Teach them to respect a dog’s space
Children are naturally drawn to animals, particularly dogs, because they’re cute and furry. However, children don’t understand that it’s not a good idea to run right up to a strange dog, which is how a lot of bites happen. They often also don’t understand that most dogs don’t like having their ears or tail pulled, or being grabbed or picked up. Two thirds of all children bitten by dogs were bitten by the family dog, and this is often the reason.
An Ottawa Dog Trainer talks about how to teach your kids how to approach dogs!
The first thing to teach your children is to never approach a strange dog, even if the dog seems friendly, and especially if the dog is alone. If the dog is with its owner, teach your children to ask permission from a distance to approach and pet the dog, and to not be upset if the owner says “No,” because there’s probably a good reason for that.
When approaching a strange dog, children (and adults) should practice “No talk, no touch, no eye contact,” and should wait for the dog to come to them. Remember: dogs come to the Pack Leader, not the other way around. If the dog sniffs you and stays, then you can pet it, preferably on the front of the chest and not on the back or head. If the dogs walks away, with or without sniffing you, don’t take it personally. They are just not interested in interacting, so let them be! Don’t follow or pursue the dog. This is classic way for a bite to happen.
Above all, teach your children how to stay calm around dogs. A lot of kids have very high energy and can be loud or erratic, both of which can make dogs anxious or over-excited. Especially with strange dogs, children should not scream or get overly playful when the meet and greet occurs. This can trigger instinctual reflexes for a dog to act out by biting, especially if the dog is nervous, not used to children or not well exposed.
Pay attention to what cues the dog gives that they intend to bite.
Two thirds of cases in the Ottawa, Ontario area when dogs bit children, it was the family dog. This is why, as an adult, you should never leave small children and dogs together unsupervised. A dog is much less likely to bite a child if an adult human is present. Also, if something does happen, you’ll be right there to intervene.
Firstly, learn how to read a dog’s body language so you can see the signs that a bite may be coming and de-escalate the encounter immediately. Signals that a dog may be about to attack are the ears pinned back, and the fur along their back may stand up in a visible pattern — the origin of the expression “getting their hackles up.”
You might be able to see the whites of the dog’s eyes, and they may yawn which, with the other signals, does not indicate the dog is tired but, instead, is the dog showing off its teeth as a warning. If the dog makes intense and direct eye contact with you, this is a clear sign that you should back off immediately.
The motto for National Dog Bite Prevention Week is, “70 million nice dogs… but any dog can bite.” The good news is that in the vast majority of those dog bite cases, humans bear some of the responsibility by not knowing how to approach or interact with a dog.
By learning to read a dog’s body language, educating our children, and understanding how to respect a dog’s space, we can reduce those 4.5 million bites per year substantially.
Stay calm, and don’t get bitten!
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