Preventing Dog bites in children should be a parents number one priority. If statistics are to be believed, every year, there are more than 2,000 cases of dog bites in Australia. Despite a parent’s best puppy training efforts, unfortunately, young children and the elderly are still the most vulnerable to canine-related injuries. The highest rates of dog-related injuries are also seen in the youngest age group (0–9 years).
The good news is that dog bites are preventable. There are many stress-handling methods dog owners can use to reduce biting behaviours in their dogs. Parents can also teach older kids how to respect dogs and how to approach and interact safely with strange dogs.
Let us study some vet-recommended tips for preventing dog bites.
Table of Contents – Preventing Dog Bites – A Guide For Parents
- Understanding Reasons Why Dogs Bite aids in Preventing Dog Bites
- Signs a Dog Might Bite a Child
- Myths Surrounding Dog Bites in Children
- Myth 1 – A socialised dog won’t bite
- Myth 2 – If a dog is safe with adults, it is safe with kids
- Myth 3 – But I taught my child to dominate my dog
- Myth 4 – Only certain breeds, like Pit bulls and German Shepherds, are more likely to bite children
- Myth 5 – My dog kisses my child and wags its tail, so it will never bite it
- Preventing Dog Bites
- Teach Older Kids Some “Nevers”
- Crate Train Your Dog to aid in preventing dog bites
- Socialise and Desensitize your Dog
- Teach Your Dog Basic Obedience
- Schedule Regular Vet Checkups
- Supervise The Interactions Between Your Dog and Children
- Teach Older Kids to Be Careful When Interacting with The Neighbour’s Dogs
Understanding Reasons Why Dogs Bite aids in Preventing Dog Bites
Dogs usually show aggression towards kids due to stress, fear, and pain. Most dog bites occur in cases of preschoolers and toddlers of extended family or visitors.
Why Do Dogs Bite Young Kids?
Dogs often find babies and toddlers intimidating. As babies become mobile, they tend to handle the dog roughly, indulging in behaviours like tail pulling, hitting, grabbing, falling on the dog, etc. Even if a dog has known the baby for over a year, the child’s ability to walk, move, or scream can make a nervous dog even more aggressive.
Preschoolers and toddlers tend to be impulsive, fast-moving, and often oblivious to the dog. They may hold the dog’s head, disturb the sleeping/eating dog, or hug or grab the dog. A nervous dog could perceive these actions as threatening.
Since toddlers and preschoolers are more independent, constant attention or supervision by parents or caregivers is not possible. Therefore, dog bites on toddlers/preschoolers tend to occur even if there is an adult present nearby.
Sometimes, older children could get bitten by neighbourhood dogs. Usually, pain, neurological issues, or provocation by the child may be the reason behind such bites. If the dog is resource-guarding and the child approaches it, then it could perceive the child as a threat and attack. Approaching a sleeping/resting dog, bending toward it, or walking too close to its food can all be bite-triggers.
Signs a Dog Might Bite a Child
There are certain signs of stress and anxiety that dog owners need to watch out for in their dogs around kids:
- Licking lips
- Looking away
- Lowering the head or body
- Lifting foreleg
- Avoid the child by walking away
- Growling at a child who approaches the dog
- Hyper alertness
- Poking with the muzzle at the sleeping infant
- Whining, high-pitched barking
- Ears up
- Circling/jumping up.
Myths Surrounding Dog Bites in Children
Myth 1 – A socialised dog won’t bite
Even a socialised dog will bite if it is startled, in pain/hurt, or significantly scared. Also, socialisation alone cannot prevent resource guarding in dogs.
Kids – especially toddlers and babies – tend to behave differently with dogs than adults do. Behaviours like hugging, grabbing, falling on the dog, walking too close to the dog when it is resting, or eating can all provoke a dog.
If your child yells “no” to the dog, the anxious dog might be further provoked into biting, and its aggression will escalate. In fact, dogs are more likely to respond defensively to a child’s threats than they might respond to adult threats.
Myth 4 – Only certain breeds, like Pit bulls and German Shepherds, are more likely to bite children
Any dog breed – pure or mixed – could bite a child if provoked. Small dogs like Chihuahuas, Shih Tzus, and Yorkies, as well as “gentle” breeds like Labrador retrievers, have all bitten children – not just Pit bulls.
Canine actions are not always what they seem. A dog’s kissing could be a sign of anxiety, fear, and stress. If a child touches the dog’s paw while it is sleeping and the dog happens to lick the child afterward, it is more out of fear and a way of saying “Go away”. Similarly, tail wagging could also be an indirect effect of anxiety and is usually a sign of alert engagement.
Preventing Dog Bites
Here are some steps dog owners can take to prevent dog bites on their kids:
Teach your older children what not to do around the dog:
- Do not grab or squeeze the dog too tightly.
- Never hold the dog’s head, pull its tail or ears, or touch its paws
- Never disturb the dog when it is sleeping or eating.
- Avoid going near the female dog who is taking care of her puppies.
- Do not take away the dog’s toy or bone
- Always feed dog training treats from the palm with the fingers and thumb held close- never from the fingers.
- Do not crowd a dog into a corner.
Crate Train Your Dog to aid in preventing dog bites
A crate provides your dog with a quiet place to rest where it can get away from the kids for a while. Get your puppy used to being crated at an early age. Make sure you let the dog out every few hours to play, go potty, and exercise.
Socialise and Desensitize your Dog
Expose your puppy to a variety of experiences from a young age. Get it used to being grabbed and handled roughly. Expose it to a variety of sounds and noises. Tray grabbing its food or bone and reward it right away so it accepts the behaviours.
Enrol your dog in a basic puppy obedience school or doggy kindergarten. This will make it more social and less likely to bite. Train it to follow commands like sit, stay, heel, drop it, etc.
Make sure your dog is vaccinated, dewormed, and taken to the vet for regular checkups. Similarly, get your dog ‘fixed’- many cases of dog aggression can be prevented by spaying/neutering the dog at the right age.
Never leave a toddler or a preschooler alone with the dog. Always have someone supervise their interactions. If needed, keep the dog on a leash or place it in its crate.
Teach Older Kids to Be Careful When Interacting with The Neighbour’s Dogs
Teach your kids to always ask the owner for permission before petting the dog. Allow the dog to sniff the child before petting. Teach children not to run toward or away from the dog. Never look at a strange dog directly in the eyes. Stay calm if the dog approaches you to sniff. If knocked over by the dog, protect your face with your hands, roll into a ball, and lay still.
By following this parent’s guide in preventing dog bites in children, many dog’s will live more comfortable lives with their families. If you’re having behaviour problems with your dog, contact one of our dog behaviourists in Sydney to put together a customised behaviour modification plan for you today.