It’s a nightmare for both parents and pet owners: your dog biting your child. Every year, over 4.5 million people receive dog bites, and 800,000 (including 400,000 children) require medical assistance. What’s the best way for parents to prevent these incidents?
Reading Dog Body Language
Keep an eye on your kids and dogs.
Don’t leave your child alone with your dog.
This is certainly well-meaning advice. The problem is that in 95% of dog bite incidents, the parent is within 3 feet of the child. They are supervising; they are “keeping an eye” on their kids. Often, though, they aren’t keeping an eye on the right things. So, what should you look for?
- Posture. When your dog tightens his body and holds his breath, it signals that he is uncomfortable and may lash out. If this happens, remove your child from the situation immediately.
- Eyes. Your dog’s eyes can tell you a lot. If he feels threatened or stressed, they may appear larger than normal. You may also notice that he is not looking directly at you. Instead, he’s looking at you out of the corners of his eyes. You will see a large portion of the whites. This is typically a sign of aggression.
- Mouth. Dogs can’t speak – but their mouths have plenty to say. Your dog may pull his lips back slightly, flick his tongue in and out, yawn in an exaggerated way, or wrinkle his muzzle and expose his teeth as a signal to stay away. It’s best to heed it.
Some submissive dogs expose their front teeth. It’s easy to mistake this for aggression (teeth are scary!), so look for accompanying body language. If he lowers his head, yelps, whines, or squints his eyes, he’s likely just looking for some attention.
- Ears. Look for ears that are raised up and forward. This typically means that he is feeling aggressive. Also note when his years are flattened; it could signal that he’s scared, and fear can lead a dog to bite.
- Avoidance. If your child approaches your dog and the dog moves away, it means he wants to be left alone. Keep your kid from following your pet; if a dog feels as though he can’t escape, he may resort to biting.
It also helps to understand what types of situations can provoke a bite so you can do your best to avoid them:
- He’s feeling possessive. Some dogs, particularly herding and guard breeds, are territorial. They do not like anyone – canine or human – to touch their toys or food. Teach your child to leave the dog alone when he’s eating. In addition, the “Leave It” command can help curb toy possessiveness.
- He’s in pain. When hurt, even gentle dogs can snap or bite. Kids should avoid touching any wounds and always be careful when handling/petting.
- He’s afraid. Whether they’re frightened of a stranger or they’re startled, some dogs react to fear with biting. Take a two-pronged approach here: tell your kids not to sneak up on the dog and make sure you properly socialize him from the earliest age possible.
- He’s on the hunt. Some dogs instinctively start to chase people when they’re running. Talk to your child about what to do if this happens: stop moving and stand tall. Face the dog but don’t make eye contact. Usually, the dog will get bored. If not, teach your kid to curl up, lay still, and protect the face, hands, and neck.
Even well-behaved, and beloved, pets can bite. Help your child understand the signals and avoid risky situations. Safety is any parent and pet owner’s top priority.