Image via iStock.com/Daniela Jovanovska-Hristovska
By Monica Weymouth
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, each year in the United States, there are more than 4.5 million people bitten by dogs. Of those 4.5 million bites, the majority of them happen to young children. Not only are kids more likely to be bitten, but theyâre also likely to be more severely injured due to their fragile and small size.
The good news is that many of these bites can be prevented with some canine know-how and proper training for both kids and dogs.
How Serious Are Dog Bites?
Dog bites in children require immediate medical care. Even if the wound doesnât appear to be severe, thereâs a chance that it could become infected.
âWhen a child comes in for a dog bite, the first thing I do is assess the risk of infection,â says Dr. Andrew Katz, a pediatrician with Mercy Medical Group. âIt is wise to?start antibiotics as soon as possible after?any?animal bite, to prevent serious complications.â
In addition to infections, children who are not immunized can be at risk of tetanus. Although rare in the United States, rabies could be a concern if the dog is unknown and canât be found. In these instances, the child may need to complete a series of rabies vaccinations.
In his own practice, Dr. Katz sees dog bites a few times a year, the majority of which are not serious. In many of the cases, the incidences could be avoided. âMost bites occur in younger children who do not know any better,â he says. âI advise parents to educate their children.â
Teaching a Child How to Greet a New Dog
An ounce of prevention, as they say, is worth a pound of cure. Protecting your child from dog bites begins with teaching them the proper way to interact with dogs.
Be sure to always ask the dogâs owner if your child can pet their dog. If the dog and dogâs owner are okay with the interaction, the next step is helping your child understand how to correctly approach, interact with and pet a dog.
Let the Dog Approach You First
Pooch Parenting owner and dog behavior consultant Michelle Stern taught children prior to training dogs and specializes in helping families create safe, supportive environments for kids and dogs. One of her first rules for preventing bites is to teach your child to never run up to a dog.
âDonât approach dogsâlet dogs approach you,â she says. âThe dog deserves the opportunity to say âno.â Not all dogs want to be pet, and you should never assume they want your attention,â says Stern.
Be Calm and Confident
First, itâs important that you set a good example for the child. You should be calm and confident, says Kim Paciotti, a professional trainer and owner of Training Canines. Make sure your child knows to do the same.
âChildren are either scared or overly exuberant when meeting dogs,â says Paciotti. âBoth situations will change how the dog will react. If the child is coming at the dog full of excitement, the dog will react with that same excitement.â
Approach From the Side
When petting a dog, itâs important to note that dogs donât see the same way humans do, says Paciotti. Our canine companions have a wider degree of peripheral vision, and theyâre more comfortable being approached from the side.
Paciotti says that reaching over a dogâs head may cause a dog to jump. âHow you approach a dog has a huge impact on how that dog will react,â she says.
Pet the Dog Underneath the Chin or on the Chest
Offer a pet under the chin or on the chest, and never reach over the headâyouâll temporarily enter the dogâs blind spot, possibly startling him.
Guide your childâs hand slowly, always going along with the grain of the fur. After a couple pets, take a break and see how the dog is enjoying the experience.
âIt is crucial to teach our children about the dogâs perspective,â says Paciotti.
Tips to Encourage Positive Interactions Between Children and Dogs
Keep in mind that while you find your kids adorable, to a dog, excited little hands and high-pitched laughs can be scary. Even children-friendly dogs are liable to become stressed by their unpredictable behavior.
This is especially true when it comes to toddlers. To a dog, âToddlers are weirdâthey act unpredictably; they make strange noises; they move erratically,â says Stern. âA lot of dogs donât know how to react.â
To make sure your child or toddler has a positive interaction with the dogs they meet, consider the following tips. ?
Respect Your Childâs Wishes
Itâs important to not assume that your child wants to pet every pup. Some parents, says Stern, have a tendency to project their love of dogs onto their children. By forcing these interactions, parents can unwittingly create an uncomfortable situation for both the child and the dog.
âNot all toddlers want to interact with dogs,â says Stern. âRespect what your kid wants, and respect what the dog wants.â
Observe the Dogâs Body Language
The vast majority of the time, a dog who doesnât want to interact with a child makes his wishes very clear. The more you know about dog body language, the more you can recognize a dogâs comfort level and teach your child about safe interactions.
âDog body language is so important,â says Stern. âThere are a million signs that dogs give to show theyâre anxious and uncomfortable. If you respect those signals, the situation wonât escalate.â
Tips for Pet Parents
If youâre a dog owner, keep in mind that not all parents teach Dog 101. Having a well-trained dog who responds to cues can help to de-escalate stressful situations.
It is also important to know your own dogâs body language and comfort levels. If you see your dog getting tense as someone approaches, do not hesitate to tell them that it is not the best time for them to interact with your pup. You are always allowed to tell people they cannot pet your dog, especially if you feel like your dog is uncomfortable.
By saying no, you are protecting your dogâs comfort and helping to foster only positive relationships with strangers. You are also ensuring that there is no chance of a dog bite.
Home Safety Tips for Dogs and Kids
Bites, of course, donât just happen at the park with unfamiliar dogs. If your family includes a dog and young children, itâs important to be proactive about proper dog interactions around the house, as well.?
Toddlers, in particular, can be challenging, as they tend to be curious and arenât yet able to follow rules. Remember, even dogs who are good with children may not appreciate grabby hands.
For promoting safe interactions between your young child and your family dog, Stern offers the following tips for parents of toddlers:
- If your dog is playing with a favorite toy or eating, donât allow your child to approach. Some dogs are protective of their most valued dog toys?or dog food?and wonât appreciate being interrupted.
- Always supervise interactions between toddlers and dogs. When this is not possible, set up barriersâlike dog gatesâto prevent interactions.
- Think about situations ahead of time. For example, before you attempt to make dinner with a toddler and dog clamoring around the kitchen, think through possible issues and solutions. Maybe itâs better if your pup or child spends this time having playtime in a separate room.
- Educate babysitters (including grandparents) about how your dog and toddler should and shouldnât be allowed to interact. Oftentimes, bites happen when the primary caregiver isnât supervising.
Remember, young children can be stressful for dogs. As a parent, itâs important to set aside some time to consider how your four-legged family member is feeling.
âNaturally, parents think a lot about their kidsâ feelings, but they donât necessarily think about their dogsâ feelings,â says Stern.
Stern explains that by just knowing your dogâs body language and comfort levels, you can help keep both children and dogs safe. âWhen you understand your dog, you can understand how to create positive interactions.â