Babies Children and Dogs Living Safely Together, Preventing Dog Bites
Many families with young children also have pet dogs. While this can be a wonderful, loving relationship, all too often the once adored family dog is abandoned, re-homed, or worse, euthanized, because he snapped, growled, or bit the child.
This article will show you how to keep your kids and your dog(s) living safely together under the one roof.
I will show you how to keep both your children safe from your dog and also your dog safe from your children!
When it comes to children, it is the 5-9 year age bracket that seems to be the most commonly bitten.
Why Dogs Bite Children
It is important to first understand why dogs bite.
Dogs are not like humans and therefore cannot be expected to behave like humans.
Dogs can’t resolve fear, or relinquish the need to dominant through a heart to heart conversation. We need to understand that they do not perceive things, or react to things like we do.
A dog who is fearful, nervous, or not properly socialized, may react to things that frighten him with a fight approach, as opposed to at take flight approach. If a nervous, fearful dog is scared and feels it has no way out of a situation it may protect itself by either biting, growling or snapping.
To a nervous dog, young children are loud, unpredictable and hard for the dog to understand, therefore it may start showing signs of fear aggression.
Alternatively if a dog is a dominant animal and sees itself as head of it’s pack and by pack this includes humans and other animals in the house, then it may discipline the pack and pull them into line with some aggressive force. This is natural behaviour and is how in a wild dog pack, an alpha dog often disciplines his subordinates and keeps the pack balanced and strong.
If a dominant dog sees a young child as below him in the pack, then disciplinary growls, snaps and bites may occur.
A dominant dog may also take ownership of possessions and food and may bite if for e.g you try to take away, or get too close to their toy, or food, or if you try to do things like get them down off the couch. This isn’t because the dog is nasty, but rather the dominant dog in a pack always go first and gets first dibs on possessions.
Most Dogs Are Not Naturally Dominant
The majority of dogs displaying dominant behaviour are not naturally alpha dogs. These dogs feel they need to be the pack leader of their human family, because they have no one offering them clear leadership, boundaries or guidelines, the basic criterion all dogs need to feel secure, happy and stable. These dogs are confused as to where they fit in the pack and how it should function, so they try to take control so as to create a sense of order in their world.
Dogs of a more submissive nature, are not comfortable, or stable in this role and that can lead to problems such as aggression.
A dog that sees itself as the head of its pack, feels the need to protect its pack and may bite strangers, or even people it knows, if it feels that it’s pack is being threatened or in danger. I am sure that many of you have heard stories of a father/husband who has been bitten by the family dog, because the dog thought he was hurting another family member when in-fact he was just hugging or play wrestling with them. While protectiveness is a normal reaction for a the alpha male of a dog pack, or for a female protecting her pups, it is not a safe behaviour for a dog that lives side by side with humans. Adult humans for safety reasons, must be the alpha in the house.
Other Reasons A Dog May Bite A Child
Another reason a dog may bite is when they are in pain or unwell; e.g. many a vet has experienced first hand, what it feels like to be bitten by a sick or injured dog.
One other all too common reason children get bitten, is when playtime with their dog goes to far and gets too rough. Dogs, unless taught differently, play with us as they would with other dogs and this naturally includes with their mouth and teeth. If you observe dogs playing together, there is a lot of mouthing and nipping involved and often a yelp of pain when a play bite was too hard.
Many children have received bites from the family dog when approaching the dog while it slept and startling it, or by hurting the dog by pulling or hitting it.
Tips On How To You Keep Both Your Child & Your Dog Safe?
Deciding to bring a dog into the family when you have young children is a big responsibility. You need to be sure that you have the time to devote to walk your dog daily and to train and socialize not only your new dog/puppy, but also, and just as importantly, you need to teach your children how to act around the dog and you need to be there supervising them together. Read Keeping Your Dog Healthy and Happy
Before you bring child and dog together, it is crucial that you explain to children how to behave around dogs. Print out my Teaching Children How To Behave Around Dogs – Fun Dog Behaviour Poster For Kids To Colour
The ideal dog to be around children is one that has a calm, submissive nature, with the right energy levels to match your kids.
Introducing Your New Baby To Your Dog Safely
- Your dog should be well trained and recognize that both parents are the pack leaders.
- Your dog should know basic commands like sit, stay, lie down, leave and drop. If your dog is not doing these things and you haven’t established leadership, then it is highly advisable to work with a respected dog trainer and get any problems solved before baby arrives.
