Minimising the risk of dog bites
It’s estimated that over 80% of Australians will have a companion animal at some period in their life. Pets play an important role in a child’s life, not only for the enjoyment they bring, but also for the important life lessons they teach.
The joys of pet ownership do, however, have risks. Children under the age of five are at the most at risk of a dog bite, with incidents often triggered by the child’s interactions with the dog.
Always supervise your dogs and kids when they are together. Ideally, supervision would be one adult for the dog and one adult for the child, that way you can form the ground rules and teach both the child and dog appropriate and safe behaviour.
Playing around dogs
Many dog bites occur during unintentional rough play and children are often not aware that their behaviour may be annoying or threatening to the dog. High pitched squeals or uncoordinated attempts at showing affection to the dog may cause concern, which can trigger a dog to act defensively. If your dog happens to take one of your child’s toys, teach your child to call you to retrieve it, rather than trying to get it off the dog themselves.
It’s important to teach your children to never approach dogs while they are having a rest. They may startle the dog awake, triggering a defensive reaction. If you need to wake the dog, call the dog from a distance so he or she is able to become orientated after waking.
Dogs and food
Some dogs may become defensive when around their food, which is known as guarding. Teach your children never to approach a dog that is eating or has a treat, such as a bone. If your child accidently drops food around the dog, make sure the child knows to call you rather than try to retrieve it themselves.
Important behaviour to recognise:
There are distinct behaviours that a dog shows if it wants you to back off, which include:
- Backing or leaning away
- Hair raising on the back of its neck
- Lifting of its lips
- White ring visible around the eyes
Approaching a dog
It’s important to teach your child to never approach a dog without adult supervision. Even if the dog is familiar to the child, he or she should always ask a parent or carer for permission to pat the dog.
You may want to approach the dog first as an example so your child can learn from you.
- Approach the dog on an angle at a slow, calm pace and always be gentle.
- Use the dog’s name in a soft, calm and friendly voice.
- Curl your fingers into a fist and slowly extend the back of your hand to the dog, allowing him or her to sniff.
- After the dog has had a bit of a sniff and is ok with it, gently pat the dog under the chin or the side of the chest. Try to avoid patting the dog on the head or the shoulders, as this may be threatening to them.
If the dog is still calm after this experience, guide your child’s hand to repeat the actions that you have just done, giving the dog a bit of a pat on the chest or under the chin.
Remember to give praise to both the dog and child for calm and correct behaviour. Also remember to practice this skill over a period of time until you are confident that your child will correctly pat the dog, but always supervise their interactions closely.
What to do when approached by a dog
When approached by an unfamiliar dog, your child’s first reaction may be to run and squeal with excitement, but this can often confuse or frighten the dog. Teach your child that if an unfamiliar dog approaches, the child should stand like a statue with his or her arms by their side, and try not to make a sound.
Most likely the dog will just sniff and walk away, but if the child is knocked over, he or she should curl into a ball until the dog goes away. It’s also important to note that dogs can feel threatened by eye contact or staring, so teach your child to look at his or her feet until a relationship has been established with the dog.
These steps can help your child develop strong, lasting relationships with our canine friends.
This advice you will find here is general and if you have any specific concerns relating to your dogs and children, please contact a dog behaviour specialist.