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children and dog

Dos and Don’ts for avoiding dog bites

We tend to forget that dogs do not communicate in the same way as humans. Training is the key to preventing dog bites. By that we mean that dogs, children and adults need to be trained in how to approach and communicate effectively.

Humans make eye contact when communicating and make contact through an open handshake. Both of these behaviours may be seen as a threat to dogs.

Sleeping dogs: Teach children not to approach a sleeping dog. If you need to wake the dog up, call him from a distance to allow him time to become oriented. Provide the dog with a bed that is separated from noisy high activity areas. This will minimise the risk of unintentionally waking the dog in fright.

Feeding dogs: Children should be taught not to approach a dog who’s eating or gnawing on a bone. Dogs may become protective of their food or bones. Dogs can be conditioned to accept interference with their food from the time they enter the house as a puppy. This training should continue throughout the dog’s life, especially if there is a possibility of children entering the property.

When approaching a dog:

  • Children should be taught to leave strange dogs alone and to report stray dogs to an adult who may be able to deal with the dog appropriately.
  • If a dog is in the company of his pet parent, it is essential to ask the pet parent’s permission to approach the dog.
  • The pet parent of the dog must initiate the introduction of a new person to the dog. The dog should be approached on an angle, not from the front or rear.
  • Once closer to the dog, slowly extend the back of the hand and allow the dog to sniff the hand before tickling under the chin or the side of the chest.
  • Dogs should not be patted on the top of the head or the shoulders.
  • An open palm facing the dog may be seen as a threat by the dog and may cause the dog to act defensively.
  • If the dog doesn’t sniff or back away, do not attempt to pat him.
  • Establishing eye contact with a dog can send a strong message of domination which can be perceived as a threat to the dog.

Supervising children around dogs: Young children can be rough and unrelenting. They may be unaware that their behaviour is annoying for the dog. Discourage rough, inappropriate play, as this may overexcite the dog. Adults should initially control the child’s movements when they are learning to interact with dogs. One good way to start is by holding and guiding a young child’s hand to pat the dog gently. Young children need constant supervision when in contact with dogs.

When approached by a strange dog: Children are easily excited. A common reaction in their excitement is to run and squeal. This behaviour can frighten a dog who may only be curious, or want to join in the fun. It is useful to teach children to stand straight and still (like a tree trunk!) and not raise their hands above their heads.

Important dog behaviour to recognise: As with other animals, dogs have a special way of communicating with each other and humans. Most people recognise the wagging tail as a sign of a happy dog, but fewer people really know or understand other signs of dog’s body language. A dog’s body language gives us clues about how a dog may be feeling.

A dog should be left alone if he:

  • Lifts his lips.
  • Growls.
  • Backs off.
  • Raises the hair on his back.