DBPM–Keep Kids Safe

Dog Bite Prevention Month–pt 3

You invite some friends over for a movie night and your dog is resting nicely on the floor when one of your friends jumps up and down right next to your dog. She then drops to her knees and lays over your dog and rolls around a bit. She puts her face into the dogs face making noises while pulling on the dogs ears. Then, for no explicable reason, she screams in the dog’s ear. I don’t know about you but I would be FUMING mad if someone did this to my dog–that is totally and completely unacceptable.

What scares me is how many parents allow their children to do those exact things to the family dog over and over again. These same parents laud the dog’s tolerance of the child’s mistreatment, “She’s great with the kids, they can tug on her and pull on her and she doesn’t do anything.”

I am here to say that it is a mistake to put blind faith in a dog’s tolerance. It only takes ONE ear pull for a dog to finally stop tolerating it and to growl, snap, bite, injure, or even kill a child. I am of the opinion that if you wouldn’t allow an older child, teen, or adult do something to the dog, you shouldn’t allow your young child to do it.

Now children, particularly toddlers, need to be taught how to interact with their pets. They need to be shown how to play with their dog, how to pet their dog, WHEN to pet their dog, and how to be respectful of the dogs. We humans do not come out of the womb automatically knowing how to be humane to our canine pals but children can certainly learn how to treat their pets. Sure, kids will make mistakes and will have moments of poor impulse control and bad decisions but it is critical that parents teach their children the ground rules to minimize these moments and stop relying on the tolerance of dogs.

I am so saddened and upset by what seems to be a rising trend of dogs severely injuring or killing familial children. I feel as though a month doesn’t go by where I do not hear about some horrible ‘accident’.

Let’s be clear, infants should never be left unattended with dogs–particularly if that infant is accessible. They shouldn’t be left on the floor in carriers, on a floor play-mat, in a swing, in a bouncy seat, on a bed or other areas where they can be accessed by dogs. Infants cannot protect themselves and can make some very exciting, new, or scary noises, or could be kicking feet, flailing arms, or be, themselves, bouncing/rocking in a device that can kick up a dog’s curiosity. When dogs explore things, they often do so with their mouths and their feet–this could easily lead to a baby crying or squealing and could lead to disaster. I say this as a child who spent her youth being babysat by an English Bulldog named Ginger and whose parents allowed lots of snuggling between doggie and infant. I love that i have tons of baby pictures like the one to the left–and I love that I had such a great friendship.

Many of the other bites or attacks, particularly with toddlers or young children, I hear about are from dogs who “never even growled” or who “never seemed bothered by the ear pulling.” The child had grabbed the dog’s fur/skin and pulled themselves up many many times without any issues but this last time maybe the dog was sore, maybe it was tired, maybe it felt sick, or maybe it was just tired of being hurt by the toddler and the dog reacted (the reality is the dog probably gave dozens of warnings previously that went unheard). Preventing bites like this is really all about teaching the child how to treat the dog (and being there to supervise), creating rules about how to interact with the dog and being a vigilant parent who can be a referee to make sure everyone stays safe by stepping in and ending play if the child or the dog becomes inappropriate.

Parents should also model appropriate behavior with the dog–they should be gentle when handling the dog, refrain from waking a sleeping dog, should not hit the dog, should not grab the dog’s muzzle or ears, and should not alpha roll the dog. This seems obvious, but young kids will repeat what they see done–both good things and bad things. I once watched a 5 year old pretty much alpha roll the family dog (a shih tzu/terrier type mix) while at a park because it was barking–I was so afraid for the child because the dog was clearly uncomfortable but the parents just watched and laughed. I don’t know how many times the dog will tolerate this before hurting the child… but it’s scary to think about.

Besides just modeling appropriate behavior it’s really important to teach children when is it not okay to approach or pet the dog (when the dog is eating, sleeping, on her bed, or in her crate) and how should the child pet or interact with the dog (use gentle hands and soft voices, don’t chase fido, etc). Like I said, kids aren’t born knowing how to safely interact with dogs–they need to be taught in order to prevent dog bites.

1 Comment
  1. Great post! I envy you your English Bulldog upbringing šŸ˜‰

    I thankfully see a lot of parents lecturing children on how to approach a strange dog, how to pet a dog, etc. Some of that might be an excuse to not let them pet my Doberman, who truly loves children and would love to have access to them.

    And really, nobody should be Alpha rolling anybody.

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