Dog bites are a real problem, and can often be more serious than they first appear. Even a minor little ‘nip’ can, if left untreated, lead to any number of complications, including bacterial infections, nerve or muscle damage, rabies, and more besides. Children are particularly at risk from dog bites, partly down to their small stature and partly down to the fact that many simply haven’t been taught how to behave properly around animals, particularly those of the aggressive variety. While you can’t completely illuminate the risk, there’s a lot you can to reduce it. Here, we look at the top tips every parent needs to know to keep their child safe from dog bites.
Team them to understand body language
As aspca.org notes, one of the top tips in preventing a dog bite is to get well away from the dog before they pounce. But to do that, you’re going to need to anticipate their next movements, and that means understanding their body language. If you want to prevent your child from suffering a nasty bite, teach them the warning signs. If a dog is feeling threatened or anxious, they’re more inclined to bite than if they feel secure and peaceful. To spot a dog whose emotions are on the verge of running away with them, ask yourself:
Are they making themselves look bigger than they are?
Size might not be everything in the human world, but in the animal kingdom, it makes all the difference between who’s eating lunch and who’s lunch. If you notice a dog puffing out their chest, straightening up their stance, and making their fur stand on edge, don’t approach. Their attempts to make themselves look more physically imposing than they are means one thing only – they’re feeling aggressive and are in no mood to mess about.
Are they making themselves look smaller than they are?
You remember how just two seconds ago we said you should view a dog that’s trying to make themselves look bigger as a threat? Turns out the opposite can be just as true. If a dog is consciously trying to make themselves look as small as possible (they might shrink down into a crouch, flatten their ears against their heads, and tuck their tail beneath their legs), it means they’re feeling anxious or frightened. And an anxious or frightened dog is not one your child should be let anywhere near. If you notice their attempts to make themselves look small are accompanied by a lack of eye contact or a repeated licking of their lips, turn and move slowly away. Trying to coax them out of their fear is unlikely to result in anything but a big bite.
Socialize your dog
Kids will sometimes suffer dog bites from animals they meet outside the family home, but mostly, it’s the family pet that’s the guilty party. While you can’t always predict or dictate a pet’s behavior, there are certain things you can do to mitigate the risk. Try to ensure your pet is as well-socialized as possible – a pup that’s been bought up with plenty of exposure to people and other animals will have a much better understanding of what is and what isn’t appropriate compared to one who hasn’t. If possible, start taking them to a mixed training class from the earliest point possible (for most pups, this will be at around 8 weeks old, or once they’ve finished their final round of vaccinations), and be sure only to use a reward-based training program. Anything that uses punishment as a form of training should be avoided like the plague.
Kids get bit. It happens. And sometimes, it happens as a result of their bad behavior, rather than the dogs. Kids aren’t always the gentlest of creatures – in fact, some can be downright cruel. Teach your child to be gentle, patient, and respectful of animals. Even if your own pet is tolerant of their heavy-handed manners, it doesn’t mean that someone else’s will be. Let them know in no uncertain terms that animals have moods, can get upset, and really don’t like having their tails pulled – it’ll go a long way to ensuring both your pet’s safety and theirs.
Teach them what to do in case of attack
If you’re facing a potentially aggressive dog, the number one rule is to confidently and quietly walk away from the situation. That said, you also need to teach your kids what to do if they’re attacked. As avma.org advises, the best thing to do if a dog attacks is to stand still and assume a defensive position. Instruct your child on how to stand quietly with their hands lowered and clasped in front of them. Their head should be lowered with their eyes fixed on their feet. If they get knocked down, they should curl into a ball and protect their head and necks with their arms.
Teach them when to back off
As Kids Health comments, your kids should be taught that regardless of how cute they look, a dog is sometimes best well alone. Instruct them never to approach a dog when it’s eating (and never, ever to try and remove a bone or toy from their mouths), and not to disturb them when they’re sleeping or nursing puppies.
Spay or neuter your dog
Fact: fixed dogs are three times less likely to attack than ones who aren’t. If you welcome a new dog into the family, be sure that unless you’ve got a very good reason not to, you get it spayed or neutered.
Regardless of how friendly a dog is, you can never be 100% sure it’s not going to bite. Never leave infants alone with a dog, and don’t allow your pet to freely wander into your children’s bedrooms. Even just a few moments of unsupervised interaction could have dire consequences.