- To begin with baby’s room should be an off bounds area for your dog, eventually once you see that your dog respects the new baby and shows no jealously, then always with supervision, you can let him into the baby’s room if you wish.
- Bring an item of clothing of your new baby’s home from the hospital for your dog to smell. Your dog should sniff it from a distance and not take ownership of it. This way your dog learns to respect that this scent belongs to you and not to him
- I can’t stress this enough, even if you think you have the gentlest dog on the face of this earth, never leave your baby unsupervised with your dog.
Cesar Millan recommends that you exercise your dog and drain some energy to make sure your dog is calm and relaxed just before you first introduce baby to him.
Safety Tips To Follow On Keeping Kids & Dogs Safe Together
- Young children should be supervised at all times with a puppy or dog.
- If you don’t already have a dog, it is advisable to wait till your children are older & more responsible e.g school age.
- Teach your dog never to jump up on people without an invitation, children included. This is dominance and not playfulness. Your dog should be trained to greet all people by sitting calmly.
- If you see signs that your dog is asserting itself over your child e.g growling or snapping, jumping on and pushing your child, get immediate professional help from a dog trainer and take extra precautions e.g make sure your child doesn’t take the dogs toys, or go onto its bed, or near it when it eats.
- I found a great interactive website to check out together with your kids. It is is a fun and highly visual way to teach kids, safe dog ownership see Good Dog SA.
- Teach your children and any children that visit, never to pull, smack or poke any part of your dog and never to tease, frighten or scream around the dog. Print out and teach your kids with my Kids Being Friends with Dogs Poster.
- If other kids are visiting and your dog, or the child appears at all unsure or nervous, then play it safe and pop the dog in another room or outside. Dogs should have a safe spot in the house they can go to.
- Teach children that they must never run straight up to, or make eye contact with a strange dog.
- Your child should always first ask the dogs owner whether their dog likes to be petted and then they should be taught to calmly approach from the side not the front and first offer the dog the back of their hand (not their open palm) to sniff. NEVER OFFER YOUR HAND TO SNIFF TO A FEARFUL, NERVOUS OR GROWLING DOG AS THEY WILL SEE IT AS A THREAT. Read Safety with Kids and Dogs, by Belinda Kelly a professional Dog Trainer. If the dog is accepting, your child should gently pat it under its chin, or on the side of its chest.
- Children should be taught to recognize dog body language, especially warning signs from a dog like a lifted top lip, raised fur on the back, the tail tucked between the legs, snarling or growling.
- Children need to be shown how to correctly hold a dog to avoid accidentally hurting it, which can lead to a bite. With small puppies children should only hold them if they are able to support them properly and not drop them. Many puppies have been severely injured by being dropped.
- A child must be taught never to wake a sleeping dog, go near it when it is eating, or try to take a favourite toy or bone from the dog, even if you believe you have the most calm and submissive dog in the world, don’t take chances. Your dog should in return be taught that your children’s toys are also off- bounds.
- Teach you child that certain human foods,small toys and other household items, can make your dog very sick.
- Rough playing with dogs can lead to bites. Your child should play gently with your dog e.g throw or kick a ball or frisbee, take the dog for a walk, groom and pet the dog. Note; Tug-a war games are not safe to play with a dog, as they see it as a fight for dominance of the object.
- For your dogs safety and your children’s, train your dog to drop whatever it has in its mouth by a vocal command and teach your children how to use the command.
- Older children should be taught how to establish leadership over your dog; e.g a dog should never pull in-front of whoever is walking them, even if it is a child.
- Younger children should never walk a dog unsupervised by an adult. Your dog may startle or see something and go after it and even a smaller dog could pull on its lead enough to drag a child, or cause them to fall & let go of the lead, endangering both the child and dog.
- If you have really tried everything and can’t get the aggression under control and you feel the dog is a threat to your child, please do not have the dog euthanized. There are some great animal re-homing organizations and foster homes available, that will find a suitable ‘child free’ home for your dog. Your last option, if you can’t re-home your dog, should be to take it to a NO kill shelter.
Studies have conclusively proven that children benefit from being brought up with pets, it teaches them many important social skills e.g caring, compassion, responsibility etc. These studies also show that children brought up around animals, build stronger immune systems and get outdoors more. Taking the dog for a daily walk is great exercise for the whole family.
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