Dogs and children can have wonderful relationships, but they can also have relationships that are a disaster waiting to happen. Children aged 5-9 are the population at greatest risk of being bitten by dogs. Often, these bites are delivered by dogs that live in the home. How can this be when we all know the beloved stories of “a boy and his dog”? (Though I’d love to read more stories of a girl and her dog too!) It makes sense when you consider that young children sometimes move erratically, play roughly and rambunctiously near or with dogs and that they don’t always understand the need to respect personal space. This sort of behavior can scare, stress or startle dogs, and fear and stress are the most common causes of dog bites.
Don’t be afraid to have your dog around kids though! It’s important to teach a dog how to act around kids, and just as important to teach children to respect all creatures and to understand their canine companions. And – bonus! – Children who grow up with dogs in the home usually have greater empathy in general as adults. Here are some tips to develop healthy, happy, SAFE relationships between children and dogs:
- Supervise interactions between dogs and children. Always. Call the dog to come with you, or have the child come with you if you need to take your attention away, even for a moment. Otherwise, separate them physically with a gate or door, or crate the dog.
- Teach children to be kind and give a dog space, especially around food, bones or toys. Teach them not to hug dogs – and you probably shouldn’t either – as most dogs do not like hugs at all, but merely tolerate them. Also, it’s imperative that children understand that it’s never okay to climb on, hit or kick dogs, and not to pull on ears, tails or a dog’s fur.
- Changes can occur in a dog’s reaction to something depending on various factors. You might think your dog would never harm anyone, and many dogs will tolerate a lot, like hugs. But if a dog is stressed – maybe it’s injured or sick, had a scary encounter with another dog that day, or chased away a cat – it might react poorly to something that it usually just tolerates. Any added stress can change a dog’s ability to tolerate things like a tail tug, a hug, or the pull of an ear.
- Learn the language of dogs so that you can identify when a dog is uncomfortable. Dogs speak through body language and facial expressions, and some dogs are easier to read than others. Here is a wonderful compilation of the many behaviors a dog might offer and what they can mean. The poster below, by the renowned, late veterinarian and dog behaviorist Dr. Sophia Yin also shows various behaviors to watch for that signal a dog is afraid or stressed. Fear and stress are the most common reasons a dog would bite. Watch for these signs, learn the ones your dog tends toward first, and react quickly by giving the dog space from whatever is stressing it out. If your dog displays these behaviors in certain situations, then please contact us. We’ll be happy to help resolve any issues. The earlier you catch potential problems, the easier it is to work through them!