you have toddlers, create a safe place for your dog to go when she doesn’t want to be bothered. If she is not able to get away when she feels threatened, the unfortunate alternative is usually lip lifting, growling or biting. Give the dog a place to go where the child absolutely cannot follow.
- Don’t tease your dog or play mindless games that encourage the dog to become aggressive. Encourage your kids to put themselves in the dog’s “shoes” and treat him with the respect and love that he deserves.
- Don’t tie your dog out. Tied dogs are frustrated dogs and tend to become hyper and feisty. A child entering an area where a dog is or if a neighbor ties a dog out, teach your children to not go near the dog. It is an accident waiting to happen.
- Enroll your dog in obedience classes to establish productive behaviors that will discourage inappropriate actions. Involve the entire family in the classes, so that everyone follows the same rules.
Classes are usually good training for both humans and canines.
Our dogs play an important role in our lives, and they exert a powerful positive influence. They truly are our best friends, and they seldom bite without provocation… usually a human action triggers a negative reaction from the dog. They do not attack out of the blue, but we may not recognize the cause, and unfortunately the dog is usually blamed. Taking common sense precautions is the best way to keep all of us safe and allow us to continue that special human-canine relationship.