Children's safety around dogs: How to help prevent dog bites

  • by DR Roxanne Jones
Children's safety around dogs: How to help prevent dog bites

A home filled with kids and dogs is often a very happy one, with positive interactions between animals and humans. However, the reality is that dog bites can happen when pets and kids cohabitate.

Understanding why this issue can arise is key to creating a safe environment for both kids and pets. Here we take a look at the benefits of owning dogs, the difficulties around dog and child interactions, and some effective ways to help minimise the risk of dog bites

What are the benefits of families owning dogs?

For kids, it can boost their self-esteem and happiness, while helping to teach them kindness, understanding, empathy and respect. It’s also a great way for youngsters to begin learning about responsibility and taking care of other living things.

In general, owning a dog has been shown to help reduce anxiety and depression in people and aid in relaxation.

Finally, having a dog can help get a family outdoors and exercising!

Why is there a risk of dog bites when it comes to kids and pooches interacting?

  • Children and dogs are different species
  • Most dogs are used to being around adults.
  • The way children play can be disconcerting, upsetting or alarming to animals – for example, they cry, shriek, scream, crawl on the floor, run around, flail their arms, et
  • Children may show their love towards dogs in a way that hurts, frightens or unnerves a pooch, for example by hugging, kissing, hanging on, pulling ears, fur or tail, taking their toys or food, or lying in their pup’s bed, box or kennel.

All of these factors make kids more susceptible to being bitten.

In essence, the way children behave may be a stress for your dog, even if your child isn’t intentionally looking to harm your pet.

Warning signs that your dog is uncomfortable

Dogs don’t usually bite out of the blue – they show warning signs that they are stressed or unhappy with the situation. Signs are often subtle and can easily be missed. However, if the stress continues for long enough, your dog will eventually lose patience and snap or even bite.

That’s why it’s so important to recognise the warning signs and intervene when necessary so that bites can be prevented.

Bear in mind that dogs communicate with each other primarily through body language and will try communicate like this to your child, too. Be on alert if your dog:

  • Turns his head away
  • Lowers his head
  • Turns his eyes away or looks away
  • Continuously yawns when interacting with your child
  • Continuously licks his lips
  • Keeps glancing at his side
  • Crouches down
  • Starts to crawl or move away
  • Flattens his ears against his head
  • Has fur standing up on his neck, head or back
  • Is in a tense body position
  • Has his tail between his legs
  • Growls, snaps and/or shows teeth. Next step is a bite

Why do dogs bite?

It’s important to understand that your dog might not want to intentionally hurt your child. He may be extremely stressed and fed-up with the situation, and be trying to discipline your child. For a dog, discipline = biting.

Here are some of the more common reasons that a dog might bite a kid:

  • The dog might be sick, in pain, old or grumpy and have a shorter temper because of these things.
  • Your child may have accidentally hurt the dog.
  • The dog may be protecting his food, water, toy, bed or even his human parents.
  • The child may have given the dog a fright.
  • Rough play may result in an accidental bite.
  • Your dog may try to herd your child, especially while playing in the garden. Typically the dog will nip at whatever animal he is herding!
  • Your dog may try to discipline your child like it would her own pup, which often ends up as a bite to the face.

How to help prevent dog bites in children

First and foremost, learn the warning signs!

Also, always supervise small children around dogs, and importantly, educate children on how to properly and respectfully treat animals.

Teach your kids:

  • Not to tease dogs
  • Not to disturb a sleeping dog
  • Not to disturb an eating dog
  • Not to take a toy from a dog
  • Not to continuously sit on, hang on or kiss a dog
  • Not to continuously be in the dog’s face
  • To respect the dog and his space
  • To pat the dog gently on his back

You can educate your dog too, and condition him to enjoy the presence of children so they can play together and live harmoniously.

Involve older children in the training of your dog, and make sure all members of your family are involved in caring for and grooming your pooch. This helps your pet to develop respect for your kids, so he treats your child like a human and not a peer or another dog that he is allowed to discipline

If your dog isn’t used to being around children and children come to visit, be safe rather than sorry and separate them.

Happy families: dogs and kids CAN live together!

Keep in mind that there are many families filled with kids and pooches. Follow the advice in this article to help successfully integrate the two, and you’ll be on your way to building strong, loving and respectful bonds between your dog and your kids.

Read more insightful tips and advice on taking care of your dog or cat. Here’s to happy relationships between humans and pets!

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