Minimizing the risk of dog bites
There are ways to prevent children from being bitten by dogs. This article gives advice on training children, adults and dogs to approach each other and communicate effectively.
We tend to forget that dogs do not communicate in the same way as humans. For example, 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.
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.
Teach children not to approach a sleeping dog. When awoken from a deep sleep, humans have been known to behave defensively, that is to strike out. Dogs when woken in fright may behave in much the same way. Dogs should not be disturbed when sleeping. If you need to wake the dog up, call them from a distance to allow them time to become oriented.
Provide the dog with a bed that is separated from noisy high activity areas. This will minimize the risk of unintentionally waking the dog in fright.
Children should be taught not to approach a dog who is 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 requires the owner to teach the dog not to react if his food is removed while eating. Start by putting a small amount of food in the bowl, then moving your hand to the box to add more food. In this way, the presence of a hand becomes rewarding. If the puppy is happy and does not show signs of aggression, take the food away. Reward the puppy with a pat. After the puppy has sat and been given a reward, the food is returned and the puppy resumes eating. 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.
Many behaviours humans show towards each other can be perceived as a threat to dogs. If a dog is in the company of his owner, it is essential to ask the owner’s permission to approach the dog. The owner 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 backs away, do not attempt to pat him.
Young children can be rough and unrelenting. They may be unaware that their behaviour is annoying for the dog. Their high-pitched squeals and uncoordinated attempts at showing affection can disturb the dog, causing him to act defensively or trigger a chasing response. Discourage rough, inappropriate play, as this may over excite the dog.
Supervising children around dogs
Young children should never approach a dog without the permission of the owner. 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.
Establishing eye contact with a dog can send a strong message of domination which can be perceived as a threat to the dog.
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. Never approach a strange dog without the permission of the dog owner. 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 recognize the wagging tail as a sign of a happy dog, but fewer people really know or understand other signs of dog 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
- Backs off
- Raises the hair on his back